Peter King is on vacation until July 15, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, it’s Hugh Royal of Richfield, Idaho, who was selected out of a few hundred readers who submitted essays on why they wanted to be an FMIA guest columnist.
By Hugh Royal
RICHFIELD, Idaho — I learned early in my work career about NFL fan extremism. As a production manager at the Avonmore Whey Plant in Idaho, I traveled for the job and once visited Wisconsin. The first night, I stayed at a local hotel with a lounge. I stopped for a beer before dinner. The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings were playing on TV, and the Pack was losing, and I made what was probably a disparaging comment about Green Bay. Every head turned toward me and gave me a look like, “Who the hell are you and do you want to live?” When I got back from dinner that night, the desk clerk stopped me. He was pointed. He suggested for my own good that tomorrow I move to another hotel. I couldn’t believe he was serious, but I did move the next day. And was VERY careful about what I said after that.
It’s not like that where I live. I live in Richfield, Idaho. Richfield is a town of about 400 in south-central Idaho. We have blue sky and can see all the stars at night. We can see nearby snow-capped mountains. We’re 50 miles northeast of Twin Falls, and about a two-hour drive southwest of Boise. Richfield was established as a railroad town in the late 1800s. The total population of Idaho is still under two million.
We like keeping Idaho a secret. I am sure I will get some mail calling me bad names for letting the world know what a gem Idaho is. We are much more than just potatoes. But we’re small, and we make no apologies for it. The Richfield High School Senior class numbered 11 students this year. Nine graduated. Out of the nine, eight are going to college. Once you leave the township, your nearest neighbor is usually a mile or more away. It is quiet. Real quiet.
We don’t really have an NFL home team in Richfield. It’s difficult to call a team a “home” team and take it to heart when the closest league market is nine-and-a-half hours away by car. Think of our geography: We’re 630 miles southeast of Seattle, 700 miles from both Denver and Oakland, 840 miles from Phoenix, and don’t even think about making a car trip to see the Vikings in Minneapolis. They’re 1,300 miles east of us, and Montana’s pretty wide.
So in Richfield, there are fans who pledge allegiance to Seattle, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Arizona, San Francisco, Denver, Green Bay, Dallas, and the L.A. Rams—a veritable potpourri of NFL fandom.
Much of NFL life in Richfield happens around the bar named the Little Wood Saloon. The official bar motto is: Where the beer is cold and the BS is free. The saloon was originally a hardware store built in the early 1900’s. The original ceiling, hardwood floor and some doors are still in place. There are pictures on the wall of cowboys and their activities. There is a chandelier from a Nevada whorehouse on the ceiling. There are no NFL team pennants on the wall, no autographed football pictures or helmets. Quite a few people in the bar, and those “interviewed” for this column, are related either by blood or by marriage. That’s just the way it is in a small town.
During the NFL season, after a Sunday or Monday night game, or after the Super Bowl, the economy does not improve or get worse. No one calls in sick, no fights occur, and a baby boom does not happen nine months later. The season schedule is on the wall and people use it to see when their team is playing. We don’t know what a Cover 2 is. We can probably tell the difference between a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense by watching the game, but we don’t try and identify it as such.
We don’t watch the draft. We do track trades. Some play fantasy football. I don’t think any of us have actually watched an NFL game on our phones.
We know when someone throws for 400 yards or runs for 200 yards. We know when upsets occur, especially if New England gets beat. But the NFL isn’t exactly an obsession in Richfield.
The bar gets pretty busy on Sundays and Monday nights in football season. There’s a core group of fans that regularly gather to cheer on their favorite NFL teams. More likely, they are there to jeer and needle the others rooting for other teams. The early portion of the NFL season — the first four games — get little attention as people are still busy farming and playing outside while the weather is good. The same holds true for the early 11 a.m. MT games on any given Sunday. It’s the late games on Sunday and Monday night that draw the most attention.
