By George Ferguson/ Havre Daily News
When it comes to college football in Montana there used to be two types of fans - Griz fans and Bobcat fans.
However, in light of recent events over the past two weekends at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, there appears to be a third type of fan who has appeared and who's voice is starting to be heard.
From the countless boos I heard this past weekend at the game, it turns out that there are now Griz fans who have a passion for the home team only when they are playing well.
It begs the question: When did some Grizzly football fans turn into Philadelphia fans?
This is not a good thing. Philly fans are the most fickle, most insane and most pessimistic in all of sports. They simply wait for something bad to happen to their teams and then offer their support by booing, jeering and throwing objects on the field. Philly fans booed when Donoven McNabb was drafted, booed Allen Iverson for getting hurt in a game and booed Mike Schmidt for not hitting a homerun every time up.
People like to say, "Philly fans would boo a cancer patient." Maybe, but I do know they booed Santa Clause.
It seems that type of attitude is trickling to UM.
I would consider myself a Griz fan for what seems like an eternity. Despite the fact that I have not lived in Missoula since 1998, there have not been very many games that I have missed.
So to say the least, I am shocked at what has transpired so early in the 2003 season from a fans standpoint. Many people have told me that it's no surprise that fans are booing a struggling Grizzly offense and that those type of things occur all the time in football. Really? Since when?
The University of Montana football faithful that I used to know and was so proud to be a part of would never boo their own players no matter how bad things were on the field. To be a Griz fan once meant that you were a part of something bigger than just cheering on a team that was winning or losing a football game.
The atmosphere surrounding Griz football seemed almost cult-like at one time and it was revered as much as church on Sundays. That attitude was still apparent last season even when the Griz were on the verge losing to the hated Montana State Bobcats for the first time in 17 years. On that day, I have never heard Wash-Griz louder or remember anyone booing when the final score read Cats 10, Griz 7.
But a new era in Griz football has begun and apparently a new type of fan has spawned with it. A friend warned me that after UM lost its 2003 home opener to Division II North Dakota State that attendance would begin to drop significantly because even the most diehard of fans give up on a team when they start losing.
In response to my friend's statement, I did some research and found that fans don't always go away after teams lose and neither should Griz fans.
Two of college football's most storied programs are going through a difficult period by their standards. Both Notre Dame and Penn State were once two of the biggest powers in college football and both have endured less than spectacular seasons over the past ten years. However, since 1997 both schools have expanded stadium capacity and both schools are on consecutive game sellout streaks that date back to before I was born.
Obviously, Montana isn't Penn State or Notre Dame, but I do recall that the Griz did win the I-AA National Championship just two years ago and made the second round of the playoffs last season. That's more success than the Irish or Nittany Lions have experienced recently.
Perhaps, the thing that bothers me the most about the booing and the threats of fans not showing up to games is that I used to believe that Griz fans were so knowledgeable. If they were, they would understand that this year isn't going to be easy.
The Griz are going through a major transition with a new head coach, an entirely new coaching staff, a new offense, a new quarterback and apparently a new - not so positive - atmosphere in its home stadium. Don't they know that this is a process? Change is never smooth in football.
Montana has been one of the most successful Division I-AA programs in the past decade. Two national championships in seven years is something most teams couldn't possibly dream. But teams change. Great players go and aren't easily replaced. And unfortunately, teams lose games too. God forbid, they even go as far as to have a bad season once every nine years. Not that I would enjoy it more than the next fan.
But at the very least, I won't commit ritualistic suicide, burn my Griz gear or even cast one disrespecting jeer at a college kid playing his heart out. College athletes work very hard for very little in return. The last thing they should be is shamed by the very fans that have loved them for so long.
These kids that play football or any other sport at UM don't owe anybody anything. They are playing football and getting an education there because they chose to and because they love the school. This is not the NFL and the price of your ticket isn't paying their salary. The fans don't own the team and this isn't sports entertainment.
The coaching staff as well as the players are trying as hard as they possibly can to keep the Grizzly juggernaut headed in the right direction. They deserve the same unconditional support that Don Read, Dave Dickenson and Joe Glenn got before them. If you can't bring yourself to do that, then give your ticket to a student who will, because Washington-Grizzly Stadium needs to be what it once was - a loud, music-filled, intimidating homefield advantage where the only people that ever got booed were people wearing the wrong colored jerseys or stripes.
If you don't like it, move to Philadelphia.