Tonight at 7:00 on Prairie Public Television, the documentary, “When They Were Kings” will air. The 90 minute show highlights the rivalry between the North Dakota State University Bison and the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.
I was lucky enough to receive an advance DVD copy recently and thought I’d share a few notes on the show, which focused solely on the football and women’s basketball programs at the two schools.
Spoiler Alert: If you watch this documentary tonight expecting to hear a lot of rhetoric about why the rivalry should resume or why it shouldn’t, you’re going to be disappointed. In fact, of the 90 minutes, only the final two are dedicated to that specific question.
What this show really ends up being is a very well-done history of the programs from about 1980 to now. The documentary is interview driven and the highlights are worth watching alone. The vast majority of those coming from WDAZ and WDAY. Prairie Public did a great job of tracking down a lot of the key characters, including, but not limited to: Rocky Hager, Roger Thomas, Gene Roebuck, Amy Ruley, Chris Simdorn, Jeff Bentrim, Tony Satter, Kelby Klosterman, Jim Kleinsasser, Sheri Kleinsasser, Charlie Stock, Kasey Morlock, Pat Smykowski, Mike Mooney, and Durene Heisler.
I found there to be a very healthy amount of respect between coaches and players. At one point, Roebuck says something to the effect of Coach Ruley being the best coach he ever coached against. And Morlock is equal parts complimentary and humorous in her words towards UND.
One thing this show is certain to do is to remind people of how much passion there was in those contests. Much of the footage shows an overflowing Memorial Stadium, or the Bison Sports Arena packed to the rafters. There are several clips where the Hyslop Sports Center has people hanging from every conceivable nook and cranny.
Other highlights of the show for me included a highlight of NDSU defensive back Tyrone Braxton returning an interception where it looks like he was shot out of cannon, the Jim Kleinsasser catch and run, the Bentrim pitch in Vermillion and dozens more. There is a lot of good stuff.
One final thing I took from “When They Were Kings” is the intensity still displayed by Rocky Hager. He sounds like a man ready to line up and play this Saturday against UND.
If nothing else, the documentary is a great history lesson. A job well done by PPTV.