Battle of the birds 

Following the semi-pro Missoula Raptors’ upstart 2005 season, a group of players from the Bitterroot Valley broke off and formed their own team, the Bitterroot Blaze. Now, on the heels of the 2006 Rocky Mountain Football League Season (RMFL), the Raptors have split again.

Last month 44 Missoula Raptor players petitioned the RMFL to take control of the team. Not happy with the Raptors’ management, they asked RMFL commissioner Jared Neumeier for a name and color change, a recognized management change and retention of the Raptors’ RMFL franchise rights.

On Aug. 8 Neumeier granted their wish by officially recognizing the new organization under the name Missoula Phoenix. According to Neumeier, the Phoenix will replace the Raptors in the RMFL and will compete in Montana for another Northern Conference Title.

Former Raptor defensive captain James Jacobson helped lead the drive to create the Phoenix. He says he has no hard feelings toward the Raptors; it’s just that the team wanted to go in a different direction than that forged by Raptors founders Paul Ryan and Rajiem Seabrook.

“I wish them every bit of luck in the world,” says Jacobson. “They did a lot of work in order to create the team and make it happen. We have them to thank for bringing semi-pro football to Missoula.”

According to Neumeier, Ryan and Seabrook will still be able to maintain a Missoula Raptors team, but if they want to compete in the RMFL in 2007, they’ll have to petition as a new team.

But Seabrook says the Raptors are looking at other options.

“We’re not sure if we’re still going to be a part of the Rocky Mountain Football League,” Seabrook says. “We’re considering joining the Evergreen Football League (EFL), another regional semi-pro league, but at this point we’re still undecided.”

Seabrook says a charter in the EFL would allow the Raptors to compete against more teams than they were able to play in the RMFL.

At this point it’s too soon to say if Missoula’s two semi-pro football teams might face each other on the gridiron next season.

“That,” Jacobson says, “would be very interesting.”

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