Rather than triumphs, Mike McLeod values football for friends, faith
By JIM CNOCKAERT Chronicle Sports Writer
Bozeman’s Mike McLeod helped the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos to win three Grey Cup championships and later played for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
But the football moments he remembers most fondly aren’t necessarily ones that resonate with anyone else.
The first one will, because it earned a spot in Montana State football history.
In 1979, McLeod, then a senior co-captain for the Bobcats, intercepted a pass in a game against Idaho State and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown.
The play turned the momentum of the game: The 31-14 win was the Bobcats’ first of the season after two losses. The win helped MSU eventually earn a share of the Big Sky championship.
That was before the advent of ESPN’s SportsCenter, but the interception return still got national attention because veteran broadcaster Paul Harvey featured it on his
“The Rest of the Story” radio program. The return broke a 20-yearold MSU school record.
The rest of the story?
The previous record of 82 yards had been set by McLeod’s father, Jim, during his senior season in a 40-6 win against Montana. “I still have that (broadcast),” a grinning McLeod said as he pulled a small reel of recording tape out of his desk drawer. “I just don’t have a way to play it.” Two other memorable moments got no such attention, but their impact on McLeod’s life has been profound. The first, which also occurred during his senior season at MSU, involved a quiet conversation with a teammate that led to his Christian conversion.
The second, which occurred at a critical moment during his pro career, involved a recommitment to his faith. Each instance, McLeod said, helped him to redirect his life from one of selfishness to one of service.
“In college, I was very insecure,” McLeod said. “My life was all about football. If I had a good game, I was in a good mood. And, if I had a bad game, I was in a bad mood. My purpose in life was all about me.”
But McLeod said he sensed “a radiance” in a group of younger MSU teammates that included his brother. So he asked a classmate, Stuart Dodds, one of the Christian leaders on the team, “what made those players tick in their lives.” The night after the Bobcats clinched a share of the 1979 Big Sky championship with a win against Northern Arizona, McLeod had what he describes as a life-changing talk with Dodds. from page B1
McLeod played in Edmonton for five seasons, during which the Eskimos won three CFL championships. His two sons, Matthew and Mark, were born in Canada. He earned a law degree from the University of Alberta, and he practiced as an attorney there while he played football. It appeared to be an ideal situation.
But, at the start of his fifth season, a new coaching staff switched McLeod from free to strong safety. He injured his hamstring, missed significant playing time, lost his starting job and eventually was cut. His world, he said, was shaken.
“Even though intellectually I had made a change, practically it was still all about me,” McLeod said. “When everything that I thought was important was taken away ... I realized that I needed to make my life be an impact to other people.”
The recommitment to his conversion had immediate results. His former position coach with the Eskimos had joined Forrest Gregg’s staff with the Packers, and McLeod was invited to join the team. It was a dream come true for McLeod, whose father was a friend of former Packers great Bowd Dowler.
“It was a huge blessing to go to Green Bay,” he said.
McLeod played his final two seasons (1984-85) for the Packers. He then enrolled at the University of Wisconsin to earned his American law degree, after which he practiced in Madison for two years. In 1989, Earl Hanson, another former MSU football player, encouraged McLeod to return to Bozeman, where the two formed the Hanson & McLeod Financial Group.
His parents had been high school classmates in Havre, but they briefly parted ways to go to college.
Dad went to play football for the Bobcats. Mom went to the University of Montana to cheer for the Grizzlies. The separation didn’t last long, however, and the two were married.
McLeod was born in Bozeman in 1958. He was raised in Cheyenne, Wyo., where he was a multi-sport star for East High School. A latebloomer, he was recruited by a number of smaller football programs before he decided his best choice was MSU.
The biggest reason?
MSU head coach Sonny Holland, who had been his father’s roommate, teammate and best man when the two played for the Bobcats.
McLeod met his wife, Vicki, when the two were MSU students. As his parents had done, the two were married while still college students. Not surprisingly, sons Matt and Mark are both MSU students. Daughter Mikaela is a seventh-grader in Bozeman.
Having been raised in an athletic environment — his father was a highly successful high school football and track coach in Cheyenne — McLeod has coached his children at various stages of their athletic careers. He now coaches his daughter’s basketball team.
“The one thing I learned from my father is that you can really challenge someone if they know how much you care about them,” McLeod said. “I am a competitive person, and my tendency is to push hard, with my kids and the ones I coach.
“I view coaching now as a ministry, as an opportunity to teach kids how much God loves them. I challenge them, as I was challenged, to take advantage of the platform they have to glorify God in all that they do.”
Jim Cnockaert is at firstname.lastname@example.org