"Smiles everywhere!" marveled Les Cook as he surveyed a parking lot packed with Digger pride.
The first Montana Tech football game of the year was Saturday. But before that, of course, came the first Montana Tech tailgate of the year, and for the newly arrived Tech chancellor, being in the center of a sea of "Copper Game" T-shirts and inhaling the aroma of burgers and brats was an absolutely joyous experience.
"The spirit and the energy is amazing," he said.
Cook, who came from Michigan Tech, allowed as how the football spirit was pretty good there too. "But there's nothing like all this tailgating, all the people. It's so energizing."
Cook looks like a man very much enjoying his new role.
"As I told our student convocation, every day I'm here, my smile gets larger," he said Saturday. "Everywhere I go I discover something new about this place.
"Montana Tech makes me incredibly happy."
Cook is literally everywhere on campus, talking to students and faculty ("they are so inspiring!") but he's also very visible around The Mining City.
"I loved going to the farmer's market this morning," he said, "and the Art Walk last night."
Saturday, it seemed like half the town was on campus, as the tailgaters assembled beneath the backdrop of the new Student Success Center.
One of the broadest smiles in the crowd belonged to Joe McClafferty, and for good reason. As president of the Montana Tech Foundation, he had a lot to do with the Student Success Center, and as a member of the selection committee for the chancellor position, he had quite a bit to do with Cook's arrival as well.
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Athletic Director Matt Stepan and beloved Coach Bob Green were pretty jovial as well as they stopped to chat with the veteran burgermeisters manning the grill at the Touchdown Club — including Leo McCarthy, Lee Alt, Josh Vincent and Darrel Storey.
Every year the club pumps out the free burgers, dogs and drinks to an appreciative fan base, asking only for donations.
"We started with one 55-gallon drum sawed in half," Alt said. "Then it was a big deal, we got another barrel."
But over the years the club raised $30,000 for their deluxe trailer setup, which they often take to away games as well.
Oh, and while they were at it, the club has raised more than $75,000 for the reserve seat backs in the stadium and financed a big chunk of the Jumbotron as well.
"We always have a good time," said Vincent, who played running back for the Diggers from 1992-1996 and started the club the following year with McCarthy, his father Mike Vincent, his teammate Storey, and several others.
One of the most enthusiastic fans of the afternoon had to be Bella McCamley, a stocky 5-year-old pooch belonging to Mary McCamley.
"She certainly likes tailgating," Mary said as Bella, tail wagging nonstop, towed her joyfully around from one heavenly food-table scent to the next.
Mary said Bella seemed to know that it's a big day for her human brother, Orediggers' senior wide receiver Sam McCamley.
"She'll have to 'watch' the game from her crate in the truck, but she knows it's a big deal," Mary said.
With a smile.