Santa Claus’ eyes still start to well up when he talks about it.

Tommy Mellott was just a little boy sitting on the lap of Tom Beatty, who stopped by the Mellott house dressed as Saint Nicholas.

Year round, Tom has the perfect beard and physique to play the part, and this time he visited the Mellott house to meet a family he never knew before.

Tommy’s mom was in the hospital with an illness, and she was not doing well. It was very touch and go, and Santa stopped by to try to take her kids’ minds off the awful situation. (Click here for the podcast version of this column.)

Santa could not believe his ears when he asked the young boy what he wanted for Christmas.

He did not ask for a new computer or a PlayStation. He didn’t want a new bike or a Red Ryder BB Gun. All he wanted for Christmas, Tommy told Santa, was for his mom to get better.

Thankfully, she did.

Tears rolled down Tom’s face as he struggled to digest the situation. He could not believe that a little boy could have such a tremendous perspective in such a difficult time.

To this day, that Santa Claus will tell you Tommy Mellott is perhaps the most impressive boy he has ever met.

For years, we have said Tommy is wise beyond his years. For years, we thought that this kid just seems too good to be true.

For years, Tommy has proved over and over that it is not an act. He is as genuine as they come.

Whether it is in football or in life, Tommy Mellott is the real deal.

We saw that after Tommy and the Montana State Bobcats stomped the Montana Grizzlies 55-21 in Bozeman.

Shortly after the game, Tommy was interviewed on live television.

He decided to use that time to ask Bobcat fans to take it easy on the Grizzlies players.

“Quit trying to dehumanize those guys over there, trying to get in their bus,” he said. “Don’t be messing with them.”

That Tommy felt the need to say those words says so much. 

“I know what it feels like. We felt it last year,” Tommy said. “Those guys work harder than 90 percent of the people just to put themselves in position to play this game. Please just respect them and take care of those guys.”

Afterwards, people talked about Tommy’s great sportsmanship. But it is so much more than that. Tommy was sounding an alarm, and we all need to pay attention.

The word that jumps out of Tommy’s comments is “dehumanize.” It is a powerful word that highlights the very worst of the Cat-Griz rivalry.

We really have been doing that to players, coaches and fans of the other side, and that is dangerous.

I have always had a hard time understanding the intense vitriol fans have for their in-state rival. I could never understand how people from Montana can be so against a team from Montana.

Maybe that is because I grew up in Butte, which is pretty much halfway between the schools.

I grew up cheering for the Cats. I loved Kelly Bradley when he played quarterback in Bozeman. I loved the Ferch brothers, Tom Domako and Alonzo Stephens when they played hoops at MSU.

I still liked the Grizzlies, though. I especially started liking them when Butte players like Lance Allen, Chad Lembke and Todd Ericson (football) and Gary Kane (basketball) played in Missoula.

I wanted the Grizzlies to win every game but one. When I realized that I would go to school at UM and study journalism, I switched allegiance. 

Still, I wanted the Bobcats to win every game but one. I wanted the Grizzlies to enter the football playoffs at 11-0 and the Bobcats at 10-1.

Then, I wanted the Griz to beat the Bobcats again in the title game.

After graduation, my loyalty to the Griz slowly dwindled. I became pretty much neutral when it comes to the Cats and Griz. 

I want both teams to win each week. When it comes to the Cat-Griz game, I cheer for the team with the most Butte players.

This year, I was for the Cats because Tommy Mellott, fellow Butte High graduates Casey Kautzman and Dylan Snyder and Butte Central grad Aaron Richards on the MSU roster outnumber Butte High grads Jake Olson and Tanner Huff on Montana’s.

I will always cheer for all those Butte guys.

More importantly, I never want to hear people talk about them the way I heard Bobcat fans were trashing Robby Hauck, one of the all-time great UM defensive players who just so happens to be the son of Grizzlies head coach Bobby Hauck.

Sure, Bobby Hauck might be fair game for a couple of needles from the crowd. He, after all, makes about a half a million a year.

His son, though, is just a player who is dedicating his life to being the best student-athlete he can.

There is no need for the venom to be spewed at him like it was.

The funny thing is that you do not see that out of the former players from the Bobcats and Grizzlies. In those guys, for the most part, you see a mutual respect for each other.

Rather, you see the nonsense from the fans who do not know what it is like to line up for an Oklahoma drill.

People who have no idea what kind of sacrifice and work it takes to be a college football player at such a high level are the first ones to hurl insults at the players who do.

Nobody is asking Bobcat fans to cheer for the Grizzlies, or vice versa. It would be nice, though, if you could respect both teams from your home state.

By the way, if you don’t respect your opponent, then it should not be a big deal that you beat them. The excitement of beating the Grizzlies is great for the Bobcat fans because they respect what a difficult accomplishment that is.

At least, that is what it should be.

But if you tell your opponents they suck, beating them should be no big deal.

As it is now, the Cat-Griz rivalry has boiled over to the point where it is becoming very ugly, and it seems to be getting worse each year. 

Do we really want our state’s football fans to turn into a bunch of Harvey Updykes?

To save you the Google, Updyke is the Alabama fan who poisoned 80-year-old trees at Auburn because he hated the Tigers.

That is next-level nuts when it comes to being a sports fanatic, and we do not seem to be not far from it.

When the Cats or Griz advance to the national championship game, it is inevitable that a bar favoring the other rival will buy a newspaper ad supporting its opponent.

We saw Bobcat fans cheer for Villanova, and we saw Grizzly fans cheer for North Dakota State.

Really, you would rather see schools from Pennsylvania and North Dakota bring home a title instead of the team down the street? The team with players from your hometown?

While it was far from shocking because nothing Tommy Mellott ever does is shocking to those of us who know him, it was so refreshing to hear Tommy speak to the crazies taking over.

A young man of just 21 keeps things in perfect perspective when pretty much every other adult in the state has lost his or her mind over the Cat-Griz rivalry.

Hopefully fans from both sides will take his words to heart as much as Jolly Old St. Nicholas did. 

— Bill Foley, who routinely dehumanizes Packers and Yankees fans, can be reached at him at to the ButteCast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.