Idaho is a diverse state topographically. The Northern Panhandle is all green, rolling hills. Central Idaho is full of high mountain ranges, including the Frank Church River of No Return area, where there are still places man has probably never stepped. The Southern part of Idaho is desert, mostly sagebrush and lava rock. That’s where Richfield is. As you drive around the area, farms are plentiful. A green farm in a desert area is a beautiful thing to see. The desert itself is beautiful and has many secrets you have to explore to find.
In Idaho, we keep friends close and family closer. We know each well, sometimes too well. The phrase “the town knows what I am doing before I do” is almost too true. Which can be both good and bad. We all work hard, try to play hard and live life. We don’t experience floods and our tornados are more like big dust devils. The wind blows a lot. We average 11 inches of rain annually. Sometimes it’s so long between rainstorms, we go stand out in it just to remember what it feels like. Like most towns, we have all types of people. We may not agree with their lifestyle, but they may not agree with ours. Richfield has millionaires, opioid users, PhD’s, a cross dresser, maybe one Rhodes Scholar, same-sex couples, and the town is full of hard-working, down-to-earth people.
We also have real cowboys, not the NFL variety. They watch closely in the spring as the heifers calve, pulling the stuck ones by hand. They help each other brand the calves, give them shots and doctor them as needed. They move them in the summer to keep them on good pasture and some move them to warmer areas for the winter. The cowboys work long, hard hours and much of that time is on horseback. They are the salt of the earth. Our climate is quite varied, from minus-20 degrees with feet of snow in the winter to 105 degrees in the summer.
My ex-wife Lori Royal is the owner, manager and heart and soul of the Little Wood Saloon. She has a full-time job separate from the bar and still manages to work several shifts per week there, even spending quite a few of her off-nights at the bar taking care of the patrons and playing Uber driver. She does the ordering, hiring, firing, pays the bills, and still has time to pick up liquor, etc. She does this willingly with little to no pay. The bar is the cleanest you will ever visit. There are only four beers on tap. Coors Light, Moose Drool, Irish Death and Grand Teton. They rotate in a few new ones every so often. We have box wine for the connoisseur, an internet Jukebox and a window AC.
The Saloon opens at 11 a.m. every day and closes when people go home, or 2 a.m. most nights. Since there is no local restaurant or convenience store—and also no gas stations in town—there are several old-timers who have a key to the bar. They open up at 7 a.m. for coffee. They discuss local gossip and items from the paper (the Times-News out of Twin Falls).
Be it in the morning, afternoon or evening, if you want to start a debate (or argument), you can bring up politics or football. Even a discussion about religion won’t get you as engaged as either of those two topics.
When the bar opened two years ago, there were three choices for its name: Big Wood Saloon, Morning Wood Saloon, and Little Wood Saloon. But because the Little Wood River flows closest to town, it won out.
Richfield also serves as a bit of a bedroom community to Ketchum and Sun Valley, a well-known ski resort where the residents are wealthy and many only live there for about a month per year. Some Richfield residents drive the hour to work “up north,” and some locals have businesses based there.
Back in Richfield, there’s a large Glanbia Nutritionals Whey Processing Plant. Glanbia, PLC, is an Irish-based company that produces food ingredients that deliver “advanced nutrition for every step of life’s journey.” Their products are food products, food ingredients, and sports nutrition brands. It is a great company, and I should know, since I’ve worked for them for 40 years. A good number of people in town work at the plant as it provides solid career opportunities with good pay and benefits, and the company takes part in community activities.
In the winter, town slows down and snow blankets the area. People ski, ice fish, snow machine and take to winter activities inside. School activities and sports like NFL and college football become mainstays.
We are mostly Boise State Broncos fans around here, except for a few University of Idaho backers. But we all agree Boise State has done tons to put Idaho on the college football map. We’re especially proud of Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch being from Idaho and hailing from a small town. He’s an Idaho boy and attended Salmon River High School in Riggins, Idaho.
