BILLINGS — Mitch Donahue was pretty excited when I told him that he had been voted as Wyoming’s greatest defensive lineman ever. Then I accidentally tempered that a bit by telling him his status had stood for 30 years.
“It is humbling, especially when you say 30 years ago," Donahue laughed.
All jokes aside - humility is one of Mitch’s strong suits. After I told him, he immediately went to the poll to try and deflect credit. There was never any doubt that the school’s all-time sacks leader should get the nod, a feat accomplished through humility and hunger.
“I felt fortunate to be able to keep playing after high school. Wyoming treated me great," said Donahue.
When asked where his Wyoming memories stack up in his long football career, he doesn't hesitate.
“They’re the best.”
Donahue had plenty of big moments on his way to back-to-back WAC Player of the Year honors, but one of his favorite memories is from the final minute of a game at Air Force as a sophomore in 1988.
“I got my finger bit during the game, and it was cut wide open, bleeding all over the place. It was (my ring finger) - not (my middle finger), but this one. I tried to show the referee my bit finger, and I was showing it to him like this, and he thought I was flipping him off so he kicked me out of the game.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
“My coach actually grabbed my finger and showed the referee that I wasn’t flipping him off, so he said, ‘Ok, he’s free to go back in.’”
Donahue may be the only person ever to get kicked out and talk himself back in.
“That was Paul Roach, he was a smooth operator," Donahue admitted. "As soon as I got back in, Dee Dowis rolled out, and I was there to meet him. I took him down and caused a fumble. Then Sean Fleming kicked a field goal and we won by one or two points.”
The Cowboys won more games that year than any other in program history, finishing 11-2 and earning a trip to the Holiday Bowl. Donahue had arrived, but as he’ll tell you, he was just one piece of a special group.
“Our team was full of guys that were undersized, underrated, got overlooked by Nebraska and some of the bigger schools, so our guys came to us with a chip on their shoulder. Somehow we got it done, just through force of will.”
A force that became Donahue’s calling card for years to come.