Griz Biz



UM and MSU vie for Big Sky supremacy

On a morning as crisp and ugly as a brand new C-note about a year ago, a roguish acquaintance of mine, charged purposefully through the jumble of thousands of parked cars around Montana State University's football stadium.

There were a half-dozen in my pod of UM boosters, who had traveled to Bozeman for the rite of football season known as the Montana Power Classic.

Brian Ah Yat hopes to carry the University of Montana to another win.

We could hear the gathering storm in the distance, the reedy sound of a keyed-up gridiron crowd. At that moment, though, far from the arena's gates, our small detachment of silver-and-maroon clad Griz fans strayed deep behind enemy lines. It was some real Saving Private Ryan action, as shifty yahoos in blue and white checked us out in depth.

Fortunately, my buddy gave any Bobcats supporters who may have wanted trouble the promise of plenty as he tipped his head to the side and casually vomited, repeatedly, without breaking stride.

"Jesus, Dougster, you okay?"

"Yeah, let's keep moving."

As our beloved UM Grizzlies and the pathetic MSU Bobcats went toe-to-toe for the 97th time in one of the most dramatic football games I've ever seen, some kid in a MSU-colored fright wig wandered into the mob of Griz fans we sat with. We formed a foul-mouthed, nasty little blot in the stadium, a festering knot of know-nothing tribal invective.

I don't mean to celebrate the darker edges of sports fandom, but the rivalry between Montana and Montana State is one of those apocalyptic, deep-seeded brother-wars that touch everyone who cares in a way they'd rather not think about. People swilled whiskey and toked funny cigarettes with impunity-and then that joker showed up, and things grew even more ugly.

Some enterprising soul knocked that stupid wig off. As the shirtless, skinny Cat fan foolishly sought to redress this grievance, all manner of debris flew his way: coins, bottle caps, beer cans, etc. Someone-hell, it may well have been me-started singing "Up With Montana," and we had a fine, rousing rendition going by the time the hapless Bozemanite retreated to friendlier terraces.

After the game, after UM kicker Kris Heppner's ever-gilded-in-memory field goal crushed the hopes of all Eastern Montana like so much candy-blue robin's eggs, practically every Griz fan in joint partied at mid-field. Sometime after I told quarterback Bryan Ah Yat that I loved him and before I made it to Bozeman's Pork Chop John's outlet, a weird riot broke out.

Evidently, some teenage Griz fan had been struck in the face. Griz players were restrained from vigilante action, and the miscreant arrested.

This year's match-up in Missoula is seasoned with much more dire consequences, as the Division I-AA playoff is on the line. Then there's the fact that the Bobcats' stand to win their first Big Sky Conference title since Reagan's first term. Either way, the winner moves on to the national tournament, the loser goes home.

The record of the last decade, lest we forget, is a woeful tale for any Cats fan. Hell, my great-granddad was a Grizzly letterman back in Ought-Eight, and even I will admit that kicking their collective ass every single season is growing a little stale. I was there the last time the Cats beat the Griz (I was much shorter) and, intellectually at least, I know that baleful circumstance will one day come again.

This year's Cats team looks pretty good, though, stupid team colors aside. They're contenders, finally, instead of pretenders. They just may have the stuff. Still, I'll take Mick Dennehy's rejuvenated, fired-up Griz by nine points.

But for any true Montanan such analysis is simply so much window dressing. After all, what do the honors of some backwoods minor football league mean when the Championship of the Universe is at stake? This is for all the proverbial marbles: Bragging rights from Huson to Hysham, Glendive to Lolo Pass; honor, glory and remembrance; a chance to prove the unquestioned supremacy of Our Way of Life.

Others can call it the Brawl of the Wild, the Monolithic Power Conglomerate Classic, the All-State Drunk Grandpops' Cup, whatever.

For me, it remains simply the Game: Flatlanders versus Mountaineers, Plow Jockeys versus Timberjacks, Windblown East versus Gently Sloping West, Leaf and Bean versus Butterfly Herbs, Stockman's versus Any Bozeman Bar You Care To Name, Snow Bowl versus Big Sky, Glacier versus Yellowstone. Us vs. Them.

I head into Saturday's game holding fast to any blood-tied fan's certain knowledge. Montana is better, faster, smarter, prettier and more fun at parties than Montana State, which isn't even a liberal arts school, for God's sake.

Of course, MSU fans view our side in a similarly dim light, as hippified decadents with no claim to Montana's rugged glory.

So let's line 'em up, farm boys. Winner takes Butte.

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