The Montana Grizzlies' Camellia Bowl teams of 1969-70 didn't come together overnight, though Coach Jack Swarthout's thorough scouring of the junior college ranks might suggest otherwise.
In Swarthout's first year, 1967, there were 43 freshmen at fall camp at the University of Montana, many of them on scholarship at a time when a program could grant aid to 105 student-athletes.
"There were a lot that started and not many that carried forward out of that class," said Tim Gallagher, a Kalispell product and one of those recruits. "The rest they cut, and brought in junior college guys.
"In fact they told us during spring ball (in '68), 'Only seven to nine of you are going to be kept.' That was a tough deal. That was a tough spring ball. It was a miserable, miserable spring."
When the 1969-70 teams are introduced as one before Saturday's game between Montana and Eastern Washington - they were inducted into the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame on Friday - a group of nine will stand particularly proud.
They were the ones who made it from the Cubs, Montana's freshman football team, through to the Camellia Bowls.
Willie Postler was born in Austria, the son of a World War II veteran who'd fought on the Russian Front. When he was 3, the family moved to Canada, first to Halifax, then to Winnipeg and eventually settling in Vancouver.
By the time Postler was a high school senior he was 6-foot-6 and casting about for a way to get to college.
"My dad didn't have any money," said Postler. "And I kind of knew I was smarter than the average Joe, but I didn't have any way to get there."
He found out about a high school football training camp in Vancouver that was going to draw some college scouts. Postler was late. The camp had invited 75 players and through the kindness of the late Bob Ackles, a longtime GM for the CFL's British Columbia Lions, he was the 76th.
Several teams liked his size and toughness, such as Arizona State, Idaho, Boise State and Idaho State. The late Pinky Erickson, Dennis Erickson's dad, invited him to come to UM.
Missoula is where Postler stopped at the end of a long cross-country trek with his father.
"We just drove around to every place," said Postler. "When I drove in there, that was it. 'I'm here,' I said."
Montana had gone 8-20 in three seasons under Hugh Davidson, but had a new coach in Swarthout, a Griz player who'd been an assistant for Texas. He had a bang-up staff that included Jack Elway, and excitement was building.
"Most of the other places wanted me to continue their tradition," said Postler. "Montana wanted me to help them start one. Looking at it, you wanted to be part of something that was new."
"I was the last scholarship given," said Gallagher, who was a first-team all-Big Sky Conference linebacker in 1969. "Back then everybody's dream was to play for Montana State. I was dying to get to MSU.
"I wasn't offered until after the Shrine Game, and (MSU's) Jim Sweeney offered me a full ride, and so did Elway. I was thinking I was going to MSU. My dad said (to Sweeney), 'Nope, you had your chance. He's going to Missoula.' "
Freshmen couldn't play varsity sports but Montana was able to put together a three-game "season" for its Cubs, under the direction of Dan Peters. Idaho, Montana State - the "Bobkittens" - and Idaho State were the opponents.
Dan Worrell out of Great Falls High was on the roster as probably the first scholarship kicker in UM history. His high school holder, Bob Guptill, came with him and held for seven successful field goals in '67.
Pat Dolan of Great Falls Russell was in the defensive backfield along with Pat Schruth of Billings Central.
John Waxham of Mountlake Terrace, Wash., ran for 269 yards in three games. Schruth caught 11 passes. Gallagher played linebacker. Jim deBord of Pasco, Wash., suited up at end.
Ray Stachnik of Chicago did the job up front alongside Postler.
The Montana Cubs beat the Idaho Frosh 29-12, and then dispatched the Bobkittens 34-6. Idaho State's freshmen jumped out to a 17-0 lead and held on, 17-13.
Swarthout and his staff cast a wide net. Whether they knew it or not, they had their starting defensive backfield for 1968: Dolan, Waxham, Guptill and Schruth, who were dubbed the "Whiz Kids" by Bill Schwanke, who was UM's sports information director.
Postler was a project - "You've got to understand, I didn't play football. Those were the first three games I ever played," he said - who became good enough to get drafted by the Houston Oilers.
Worrell's last two teams at Great Falls didn't lose a game and his junior year beat Dolan's Great Falls Central squad 24-21 in a matchup of 9-0 teams for the state title, in front of 10,000 fans.
Two years later he found himself kicking in front of considerably fewer people at the old Dornblaser Field behind Main Hall.
The "new" and "temporary" Dornblaser Stadium came into being the next year.
"There wasn't a whole lot there in 1968, but there was some excitement that Jack brought in," said Worrell, the Big Sky's top place-kicker in 1969-70. "It took them a while to get the players in the right positions to run that (Wishbone) offense. They had to go through that transitional period from 1967-68 to get the offense to work.
"And boy, did it work."
To reiterate, things weren't all rosy. After a 7-3 campaign in 1967, the '68 Griz went 2-7. Jack Elway, the secondary coach whose 10-year-old son John was the ballboy, was a bear.
"He was ruthless, but he made us good," said Schruth. "You could hear him yelling from one side of the campus to the other."
There was promise in the air for 1969-70. Montana's Wishbone offense, one of the first of its kind, clicked. The defense was stellar. The Griz won 20 of their next 22 games.
"The fun thing about this whole reunion is a lot of us feel that's where the program kind of took off," said Gallagher. "They were drawing maybe 2,000 fans before we got there. By the time we left you couldn't get a ticket."
The nine aren't survivors, they're success stories. Schruth is an account manager for a pharmaceutical company. Worrell has worked in real estate since college, never leaving Missoula. Gallagher took a job with IBM in Corvallis, Ore., out of college. He's still there.
Postler studied forestry and anthropology before getting a master's in finance and then an engineering degree.
"I was insecure," says Postler, who builds high-rises. "I wanted to make sure I was recession-proof."
Perhaps the trials of the spring of '68 prepared them well. When drills finally ended, all the freshmen were put in a room and then called out, alphabetically.
One by one, they learned if they were cut or on scholarship.
"You heard guys screaming and hollering and cussing out in the hallway," Gallagher said. "It was quite an ordeal.
"But it worked out pretty good."
Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247 or at email@example.com.