They play 8-man football in Riggins, as we do in Richfield. My grandson, Porter, has been on the last two 8-man state championship teams from Carey, Idaho. If you’ve never seen it played, 8-man football is a wide-open game. Speed typically means more than size. You take away both tackles and a running back. Porter started on both sides of the ball and he’s 5-7 and a buck forty when wet, if he’s lucky.
Richfield’s 8-man team hasn’t won a game for two years. Dominance and downward cycles happen in 8-man football just as it does in the NFL. Even without a win for two years, you will still find most of the town at the game on Friday night. For Vander Esch to go from 8-man football to starting for a glamor NFL team is an amazing thing, because usually when a senior graduates after playing 8-man, it’s the last time he ever touches a football.
Now let me introduce the people who matter.
He’s 65, and recently retired from the Glanbia Nutritionals Plant. He owns Chariot Racing Horses and used to race himself. Yes, chariot racing is exactly what it sounds like: two horses pulling a person in a chariot not much bigger than a wheelbarrow that sits on two large bicycle tires.
Donny is a New England, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady hater. “They are cheating SOBs,” he likes to say. “Only way they can win.” He’ll go on a tirade for a good 10 minutes about New England, and sometimes when things are too quiet, we’ll ask him a question about Brady just so there is some noise.
Donny wears a Green Bay Packer hat that he has washed so much it’s about to fall apart. He hates that the Packers got rid of Jordy Nelson and Clay Matthews. He thinks Aaron Rodgers is great, but we tell Donny that Rodgers hasn’t been worth spit since he started dating Danica Patrick.
Donny will blame the outcome of almost ANY game on the refs. He is very vocal about his displeasure of a bad call. He doesn’t want to hear that there were 60-some other plays that could have changed the outcome. Nope. Bad call. Cost his team the game. And that’s ALL we hear about for a week. He starts a lot of conversations with “I’ve probably told you this story, but…..” And he has. Many, many times.
That’s me. I’m 59. I’m a Seahawks fan. I was born in Seattle, so I kind of have to root for them. Seattle sports teams don’t have the most successful history, though. The Seattle Pilots were a terrible expansion baseball team for one year, in 1969, then moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The NBA’s Supersonics did win one league championship, in 1979. The Mariners have had a few great years in the regular season, but never managed to put it together in the playoffs.
So it’s the Seahawks who have provided me a great team to root for in the past decade. At least until one particular ill-fated pass at the goal line in the Super Bowl against the Patriots. I still haven’t gotten over that, and I still hear about it every year. But I think Seattle will be better this year than most think. The Seahawks have some great young talent, kind of like when the Legion of Boom was just starting out.
He’s 50, and works construction up north, with a custom haying business. He plays in several online football pools and knows most teams’ main players and stats. But he tends to bet with his heart and not his head. His team is the Cowboys. “No other team,” he says. He thinks they have it all together this year. But we all think that about our teams in June, don’t we?
Roger gives me a terrible time about my “Sea Chickens,” as he calls them. He started watching the NFL in his teens and he thinks the game is good just the way it is.
He’ll watch games at the bar as long as there are people to yell at or with. Otherwise he watches at home. Roger thinks the Bears will be a Super Bowl contender this year and does not have faith whatsoever in Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
No age given. She helps her farmer husband and is a retired county commissioner and former editor of county newspaper. Marsha LOVES the Packers. When she was 5 years old she lived in Pakistan while her Dad worked construction and was building a dam there. They had no TV, but a friend of her dad’s would send tapes of the Green Bay Packers to the crew. That’s how she fell for the Pack.
Marsha actually doesn’t think much of Aaron Rodgers but considers Brett Favre a GOD. She even had a poster of Favre on her ceiling and would have gladly had his babies. She went to a Green Bay game years ago and made a potato sign that said “Hey #4, this spud’s for you.” Green Bay won the game and she described the experience as “orgasmic.”
