When University of Nebraska hosted its 20th anniversary reunions for the 1994 and 1995 national championship seasons and honored former players from arguably two of the greatest teams in college football history with a pregame ceremony in front of 90,000 fans, there was a noticeable exception. The co-captain of the ‘95 undefeated Cornhuskers was missing.
It wasn’t that Mark Gilman didn’t want to be at either occasion. But both times he had something else that took precedence: His son Tadan had a regular-season football game.
“It would’ve been nice to get back for those (national championship reunions), but I didn’t go because my son had a game,” Gilman said. “That’s the biggest thing — watching him.”
One of the all-time great athletes from Kalispell — even Montana, for that matter — now finds himself in a new role as one of the biggest cheerleaders in town.
Speaking with Gilman these days, instead of bringing up his own glory days, he’s more likely to talk about the talented football team at Glacier High School, where his son is the standout quarterback leading the Wolfpack on another exciting playoff run. He’s also a regular attendee at just about every sporting event at Glacier, happy to cheer on his son’s classmates and friends.
“When you have kids, you almost care more about their success and how they deal with things than you do your own self,” he said. “I’ve actually had more fun raising (Tadan) and watching him develop into what he’s become now, not just as an athlete, but as a student and as a person.”
Tadan, an agile senior with a burly 6-foot-1 frame similar to his 6-4 father, is enjoying a memorable season that would make any papa proud. In last Friday’s regular-season finale at Legends Stadium, Glacier (9-1) rolled past Missoula Big Sky 47-7 and locked up the No. 2 seed in the Class AA playoffs, guaranteeing home-field advantage for at least the first two games, including this Friday’s matchup against Missoula Sentinel. Gilman completed 13-of-19 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns and rushed in another score.
In his first and only season as the starting quarterback, Tadan has completed 56 percent of his passes — 127 of 227 — for 1,949 yards with 18 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He has also rushed for 527 yards and another eight scores. Not bad for a player whose previous role was chasing quarterbacks as an all-state outside linebacker. That’s the type of versatility and talent that attracted coaches from both Montana State and Montana. Tadan chose the Bobcats, where he will most likely resume his fierce identity at linebacker but could play running back.
Along the way, he’s had a good resource and constant source of support by his side at all times.
“He’s been there to motivate me and relay his experience and trying to help me with mine,” Tadan said of his father.
Tadan began playing Little Guy football in fourth grade. He immediately developed a love for the game.
“When he was younger all the way up to eighth grade, I used to have a lot of conversations on football with him — techniques, how to play the position, stuff like that,” Mark said. “But the moment he got into the program here at Glacier, I’ve totally taken myself out because these coaches have probably forgotten more football than I know. That’s how much respect I have for these coaches here.”
Instead, Mark and Tadan usually talk about the mental side of the game.
“Him and I mostly talk about the psychology of sports,” Mark said. “How do you approach it? How do you react when you face adversity? How do you react when you have success?”
And what has Tadan learned most from his Division I father, who played in some of the biggest and best football games of the last 20 years?
“Just be focused and try to relax and have fun,” Tadan said. “Don’t be so uptight. Of course you want to be the aggressor on the field and go 100 percent on every single play, but the main aspect is have fun.”
That may seem like surprising fatherly advice from someone like Mark Gilman, who earned a reputation in his playing days as a fierce, blue-collar competitor.
“For me, I put too much pressure on myself a lot of time,” Mark said. “I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. I probably took it too serious when I was that young. I’m telling him to enjoy this. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.”
With a father, Tom, who was a coach and physical education teacher, Mark basically grew up in the gym in Kalispell. At Flathead High School in the late 1980s and early 90s, he set a school record by earning 11 varsity letters. As a two-time all-state quarterback for the Braves, he set a single-season passing record with 1,596 yards. In basketball, he was a three-time Class AA all-state forward who averaged more than 20 points per game his last two seasons. As a senior in 1991, he guided Flathead to a runner-up finish at the state tournament and was named tournament MVP. In track, he placed second at state in both the discus and shot put. At the time, he was one of only five Montana high school athletes to ever surpass 60 feet in the shot put.
Despite playing in the far northwestern corner of Montana, elite college programs such as Nebraska, Washington, Oregon and Washington State began calling. He took a scholarship to play for the legendary Tom Osborne in Nebraska and earned a reputation as one of the hardest-working players in the program. As the team’s hard-nosed blocking tight end, he played a pivotal role in both championship seasons, including starting five games in the undefeated 1995 season. As a junior, he caught a 19-yard touchdown in the Orange Bowl, when Nebraska defeated Miami 24-17 for the national title. As a senior, he was named the university’s lifter of the year and was voted team captain.
Now selling personalized insurance at PayneWest, Gilman does enjoy looking back on his own playing days, but not as much as watching his son and eighth-grade daughter, Cameron, find success and learn life’s lessons through sports, such as the importance of work ethic and dedication.
“Right now, I think of my experience and I’m very content and satisfied,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.”
But standing in the bleachers watching his kids is an even better feeling.
“When you have children, it goes by so fast,” he said. “Every day, you’ve got to take advantage of that.”