Bernie Bierman rubbed his smoke-reddened eyes and managed a grin of relief.
It was just after 4 a.m. on Sept. 24, 1936, and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football coach was standing across the street from the Florence Hotel in downtown Missoula as it went up in flames.
Bierman was out his watch, hat, shaving kit and key ring, all left back upstairs in his haste to escape.
Now came word that all 43 of his players, coaches and support staff were unharmed and accounted for. Safe too were the sportswriters and VIPs in the travel party, including the mayor and a state senator from Minneapolis.
"Some of the boys lost their personal belongings and a few have tender feet from running around on the pavement but they are all safe, and that's all that matters to me," the coach said.
There is no modern equivalent to those Gophers. For one thing, no big-time college football team since has won a third consecutive national championship as they were on their way to doing that season.