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Kolpack: Football is the great diversion from the real world

Jeff Bawdon, left, and Phil Ostlie share a "Bison horns" moment during tailgating at a North Dakota State football game in 2016. Submitted photo

FARGO — I don't know about anybody else around here, but I'm ready for some football. It's time for a diversion from the real world.

Don't tell the North Dakota State coaches and athletic administration that Saturday game days at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome are a playtime hobby. It's a pressure cooker, no doubt. But for you fans out there? Division I FCS football is the great diversion.

We need it.

My week started with a celebration of life for Mike Hartel. He was 46, a guy who was so generous to Fargo youth hockey that we'll never know how much. On Wednesday, we celebrated the life of Cy Puetz in Bismarck. He was 85 and one of the most devoted Bison fans around. His obit said as much:

"Cy will always be known as Mr. Bison because of his lifelong love and support of North Dakota State, and especially Bison football. A gold or yellow shirt was treated like formal wear and there was nothing like a national title to make the guy smile for a year."

On Friday, we celebrate the life of Joan Mogck, the matriarch of her family whose son Dana was part of some of historic Bison football games when he was in sports broadcasting. She was 86.

And that brings us to Phil Ostlie.

He was 55. About the same age as me. Graduated the same year, only across the river at Moorhead High School.

Phil and Mark Rice were so bruising of players at Moorhead Junior High that I'm pretty certain they contributed to my not wanting to continue with the sport in high school. Trying to tackle those two was a recipe for injury.

Phil died last weekend of a heart ailment after collapsing at his home in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"Total shock," said former NDSU teammate Jeff Bawdon. "Total shock."

Ostlie and Bawdon took similar paths in their Bison careers. Bawdon transferred to NDSU after one year at Nebraska and came in as a defensive end. Ostlie signed with the Bison as a quarterback.

"Over the course of time, he ended up at tight end and I was moved to offensive tackle," Bawdon said. "We played beside each other. We just hit it off right away."

Both played on the 1983 Division II national championship team. It was a breakthrough year in the sense it was NDSU's first national title since 1969 and the first won on the field via the playoff system. The Bison were crowned national champions in '65, '68 and '69 by virtue of winning a bowl game and being voted No. 1 in the season-ending poll.

Ostlie was 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, played as a true freshman and started his last two years. He was one of those athletes who was the NDSU punter his freshman and junior seasons.

"He was probably one of the nicest guys I ever met," Bawdon said. "Always had a smile on his face and a good word."

These days, Bawdon is self-employed in the oil fields of western North Dakota as a fluids engineer. He was in the Twin Cities until 2010, in a job that didn't allow him to get back to many Bison games.

That changed with the career change. He frequently got together with Ostlie in the dome tailgating lot before games.

"It became our routine for the last many years," Bawdon said.

The celebration of life service is Monday at 11 a.m. at Triumph Lutheran Brethren Church in Moorhead. A memorial gathering is scheduled from 4:30-6 p.m. and a prayer service at 6 p.m. Sunday. Many are calling the memorial gathering a tailgating event.

On that note, some advice for all of you: On Saturday morning, when the NDSU football tailgating party begins, live it up — in moderation of course. Enjoy the atmosphere. Enjoy the smell of the food being cooked in the parking lot. Marvel at the Bison-personalized buses and tailgating rigs. Some of those are rather remarkable. Revel in hearing the laughter.

When they raise another national championship banner at about 2:20 p.m., with the lights out in the dome, enjoy that, too. And when the Bison and Cal Poly kick the season off 10 minutes later, nobody should care about political races or whatever negativity is being thrown around out there.

It's time for football. The greatest diversion there is.

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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