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How to survive Homecoming

Hundreds of extra bodies will swarm into Missoula the first weekend in October, as out-of-town Griz fans and University of Montana alumni gather for the annual glut of Homecoming festivities. Hotels are booked up. The Homecoming parade is locked in. Tickets for the football game are going for as much as $61 on eBay. Griz Nation, in other words, is primed for a hell of a party.

So what's a local to do when the bars are full, the traffic's backed up and the streets are awash in maroon and silver?

The easy solution is to hunker down at home and wait out the crowds. But cabin fever's a nasty ailment. Disrupting the usual Missoula routine of Saturday markets, mid-afternoon hikes and lazy beer garden get-togethers can feel like a wasted weekend, especially in these waning days of summer. And there's really no need to—provided you follow a few simple survivor steps for Homecoming.

Know the lay of the land. Sure, homework was a total buzz-kill in college, but studying the calendar of events for UM's Homecoming week can save time and stress. The All Alumni Dance and Social, hosted at the Holiday Inn Downtown at the Park by the Office of Alumni Relations, promises to be a hotbed of Homecoming activity on Friday, Sept. 30. And where do all those thirsty UM grads of yore end up when the live jazz winds down? According to events coordinator Jay Kettering, probably at their old college haunts. That means long lines for drinks downtown, the bane of any Friday night. Finding a quieter bar away from the bustle—The Sunrise Saloon, Desperado, or any joint at the south end of Brooks Street—seems an obvious choice.

The real trick comes on Saturday morning, when popular brunch spots like the Old Post and the Shack swell at the seams. Reservations are virtually non-existent around town, and everyone's in a rush to get their meals before the start of the Homecoming parade. Adding to the downtown chaos are UM's 5K Homecoming Hustle and the usual host of market shoppers. By 10 a.m.—the start time for the parade—driving is more a hindrance than a convenience. To avoid getting "marooned" on the wrong side of Higgins when the marching bands and floats start their trek toward campus, Kettering suggests biking or busing to your destination. His advice for managing UM's temporary dominion over Missoula is simple: "Be aware of it."

"The alternatives are slim," he adds. "It's either bike, walk or bus, or park a good distance away. I don't know if there's really any magic solution."

Kettering had no estimates to offer on the number of alumni traveling in for the weekend. His best guess? Thousands.

But there's an appealing alternative to all-out avoidance of the Homecoming throngs: Don't fight the wave of Griz mania, ride it. Most of the festivities are open to the public and offer enough free music and complementary eats to make up for the mild inconveniences. Immediately following the bonfire and fireworks show on the Oval Sept. 30, the alumni jazz band and local rock quartet House of Quist are set to play the alumni social at the Holiday Inn.

The biggest perk to jumping on the Homecoming wagon, however, comes on Saturday afternoon when the Griz go head to head with the University of Northern Colorado Bears. Homecoming tickets are a rare commodity these days due to increases in season ticket sales and reserved student seating. Alumni Relations began selling its allotted Homecoming tickets to registered members of the 1971 class reunion—with a limit of two per alumnus—back in July.

"It's probably more difficult than ever to get a Homecoming ticket," Kettering says. "Even though they've added more seats to the stadium, the popularity is still so great."

To accommodate the hundreds of inbound alumni not lucky enough to snag a seat at the game, Alumni Relations began hosting a TV Tailgate in the Adams Center four years ago. By Kettering's account, it's just about the best alternative in town to watching the game in Washington-Grizzly Stadium—and it's open to the public. They leave the gym doors open, he says, so those watching the 11-foot projector screen can hear the cannon and the roar of the crowd. It's "growing every year," Kettering says. "It's a pretty good alternative if you want to be on campus and as close to the stadium as you can get without being in the stadium. It's probably easier to get a seat there than at the Press Box or trying to find a sports bar."

And for those ready to fully immerse themselves in the Homecoming hoopla, the TV Tailgate comes with an added bonus: A raffle for two stadium tickets, held just before kickoff.

As for the post-game exodus, you're on your own.

—Alex Sakariassen

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