She’s 40-something, a Richfield native and Maintenance Planner for Glanbia Nutritionals. She’s also a wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, and the president of the local annual Outlaw Day celebration. She’s also Lori’s sister and the town hugger. She hugs everyone.
Annie is a Vikings fan. Her family had no TV for a long time when she was growing up, and when TV did arrive, watching football was not allowed. Except when they went to visit an uncle, who just so happened to be from Minnesota. That’s where Annie got an earful of Vikings knowledge.
Annie thinks the Patriots are cocky and win too much. But she watches less football than she used to because life has gotten too busy. She doesn’t even know who the current Vikings quarterback is, which I’m sure comes as a shock to Kirk Cousins. Annie likes watching games at the bar because it’s more social and she enjoys when everyone yells at each other. Especially when she can give Donny crap about rival Green Bay losing. She knows who won the Super Bowl last year, but can’t remember who they beat, admitting she might have been drinking during the Super Bowl (and maybe even before I interviewed her).
He’s 40-something, is my best friend and Annie’s husband. Jesse and I have known each other for 20-plus years. He manages a granite shop in Hailey that serves high-end clientele in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area. Mostly multi-million dollar homes, owned by the likes of Tom Hanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carole King, etc.
Jesse doesn’t really care about football. If he had to choose, the Vikings or Cowboys would be his favorite team, because his dad is a lifelong Cowboys fan. But in reality he quit liking Dallas after Jerry Jones fired Tom Landry as coach in 1989. Jesse didn’t really want to be interviewed by me about football, but he did predict the Patriots will beat the Browns in the playoffs next season.
His pet peeve about the NFL is that it protects the players too much. He thinks they get paid plenty and know what they signed up for. He believes CTE is real, but says we all make choices and have to live with the results. The game, he said, has too many rules, too much instant replay and coddles the quarterbacks too much.
No age given, a retired lunchroom manager and tends bar at the Little Wood Saloon. She’s a die-hard 49ers fan. She’s from the Bay Area and hates my Seahawks. She thinks there are too many commercials during an NFL game, but watches anyway, either at home or at the bar.
He’s 40-something, Lori’s brother, a native of Richfield and a maintenance utilities technician at the Glanbia plant. He also owns a mechanics shop on the side. Mark moved his family to the Phoenix area for about 10 years, before returning in 2009, and he still calls the Cardinals his favorite team. He’s a longtime Bears fan as well because he considers Walter Payton the best back ever, but Mark says he didn’t watch a single NFL game last year. He’s still angry about the kneeling during the anthem issue.
She’s 40-something, a sister to Mark, Lori and Annie, and is a dental hygienist up north. She owns her family farm. But Teresa doesn’t care about football, so I guess we’ll have to disown her.
Nicknamed Beebs, barely 60, is Teresa’s partner and a Canal Company Ditch Rider and farmer. He’s a Jack of all trades, and was in the same high school class as me, in the adjoining rivalry town of Carey. Clint picks a new team to root for every year. He chose Kansas City last year, and says the NFL should take the, ahem, “soft” attitude out of the game. He wants the league to go back to the old days when they let defenders hit the quarterback. He, too, thinks there are too many rules and players get paid too much money. Clint said Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were good quarterbacks but he can’t stand either one of them. He likes any team that beats Denver because his nephew, Joe, is a Broncos fan. Sometimes it’s that simple.
He’s 60-something, a farmer and Clint’s brother. Like Clint, Kim has no favorite team and picks a new one each year. Maybe he throws a dart at a board to choose. He doesn’t like Dallas, Denver or New England, and is still ticked off at the Cowboys because Tom Landry let Calvin Hill go in the mid-‘70s.
Kim’s also not too fond of free agency, believing teams and players should be more loyal. Add him to the club that believes quarterbacks are over-protected and the referees aren’t getting the job done well these days. He says the Cardinals will be good this year because of their new quarterback, but he couldn’t remember Kyler Murray’s name, so he had to ask someone else. Well, he is older and he was drinking, so we’ll let that one go.
