|History||Montana Howlers (1968-present)|
|Arena||Treasure State Arena (aka "Predators Playground")|
|Team colors||Dark Blue, White and Black
|RL Primary Contact||MadWorld|
|RL Secondary Contact||MartineauQC|
|General manager||James Gallopavos (male Wild turkey)|
|Head coach||Franklin O'Neill (male Scottish Fold cat)|
|Assistant coach||Andy Raine (male black bear)|
|Lead trainer||Lesley Spolsbreiger (female wolf); Mark Immel (male hawk)|
1968-72: Early Years
To host a basketball team in the desolate city of Billings seemed as unlikely as the Furry Basketball Association staff members asking players to wait tables. Nevertheless, mayor Jeb Sedgwick (moose) was adamant that Montana needed a sports team to grow their local economy. On June 11, 1967, the FBA announced they would entertain the idea of a seventh franchise - the first addition since the league’s 1962 debut. Sedgwick applied for the license, promising to build a state-of-the-art arena. In late 1967, Montana residents approved a bill to construct it.
By 1968, the FBA concluded that Billings were tentatively approved to host the FBA franchise. The league, forced to defend this decision, stated “there was indeed a 3-to-3 west-to-east balance of teams. However, Billings was the only city to apply with an adequate plan for long-term sustenance.” This plan included winning over an untapped Canadian audience into watching FBA games.
In April 1968, the citizens voted to name the team the Howlers, and as thanks for resident donations, the arena and team were named after the state itself: Montana’s Treasure State Arena. Despite plans, the arena was not completed in time for the 1968 season. An expedited construction schedule had it ready by January 1970, but it was not used during the first two seasons due to FBA compliance issues.
The inaugural 1968 Howlers season began with only the head coach - Billy Flint. The staff joined over the course of the season. Despite the historic impact of their entry, they finished in 6th place of 7 teams. Low attendance and limited interest severely impacted the franchise’s ability to operate.
By 1969, the FBA, which at this point were seeing red, “could not reasonably schedule more games in Billings than was deemed necessary,” which further impacted local ticket sales and general interest. The league was due to have an eighth team by 1970, but in this interim season, were withholding games from Montana. In response, Howlers management had the idea to create an informal game to be played in Billings prior to the season. Without the FBA’s official support, the game was an invitational and - as luck would have it - the Plymouth Taproots accepted the invite. In essence, this was the first “preseason” game ever played. On October 31, 1969, Plymouth notched a thrilling overtime win in Predatory University of Montana Sports Arena (‘The PUMA’). Despite the loss, additional exposure helped revitalize public interest. The Howlers repeated this ‘preseason’ game, initially versus Plymouth again in 1970, but other teams signed on in future seasons. This game became known as Howlereen by 1982. In 2014, it was changed to be the regular season kickoff game.
Flint left after the 1970 season. Otto “Blue” Stevenson (male Greyhound) came in as coach for the 1971 season, which was the first playoff season for the Howlers, in part thanks to signing D’Mitri Arthur (Crocodile, F/C) and acquiring John Rye (Cougar, G) from the Baltimore Spirits. They lost their first series to the Santa Cruz Clefs, but the Howlers had their first taste of success.
1972-78: First Trophy, and the Three-Peat
It did not take long for the geographically remote location of Montana to prove instrumental in keeping players focused on playing and practicing basketball. Coach Stevenson was known to have a persuasive but strict ‘no fools allowed’ mentality. Only in his second season (1972), the Howlers had their first shot at a championship. By 1973, their first Finals was in the books with the Howlers reigning victorious. D’Mitri Arthur was named the MVP of the 1973 Finals, and the crocodile returned to Billings as the locally exotic superstar.
Stevenson had a knack for encouraging game innovation. In this vein, Elsinore’s extensive command and Lambert’s perfection of the 3-2 offense led to some dynamic passing and shot-clock buzzer beaters. The speed of the game was increased in part due to their contribution, and very few other teams could keep up with them. Although the pick and roll play-style did not develop until the late 1980s, some historians point to Elsinore and Lambert for setting the stage.
Montana won three championships in a row; 1976, 1977, and 1978. The third championship proved to be rather controversial, as it was the only one to go to seven games, and the last game played in Montana was delayed due to flood damage to the arena. Elsinore was named league MVP in 1976, 1978, and 1985; Lambert in 1977, 1981, and 1982.
1978-90: Building of a Legacy
By 1982, Montana had won five championships. It remains one of the best legacy stretches of any team in the league to this day. Elsinore and Lambert traded MVP awards, and their levels of stardom attracted many fans to Billings - including many Canadian fans, who were now getting into the (at the time) American-dominant league.
Arthur retired in 1981, and Andrew Lambert prematurely retired after the 1982 championship, leaving Elsinore to fend for himself in the ‘83 season. Needing to fill the role Lambert left behind, the Howlers drafted Lewis Rising in 1984. He immediately contributed to the lineup, although he battled several injuries in the earlier parts of his career. They managed a near-perfect 1985 season (the Howler’s winningest year as of 2020), and notched their eighth championship. Elsinore retired after the 1985 season, and fans were sad but happy to watch him ride into the sunset triumphant.
