By Tim Eberly
P.J.'s Restaurant was nearly splitting at the seams this morning when about 20 former National Football League player s filled their bellies before embarking on their second day of hunting.
They were preparing for the last leg of the Legends for Life Pheasant Jamboree fund-raising effort for local groups, such as Montana State University-Northern's football program and Havre's youth wrestling club.
Jerry Sturm, who played center for New Orleans from 1967-70, has attended about 25 charity events a year for the last 30 years. Most of them are charity golf tournaments, which explains the Denver resident's 6 handicap. But Sturman relished the change of pace a hunting fund-raiser offered.
"This is great," said Sturm, who started participating in charity events in the off-season when he was still in the NFL. "I can't wait to get back for next year. There will be more birds maybe next year."
An AFL Pro-Bowler with Denver in 1964 and '66, Sturm also spent two years playing pro football in Canada. He retired from the NFL in 1973 at the age of 36, when he was "too fat, too old and too slow," according to Sturm.
Many of the players at this first-ever fund-raiser had not seen each other since they left the league.
"We were just reminiscing and telling stories about our playing days," said Sturm, who played at the University of Illinois. "Talking about guys you played against."
Sturm drove from Denver on Saturday afternoon after his quarterback son Brett's high school football game. He drove to Helena to the house of Phil Hurd, another former NFL'er who participated in this week's fund raising. On Sunday, they went fishing at Canyon Ferry Lake. "I caught seven rainbow trout," said Sturm, whose next charity event is the upcoming NFL Legends Golf Tournament in Pebble Beach, Calif.
Five of the former athletes drove up from Knoxville, Tenn., in a recreational vehicle, including 61-year-old Dick Evey. It took them three days to get to Havre.
"It's been a while" since Evey has embarked on such a lengthy road trip. "Usually, we were on the airplanes," Evey said.
Born in State College, Pa., Evey attended the University of Tennessee. He was the No. 1 draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1963, one year before they drafted Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers. He also played for Detroit and the LA Rams. He had not visited before but has relished his experience in Havre.
"It's got something that gets inside you," Evey said.
Twelve is the limit per day for the number of pheasants one can kill. Mick Tingelhoff, 61, a seven-time Pro Bowler with the Minnesota Vikings, reached that limit.
"I like to hunt. I've hunted all my life," said Tingelhoff, whose jersey is being retired in November when the Vikings host the Chicago Bears.
Unlike Sturm, Tingelhoff mostly particpates in charity events exclusively around Minneapolis, his hometown. He competes in an annual charity golf tournament for crippled children, and fund-raises for Habitat for Humanity. But he decided to make the trip when his friend and former colleague, Mike Tilleman, called and invited him to join the festivities.
"Mike works hard at it and we're happy to help him," said Tingelhoff, adding, "It's a great town. The people have been very nice."
Tingelhoff played his entire 17-year career with the Vikings, from 1962-79. But while growing up in Lexington, Nebraska, Tingelhoff was almost as committed to hunting, which has made for an enjoyable week.
"You get the best of everything," said Tingelhoff, who played collegiately at the University of Nebraska. "You get to see guys that you played against. And all the guys like to hunt."