Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Marboe’s career hangs by an impressive string

Senior center has started 45 straight games … and counting

The rules of player eligibility preempt the notion of a college football Cal Ripken Jr., or even a Bob Curtis – guys who carried on season upon season and couldn’t be dragged from the lineup by horse and hitch.

Heck, even presidents get four more years.

But what they call a career in college football is always played to the accompaniment of a ticking clock. So in unforgiving math, Mike Marboe’s string of consecutive starts at center in an Idaho uniform – 45 and counting, but not much higher – won’t get any run behind baroque numbers like Ripken’s 2,632 starts with the Orioles or Curtis’ 540 behind a microphone at Vandals games.

Which was not at all on Marboe’s mind when he said, “I wish it would have been more.”

He means bowl games, presumably. Or maybe just a timing correction so that he might be around to share in the reward he is certain awaits this struggling program.

But time’s up. There’s no Bluto Blutarsky seven-year plan for Marboe and his fellow seniors.

Saturday is their final home game, a date in the Kibbie Dome against Troy, with a roadie at Appalachian State to finish the season two weeks later. Barring the unmentionable, that will bring Marboe’s streak to a close at 47 – having been cheated out of one more when Idaho’s opener at Florida was weathered-out.

Yes, you could say it took the crash of thunder and bolts of lightning to keep Marboe off the field.

“Sure, you want to start every one – I don’t think there’s a player who comes into the program who doesn’t think that way,” he said. “It’s something I’m proud of. But I’d gladly trade some of those starts for a few more wins.”

Don’t bother trying to read between the lines for further regret or pining for a do-over on his college choice. And Marboe had choices – Colorado State, Vanderbilt, UNLV and Yale among others. But if landing at Idaho wasn’t inevitable, it was one of those things that simply made sense – and maybe even more so once it was clear he’d never miss a game.

Because the family’s attachment to Idaho never skips a generation.

Marboe’s great-great-great-great grandfather, Clancy St. Clair, was a UI regent in the 1920s and was still serving in 1937 when the board pushed through the funding and opened old Neale Stadium – which was condemned a mere 45 years ago.

Clancy’s daughter Willa and her future husband Lee Cannon were also Vandals, and their daughter Cathy would marry Kent Marboe, who spent a couple years (1956-57) in an Idaho uniform at defensive end. Then came Kent and Cathy’s son Scott – recruited from Idaho Falls to play center after John Yarno’s departure to the NFL but derailed by two knee surgeries.

All manner of Marboe uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews have attended UI, too. Someone should have thought to buy a rooming house near campus decades ago.

But family tradition “didn’t play as much a role as people think,” Marboe insisted.

The chance to play early did. So eager was Marboe to get after it that he finished his requirements at Wenatchee High School a semester early to join the Vandals for spring ball in 2010. In fact, his streak almost started then – first-string center Clell Hasenbank crumpled to the turf during the first series of the Silver-and-Gold Game, and Marboe took the rest of his snaps. Hasenbank’s ankle healed quickly enough to allow him to return in the fall, but Marboe was listed as his backup all through a redshirt season.

Since then, Marboe has been the constant through three head coaches, five (5!) position coaches, two conference affiliations, a year as an orphan – and just five (5!) victories.

But he’s always been a constant.

“I think he’s started every game since seventh grade at Foothills Middle School,” Scott reported.

There have been close calls. Marboe broke a hand in midseason last year and “played with a big club on my arm” the rest of the way. Someone rolled up on his ankle last month against New Mexico State and he limped off the field to the collective horror of everyone in the dome. Steve Matlock moved to center … for all of one play.

There’s a reason Marboe’s linemates call him “Gumby.”

“I’ve just learned to be resilient,” Marboe maintained. “No matter what life throws you, you put on your boots the next day and go to work. It’s the only way to live your life. Keep fighting and things will turn for you.

“I really think people will remember that this is the year the program turned around. No, we haven’t won enough games, but we’re close and this group put it in motion for five years from now when they’re Sun Belt champs three years in a row.”

Even with his own coming to an end, Mike Marboe can’t help but talk in streaks.