He’s 20-something, Teresa’s son and just started working in maintenance at the Glanbia plant, doing home remodels on the side. He’s been a Patriots man since the sixth grade. He decided to root for them because everyone else hated them. Everyone still does. Haisen loves it when the Patriots win. He just stands around and smiles. There’s no need to rub in it or say a word.
There’s no reason his Patriots won’t win it again this year, but I think the Saints will give them a run. He thinks the game should include the human element, because mistakes are part of the game, and wants to get rid of instant replay for the most part. He owns a Patriots hat (maybe), but no jersey.
He’s 27, works with Jesse in the granite shop up north and is another one of Teresa’s sons. As previously mentioned, Joe is a Broncos fan and has been since he was 5 or 6, thanks to watching Denver upset Green Bay to win the Super Bowl after the 1997 season. That’s the first Super Bowl he remembers. Joe thinks the Broncos will go 10-6 this year and make the playoffs as a wild card, losing in the first round. As for Joe Flacco, he’s just a bridge quarterback for the future quarterback, predicts Joe. Drew Lock will start next year, he said.
He’s in the minority, but Joe would like to see more instant replay in the NFL, and he watched quite a bit of the now-defunct AAF. He liked the league and thought the players were more genuine and tried harder. The NFL could learn a few things from the AAF, Joe said, adopting some of its rules, such as no kickoffs. The NFL will have no kickoffs within five years, Joe said, and he tabs the Chargers, Rams and Saints as the teams to beat this year, with the Browns as his dark horse.
She is 30-something, a librarian and also a bartender at the Little Wood Saloon. Donna doesn’t watch much football but likes the Cowboys because she used to live in Boise, close to Kellen Moore. He was the longtime very successful Boise State quarterback and then was the backup quarterback for the Cowboys, before this year being named the Dallas offensive coordinator.
He is 92, retired from everything, so now a coffee drinker and pool player. He doesn’t watch football. He doesn’t watch any sports. But he does like to gamble on sports.
So after the football watching is all said and done, everyone has a beer. Or some might go fishing together or to a high school ball game. In Richfield, as in most small towns, if anyone needs help, everyone pitches in. It happens all the time. A house fire strikes, but the family immediately has somewhere to stay. The kids have clothes to wear and food to eat. Cash is passed to parents for whatever they need. The churches help, but it’s always amazing how town people who don’t even associate with those in need pitch in and help out.
Peter usually has a description of the beers he tries out. After reading the first draft of this column, Peter asked me to describe the beers we had on tap. I used to drink more than my share of beer, but it was always Bud Light. When we went on road trips, my friends would always try new beers. I would simply call them “weird beers” and take a pass. Just not my thing.
But in an effort to give Peter what he requested, I asked my good friend Jesse for his beer reviews. He has drank a lot of beer in a lot of places, and says Richfield is about 10 years behind on the craft beer front. The biggest-selling beers in the bar are Coors Light and Keystone Light. Keep in mind Jesse has a seasoned palate. Patrons do venture in for the craft beers once in a while, but most tend to stick with what they like.
Irish Death by Iron Horse Brewery (Ellensburg, Wa.)
• Internet description: Dark, smooth ale, with 8% malt, caramel, pilsner and chocolate. Blackish brown, sweet.
• Jesse’s comment: “Regular beer with caramel it.” Not one of his favorites.
208 by Grand Teton Brewing (Victor, Idaho)
• Internet description: American Blonde Ale, that is 4.8% pale light lager. Light smell. Some pilsner malt. Maybe some wheat. A bit of a hop kick. Some dryness with a bit of bitterness at the end. Easy drinking.
• Jesse’s comment: “Medium to dark pale ale. Clean finish. Pretty hoppy for a single hop. Good summer beer.” He likes it.
Moose Drool by Big Sky Brewing (Missoula, Mt.)
• Internet Description: Chocolate brown color, creamy. Malty beer. Hint of spice and caramel.
