(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best football players in Montana history on July 2 with the launch of the #MTTop40. The series started with defensive backs and will run eight weeks, featuring one position each week, concluding with quarterbacks the week of Aug. 20-24 to coincide with Montana’s high school football season opener. This week, we profile the defensive linemen.)
Defensive linemen: No. 5 – Kroy Biermann, Hardin.
No. 4 defensive lineman – Pete Lazetich, Billings Senior
Montana has a few football families in its history — names like Bignell, Donahue and Hauck. But not many, if any, can rival the legacy of the Lazetich family, which saw Pete Lazetich continue the football tradition first set by his dad, Bill, and uncle, Milan.
Pete Lazetich stat sheet
Lazetich was a record-setting, three-sport athlete at Billings Senior High School in the 1960s, lettering in football, basketball and track and field three years. He was an all-state selection in all three sports in his junior and senior seasons and went on to set school records in the shot put and discus. Though the Bronc football teams weren’t that competitive during Lazetich’s high school career, he did help the basketball team to a 69-67 win over Billings West for the 1967 state championship. He was inducted into the Montana High School Association Athletes’ Hall of Fame in 1995.
Lazetich continued his football career at Stanford, where he was a three-year letter-winner at defensive tackle for the Cardinal. Stanford compiled a 25-8 record during Lazetich’s three years in the lineup and won Pacific-8 Conference titles in 1970 and ’71. The Cardinal won the Rose Bowl Game both of those seasons, defeating Ohio State 27-17 on Jan. 1, 1971 and Michigan 13-12 on Jan. 1, 1972. Lazetich received first-team all-conference and first-team all-American honors in 1971 and was later inducted into the Stanford Hall of Fame. Stanford also included Lazetich on its all-century football team.
Lazetich was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 1972 NFL Draft and played three seasons with the Chargers before going to Philadelphia in 1976. Lazetich appeared in 62 NFL games during his career, starting 23. Tackles and sacks were not official stats yet, but Lazetich did recover two fumbles.
Lazetich was inducted into the Montana Football Hall of Fame in 2013 alongside his father, Bill, and uncle, Milan. Bill Lazetich starred at Anaconda High School before playing at the University of Montana and in the NFL. He worked his way into coaching, where he won state championships in both football and basketball at Billings Senior. Milan Lazetich also competed in high school sports at Anaconda. He played briefly at Montana but later enrolled at the University of Michigan. He became a first-team all-conference tackle for the Wolverines and then played five seasons of professional football, where he earned all-NFL honors in 1948 and 1949 while playing with the Los Angeles Rams.
… on Lazetich:
Pete Lazetich: “It was a great time. My dad was coaching, so that made it a little easier. It’s funny. Montana high school football, it was the toughest time I ever had. … We had a lot of competition. They worked a lot harder in high school than they do now, and we had a little weather issue a couple times. I think I was sore in high school than I was in college or pro ball.
“First (Rose Bowl) over Ohio State, who they felt was probably one of the greatest college teams of all-time. I think they had four guys in the first round. (James) Stillwagon, (Michael) Sensibaugh, Jack Tatum, Rex Kern, they had a great team. I don’t think they overlooked us. Talking with some of the ball players later on when I was playing pro, they said that Woody Hayes worked them so hard that week that they thought they left most of it on the practice field. He wanted to beat Stanford and he wanted to beat them bad. It was kind of the issue – it was a West Coast team, hair’s a little longer than normal maybe, we had a good number of black guys on the squad. Here comes Ohio State. Woody Hayes loves to ground it. They were tough, undefeated, I think we were 21-point underdogs, but we kind of shocked them. (Stanford quarterback Jim) Plunkett lit them up. I know they were very frustrated, their defense was. Our defense, we played a hell of a game, I think we held them to only about 600 yards, and that was on the ground. They just couldn’t punch it in. It was a good game. It was a big upset. I think it was good for football and certainly good for the West Coast. It set the tone for times were changing and everyone had a shot.
“Then the same issue with Michigan the next year, we beat them. It was a much closer game, it went right down to the wire. … That was another good game. Defense, we did have a good game that game, because we had a good defense. We had (linebacker) Jeff Siemon, he was a first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, (defensive end) Greg Sampson was a first-round pick of the Houston Oilers, I was picked in the second round to the San Diego Chargers. Worst part, we didn’t have a lot of depth. That’s always been an issue with Stanford. It’s not now, but back in those days, whoever was there, played. Some of these doctors and lawyers, politicians that I played with, just see how small and scrawny they are, it makes you wonder how in the hell we did it.
“My dad was the coach of the basketball team at the time, assistant football coach, assistant track coach, just athletics was, it was the way of life. I loved watching all the pro teams on TV. We had the Chicago Bears every weekend in Billings. … Felt a tremendous amount of pride in my family and my heritage. Then, of course, my uncle played pro ball, and my dad played pro ball, too. He was with the Cleveland Rams right before the war. He played a couple years and then ultimately went into service. … (Milan Lazetich) was drafted in the second round because there were only nine pro teams. He went into the war. Uncle Milan, he was the best in the bunch. But I think at one point, he was the largest baby ever in Deer Lodge County. I think it was 13 pounds, 9 ounces at birth. He got the fever when he was young, so he essentially was blind in one eye, deaf in one ear. But that didn’t stop him. He was the ultimate tough guy. They called him Latch Eye, because one of his eyes was always about half-closed. Ultimately he got into the service. He was in the Navy for about four or five months before they realized that he couldn’t see out of the one eye. They discharged him. … He played at the University of Montana the year before, and Michigan picked him up. He played one year, sophomore year. He was all-Big 10, all-American. Boom, right after that, Cleveland Rams picked him, I think he was first pick, second round. … My uncle, he was all-Pro a number of years in the ’40s. He was kind of a big deal in Anaconda.
“The thing I remember the most are my teammates. They were just some real people, some real characters. It was live. Everything was live entertainment – the games, the practice, the partying, the injuries. A play only lasts five, six seconds. If you’re playing defensive line, you knew right at the snap of the ball what was happening. You knew who was blocking down on you, what’s going on, was it a run, pass. Things happen so fast and then it’s over. You do this for most of your life. You get used to things happening. … You’re so used to things happening now, now. One week, you play the game, who won? You know who won or lost, you go right back to the drawing board, you got another four or five days to put another game plan together. Then practice, things happen quick. When you get out of football, it takes a while just to realize things don’t happen that fast in the real world. You have to have some patience. … It was a big jump to go back and to get into business and get into things and get things going. That urgency and that quickness … I drank more beer and got patient. I’ve had a great, tremendous life. (Stanford coach John) Ralston would say, ‘Today’s the best day of your life, and tomorrow’s even going to be better,’ and that’s the way I feel.”