There's a Nevada license plate hanging on the wall of the Torrey Pines Pub, about five miles off the Strip in Las Vegas, that reads "UM GRIZ." Pub owner Bob Bonner says the plate has significance. "Its twin is hanging up at Rowdy's Cabin," he says, referring to the bar on Missoula's Reserve Street.
Friday evening, Dec. 16, the University of Montana is trailing Sam Houston State 21-0 in the first quarter of the FCS semifinal game. Bonner looks nervous. So do the 100 maroon-and-silver-clad Griz fans packed into the Vegas bar. Some are catching the game while on vacation from Kalispell, Missoula and even Oregon. Others, like Pat Rue, are Montanans turned Nevadans. Rue moved to Vegas from Big Timber in 1994 but never abandoned his Griz loyalty.
"You've got your pro team," he says. "And you've got your Grizzlies."
Halftime, and those Grizzlies are still trailing the Bearkats 21-14. The question around the bar is the same: "What the fuck is a Bearkat?"
Jerry Furniss, a professor at the UM School of Business, is keeping an eye out for any vacationing UM students. He's hundreds of miles from home and finds it "really nice to be here among friends." Asked how they heard about Torrey Pines, Furniss's wife, Shannon, says, "Everybody knows about Torrey Pines."
It's the end of the third quarter. Sam Houston leads 31-21, but no one's lost hope. Bonner shouts, "First down!" The bar shouts back, "Montana!"
"We're a Montana bar," Bonner says, needlessly.
Bonner is a Pennsylvania native. He'd never heard of the Griz before 1992, when two regulars asked him to switch on the UM game. Three years later, the Griz won their first national championship.
"I got on the train just when it was leaving the station," Bonner says.
The game ends on a sour note. A pass to Jabin Sambrano falls short with six minutes on the clock. The Griz lose 31-28.
There's always next season, says Bonner, who carries an honorary UM alumni card in his wallet. The bar is full of Griz memorabilia, including signed team photos and a chunk of Washington-Grizzly Stadium turf. Bonner even ran out of the helmet with the team in 2001.
"You know what I was thinking out on the field? 'Don't trip.'"
Asked if he's been to any Griz bars in Missoula, he says, hell yes, he's been to Red's, Stockman's, all the staples. And of course, he's been to Rowdy's. After all, not every Missoula bar has a Nevada license plate.