By George Ferguson
I started to notice it way back in September when the Montana Grizzlies lost to North Dakota State. It was that irritable feeling that my football season was not going to meet my expectations.
Even though the Havre Blue Ponies gave me a lot of excitement this season, and once again turned my job into a joy ride, even their season ended somewhat disappointingly last month. I really wanted them to get another shot at a state championship as much as anyone, but a very good Miles City team ended all of that and my irritability grew.
My wife even began to notice it more and more. When husbands appear to be consistently grumpy for no apparent reason, it's always sports, usually football.
Still, I tried to remain optimistic about the rest of this football season. Despite annoying fans and way too many armchair quarterbacks, the Grizzlies had started to turn on the jets and were cruising towards another run at a national championship. Not only that, but the Minnesota Vikings were looking way too good as well. Yet the grumpiness and sense of impending doom remained.
Then came Nov. 22. Anyone who is a Griz fan knows what happened that day. It took me the whole week of Thanksgiving to recover from Cat-Griz 2003 as Bobcat mania swept across Montana like the ice cold wind we are all too familiar. Even all of the symbolic Bobby Hauck's being burned in effigy couldn't warm up the air. The grumpiness meter was rising in my brain.
Thanks to a little turkey and a favorable break in the weather, I was feeling a little better. I returned to Missoula to cheer on the Griz this past weekend as they hosted Western Illinois in the first round of the I-AA playoffs.
But this was the weekend that finally put me over the edge. The Grizzlies were shocked on Saturday in double-overtime and for the first time I nearly lost what little composure I had. Basically, I was ready to fight every negative, fairweather and whining Griz fan on the way out of the stadium.
The final blow to my football season happened on Sunday. The Vikings had managed to lose four out of their last five games and made it five out of six when they were embarrassed by the St. Louis Rams.
Enough is enough. Football is over as far I'm concerned.
The Blue Ponies are done, the Griz are done, thank God the Bobcats are done, too. It also appears that even if the Vikings make the playoffs, they will lose in the first round. The football season has taken such a turn for the worse that I have even lost my competitive edge to battle Wells Lamey in our "Armchair Quarterbacks" game.
Basically, I'm done.
After getting all of that off my chest and taking a deep breathe, there is only one thing left to say. Bring on the hoops, baby.
With football out of my system for another year, I am ready to immerse myself in high school and college basketball for the next four months. It's going to be an exciting year.
The Montana State University-Northern teams have already begun their seasons. Both the men's and women's programs are definitely worth watching. They play a very up-tempo style of basketball and will both be very competitive in what promises to be an exciting year in Frontier Conference basketball.
The Havre Blue Ponies also return to the hardwood this weekend. The boys team will travel to Anaconda and there will be some new but very talented players to compliment perhaps the best player in the state, senior Cory Brothers.
Both Blue Pony teams play a strong schedule that includes the usual Great Falls teams as well as the always-heated Chinook and Lewistown rivalries. Havre will certainly be a hoops hotbed in the coming months.
And if small-town basketball is your flavor, there is no better place to see it then on the Hi-Line. District 9C basketball is one of the most competitive leagues in all of the Class C ranks year in and year out.
On the boys side, the Big Sandy Pioneers will look to move from the gridiron to the hardwood and should contend for a state tournament berth. The Box Elder Bears are another exciting team that could have a big season.
And don't forget about the Chester Coyotes in District 10C. MSU-Northern graduate Willie Schlepp always puts a very good team on the floor and this season will be no exception.
On the girls side of things, the 9C ranks will be very evenly matched. Perennial state tournament contender Big Sandy will be back to defend its 9C title, but the Pioneers suffered heavy losses to graduation, giving upstart teams like Blue Sky and KG a good shot to challenge the Pioneers in 2004.
And there is yet more hoops to take in Chinook, Harlem and even middle school excitement at Havre Middle School and Havre Central Junior High.
Personally, I cannot wait to get things underway. Most people know that I can be very pessimistic at times, but my football disappointments and annoyances have turned into hoop dreams and once again my job will become very fun.
Who cares about the Sugar Bowl or the Super Bowl or the Continental Tire Bowl for that matter?
The thumping sound of a basketball hitting the hardwood fills my ears and brings me a renewed sense of hope. Surely, basketball season will be better than football season. It couldn't get much worse.