Hidden Gem The NFL star has long known what others are now finding out about his state

June 06, 2004

It's amazing how much Idaho has grown over the last few years,
especially my hometown of Boise. When I was a kid, the city had a
population of about 110,000. Now it's nearly twice that size,
with a lot of Californians having moved in. But I still
appreciate it for being a great small town.

There was just so much to do when I was young. We played the
traditional sports like football, baseball and basketball, but
we also loved camping, fishing, hiking and mountain biking. I
had plenty of company in my youth--I grew up with three older
brothers and many cousins--but I was the youngest of that group,
so I had a few more restrictions than the others. I couldn't go
swimming unless somebody was there to watch me, and I couldn't
ride my bike downtown with the other boys until I got older. I
guess it sounds strange that my parents wouldn't let me ride
with everybody else, but those guys used to go a long way. Today
you probably wouldn't see kids riding a couple of hours on their
own, but back then it was normal, at least in Boise.

We also had plenty of time to spend outdoors. Idaho winters can
be pretty bleak, but the summers are amazing. The temperature
usually hovers around the high 80s and low 90s during the day and
drops to the high 60s at night. The best part is that the sun
stays out until around 10:30 p.m. I can remember coming in from
playing at 9:30 at night (on my parents' orders), looking around
at how light it was and wondering why I couldn't stay out longer.

I have so many memories of those days: floating down the Boise
River in an oversized inner tube, hiking past the majestic
Sawtooth Mountains, cross-country skiing at Smiley Creek. There
were so many options that we didn't mind not having any major
professional teams. Even without them, we have great fans. People
especially love Boise State. That blue turf in Bronco Stadium is
one of the many unique sights in Idaho. The joke is that ducks
used to try landing on it because they thought it was water.

Idahoans also love their minor league baseball. The Boise Hawks
are a farm team for the Chicago Cubs, but they were affiliated
with the Anaheim Angels from 1990 through 2001. Fans really
embrace the Hawks, and several current major league
standouts--Garret Anderson, Troy Percival and Dontrelle Willis,
to name three--all played in Boise. Memorial Stadium was only two
miles from my house, so my friends and I would ride over for
games all the time. Once there, we would climb up the back of the
outfield walls and watch the action, hoping some free swinger
would crack a home run for us to nab.

We've had more teams move into Boise in recent years. There's a
CBA franchise (the Idaho Stampede) and a minor league hockey team
(the Idaho Steelheads). We've also produced our share of NFL
talent. Current players A.J. Feeley, Jordan Gross and Rob Morris
are all from Idaho, as is one of my teammates on the Broncos,
tight end Jeb Putzier. I think all those guys represent the type
of people who come out of the Gem State--hard workers with tough,
unpretentious attitudes. Even now I can go to my favorite places
in downtown Boise and never feel like I'm being treated like a
pro football player. And the people there know I'm not going to
big-time them.

I wish I could get back to Boise more often--I usually visit
twice a year--but I also have a house in Coeur d'Alene. It's
gorgeous up there, sort of like Lake Tahoe, and it's growing
fast. That's one of the things that is tough about the boom in my
state: It's getting harder to find privacy. You used to be able
to hike into the mountains and know that you wouldn't see anybody
for miles. I can still do that by going to the south end of Lake
Coeur d'Alene, but that might not last long, either. The cost of
living is too low, and the land is too beautiful. In fact, that's
exactly what some of my NFL friends have learned. I've had
buddies visit Boise from as far away as Arkansas, Florida and
Kentucky, and they all leave saying the same thing: Please invite
us back.

Denver Broncos quarterback Jake (the Snake) Plummer, who grew up
in Boise, is entering his eighth season in the NFL.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO

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