• Jesse’s comment: “Overrated brown ale. Hops with caramel added.’’ Clearly not a fan.
1. I think if you ever get to Richfield at 4 p.m. on any given day, you could learn a new pool game called Sides Rotation at the Little Wood Saloon. It’s a difficult pool game that averages about 30 minutes per game. It teaches a player defense, how to shoot for leave, how to shoot soft, and how to bank. After playing “sides” for a while, 8-ball is easy. We have traveled fairly extensively across the Western United States over the last few years and have never met anyone who knew the game. When we travel, we play the game and people watch. They think we are poor pool players as it appears we make easy shots hard. As far as we know, Richfield is the only place on earth Sides Rotation is played. Since it’s not played anywhere else, we crown a World Champion every day when our game is done. As near as anyone can remember it came to Richfield about 50 years ago, possibly from Missouri.
2. I think the Cowboys will win a Super Bowl in the next three years. They are finally putting it all together. I’m admittedly biased because they have a Boise State connection. They have drafted quite a few Boise State players in the last 10 years, Vander Esch included, and most have worked out well. New coordinator Kellen Moore has a great playing background, he’s an intellectual and has studied the game deeply for most of his life. Most importantly he knows how to relate to players and build relationships. If the Cowboys offense does well this year, I think Moore will be the head coach soon. If Dallas starts lasting later into the playoffs than Seattle, I may have to switch my allegiance. Response, Pete Carroll?
3. I think you’ll see a major increase in receiver yardage in the NFL. Defenses are figuring out the dink and dunk passing game. The new crop of receivers will be big AND fast, and will run crisp routes and have flypaper hands. Think of a cross between Rob Gronkowski and Odell Beckham Jr. Defenses won’t know what to do and it will take a few years to adjust. Winning teams will feature a quarterback who can throw quickly and accurately 20 to 30 yards downfield and will have a defensive secondary that can match up to the opposing team’s receivers.
4. I think even after Tom Brady and Bill Belichick retire, New England will remain a force in the NFL. They have built a culture and have a winning process that will last for a while. As they have done with other players, they should be able to plug in a quarterback and a coach and keep going. Only time will tell if Tom and Bill were merely good, or truly great.
5. I think writing this column was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but it was as much fun as I thought it would be. So if you liked it, I challenge all you readers to email Peter and FMIA and tell him why I should come to your small town and report on your NFL culture. Let’s start the Football in Our Town (FOT) Challenge! The population of your small town must be 1,000 people or less. Get on it!
6. I think the next few generations of people in the U.S. and the world have a bright future from a social progress standpoint. I believe they will radically reduce racial injustice and gender inequality along with many other societal issues. Every generation loses some of the “bad” genes and thought processes from the previous generation. New issues always rise up, so be open, people. My great grandchildren and beyond deserve a better life than I’ve had. And I’ve had it pretty damn good.
7. I think I would like to thank all my family, friends, and the residents of Richfield who contributed to this column. With any luck, this column will give them their 15 minutes of fame—whether they want it or not.
8. I think Colin Cowherd’s regular segment “Where Colin Was Right and Where Colin Was Wrong” is one of the best listens on the radio. Great stuff. Give it a try.
9. I think there are a lot smarter people than me figuring this stuff out, but the NFL is going to have a serious issue on two fronts very soon. The next CBA negotiation is going to be much more difficult than everyone thinks. The game is bigger than ever, with more money being made and everyone knows it. It’s a business, but the corporation is not treating its employees as well as it could. The second area of concern is the talk of establishing an NFL team overseas. If the NFL eventually tries that, the team or teams will fail within three years. It might be a cool thing for the first year, but after that it will be a grind. I think it will be dysfunctional and players will feel like they have been sent to Siberia. It might make sense to first try a team in Mexico or Canada before crossing any oceans.
10. I think I’d like to wish everyone a happy Fourth of July this week. Respect the flag and enjoy the freedoms we have been given. Not many in the world have it as good as we do.