Rouse joined Flaherty in Portland, Ore. in 1958 and won nine fights and drew one that year. "When I first started I was making pretty good money," Rouse says. "I was averaging about $600 a month. Then I just kind of lost interest in boxing. I couldn't help thinking I should have kept on in school. And people would tell me, you know what happens when the brain hits the skull, and I'd imagine the brain sitting in there bouncing around. Although I was winning my fights, this stuff was getting to me. Every time I got in the ring I asked myself, what am I a fighter for, why am I punching someone I don't know? Boxing's better than working in the smelter, but you could be doing something worthwhile. I'd feel tired and listless. I couldn't understand it. It was a struggle. I was just plodding along. Flaherty insisted I wasn't training right, so I'd work harder and harder and get more and more lethargic."
After winning three fights in the winter of 1959, the last by a one-round knockout, Rouse more or less gave up boxing; in the next three years he had but two fights, both of which he lost.
He said recently, "There was no enjoyment in it at all to win such dull fights, such poor fights. You can't appreciate anything like that. Flaherty thought I was anemic. I thought perhaps it had something to do with my having rheumatic fever and a heart murmur when I was 14. I went to the University of Oregon Medical School. They tested me for everything and said I was disgustingly healthy. I didn't know what the heck to think, but I had to be honest with myself. There was more to this than meets the eye.
"I couldn't find a job. It was winter in Oregon and raining. I did landscaping when it didn't rain. Gee, it rained for nine months. They took my car back. We sold our furniture and moved back to Pocatello. I did farm and irrigation work in the summer. In the winter I worked in Eddy's bakery. And I'd daydream about boxing all the time. Flaherty asked me to come back with him. I went down to Portland and got a job with an evergreen company, which I had worked for before. They go out in the woods and cut Christmas trees and boughs.
"Then Flaherty disappears. I fight Sid Carter in Tacoma and lose. Flaherty turns up in San Francisco and he wants me to come down there. I was packing crates with greens for funeral wreaths. I went down there to fight Charley Leslie, but they kept having postponements. I was down for a month and I was only supposed to be gone 12 days. The next fight there were more postponements. I told the evergreen company they might as well get somebody else. Then I realized that what had been bothering me was a mental thing. I told myself I was going to try to go all the way. I knew I could make it. I realized I could fight a little. But the money wasn't there anymore.
"Then Flaherty decided to move to San Jose. I went to San Jose. We fought out of there for a while, but I wasn't making any money. I got $200 for winning the state title. There wasn't anybody there. I kept after Flaherty to fight in Montana. Let's just go get a payday, I said. Maybe San Jose will develop into a fight town, but I'll be too old."
In 1964 Rouse finally got back to Montana and, in Butte, on November 23 achieved his most notable win up to then, a one-round knockout of Johnny Persol, who was ranked seventh. More important, it was the Persol fight that brought Roger and Pete Jovanovich together.
Jovanovich is 42, has a rosy complexion, gray hair and calls everyone "cousin." He is from Bearcreek, Mont. (pop. 61), where his father was a coal miner, and he first came to Anaconda to work on the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific.
Jovanovich heard that Butte wouldn't put up the $3,000 to bring Persol in. "What a crying shame," Jovanovich remembers thinking. "Here's a kid with all the potential, and he can't get off the ground. I went out on the street and caught a couple of guys on the way to the post office. 'Hey,' I said, 'we got a chance to get Persol.' " Within an hour and a half Jovanovich had raised 53,000 from 10 businessmen who later incorporated themselves as Montana Boxing Enterprises to promote Rouse's fights in Montana. But after knocking out Persol, Roger went back to San Jose, where he was on probation for 10 months for slapping a girl around on a boccie court, and fought Henry Hank in front of 400 people for $150 and lost.
"I had no money for a room," Rouse says. "I slept in my car for about four days. Once in a while I'd get a room for $1.50 a night. Flaherty got a hold of me and told me he had a fight lined up in Boise in five days. 'Are you kidding?' I said. 'How can I fight? I've been sleeping in my car, I haven't been eating.' Flaherty asked me whether I had been doing my running. 'Running!' I said. 'How can I run when I haven't been eating?' At the time I was ranked seventh or eighth, 'Oh,' Flaherty said, 'it's just some kid. You won't have any trouble with him. You'll get $500.' So I went down in some basement and punched the heavy bag and fought George Gaston, who was the Prospect of the Month. I knocked him out in the fifth. When I went to get my $500, Flaherty had drawn half of it. I had to pay my trainer's way back from Boise out of that. When I got back to San Jose I had $15. The same old story. Before, Flaherty would talk to me for hours about the glories of boxing, and I'd feel sorry for him and go back to him. This time I left.