Concerns began immediately as to the Howlers’ future. Rising and crew proved critics wrong and were an unstoppable force... when everyone remained healthy physically and emotionally. Their 1988 and 1989 championships were the epitome of this time frame, having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep Rising in Montana and assure another decade of success. Unfortunately, luck was against them at the turn of the decade.
1990-2000: The Dark Ages
After the bustling empires of the 1970s and 1980s, Montana’s luck took a drastic hit to the proverbial ligament. Rising’s torn ACL sidelined him for the remainder of the 1990 season - and although the team made the championship, they ultimately lost to the Plymouth Taproots. Rising was then shockingly traded to the Hamilton Mariners during the off-season.
This was the last time the Howlers reached the championship level for over a decade. Throughout most of the 1990s, the Howlers made very little impact, as division focus switched over to rival Dakota and the Santa Cruz Clefs.
Most of their draft picks during the decade were dubiously traded away in turn for under-performing pred athletes, culminating in fan impatience. In the 1999 draft, the pick of Nohea Holokai (whale) drew criticism by the local press because he was not ‘threatening enough to wear the navy and iron’ colors of the Howlers. The organization was moving in the opposite direction from their fans, who wanted to dig their heels into the exciting, vicious, and aggressive behavior they had been known for. This included their exclusively out-of-date practices, and they were one of only two teams left in the league to have never signed a female player to their roster.
2000-13: The Shane Rufus Era
Around the turn of the century, fans were downtrodden by sudden changes to player lineups, some of which were encouraged by the league’s softening approach toward prey species. In defiance, but also driven by slight ignorance, a young Shane Rufus was picked in the first round of the 2000 FBA Draft. Eddie Schlachter would be picked in round 2.
Rufus was initially expected to be a long-term loss due to his inconsistent play-style. He quickly became a fan favorite for his aggressiveness and command for attention. Due to Lewis Rising and Rufus being both red wolves, the hype grew exponentially. This was at a transitional time in the FBA, post-Healey Davis, when offensive aggression was becoming unpopular. Due to a fallout in contract renegotiation, Rufus signed to Plymouth in 2003; attendance to Howler games fell immediately and poor performance led the organization to try multiple times to get the wolf back in blue. Plymouth finally agreed to a 2006 trade, and by 2007 Rufus and company were making headlines.
The late 2000’s were seen as the first true resurgence of the team in nearly two decades. The ups and downs of his career in Billings (alongside Rocky Caracal) sometimes overshadowed overall team performance, much to the delight of fans and the chagrin of teammates. This culminated in the 2011 and 2013 FBA seasons. Although 2011 was a stellar year for the Howlers, 2013’s legacy was damaged by the Incident at Howlers Stadium, wherein Rufus sustained significant injuries. Despite this, Montana swept the post-season awards, and Rufus was named MVP.
By 2014, several fans noted that Rufus had lost his step, and he announced his retirement following the conclusion of the season (although he would later rescind this action and play two more years for the San Jose Thrust.) Fan support continues today, as Rufus’ post-FBA career evolved into heavyweight fighting. Robbie Bourne would step down as general manager after 19 years in the 2014 off-season.
After the Incident, most of the intense anti-prey attitude and sexism fell out of vogue, and Montana largely stepped away from its physical approach to basketball. The drafting of Rachel Barsky (Alaskan Malamute, F) in 2011 marked the first woman to play in a Howlers jersey.
2014-17: The Howlers Curse
After a rebuilding year, Art Sadowski was promoted to the general manager position from scouting director. His course of action was to part with most of the players still left in the club, and bring in a mix of players from various teams, including Bobby-Rae Brine (Stingray, G), Omar Pink (Saluki, F), Sanford Teeson (Raccoon, G), and Wescot Yobia (Binturong, F/C). The irish-born Franklin O'Neill was later hired as the new head coach for the team, and former player Andy Raine (Black Bear, F) was hired as the assistant coach.
On draft night, Sadowski controversially traded their fourth pick Baltasár Torrealba y Toboso (Aldabra giant tortoise, C/F) to the Mayors for their first round pick Hiroyuki Matsuura (Shrike, C/F) on draft night; this was mainly seen as a move to establish a "core" of Underwood College graduates in the team. Both players would retire from the league after short stints, and both are now considered draft busts.
Although Sadowski could have not predicted this, his job was on the line and he departed Montana at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season.
2018-current: Close, Yet So Far
In each of the last three seasons, the Howlers were under different upper management. Despite this, the coaching staff has remained mostly the same, with O’Neill and Raine regularly leading the team into the playoffs. Led by guards Ren Inoue (Tosa Inu, G) and Kresta Renstill (Silver Fox, G), as well as team leader LaShawn Grandon (Badger, F), the Howlers still are a force-de-la-connaissance. However, the perpetuation of making the playoffs only to lose in the first or second round seemed old shoe by the end of the decade.
What will the future hold for this franchise, and will they ever grab their tenth trophy? Only time will tell.
- #8 - Shane Rufus
Full Roster Stats
|2021-2022 Budget for||Total
|Montana Howlers Team Contracts