MISSOULA — All week long, I spoke with and listened to many different people talk about the rivalry game between Montana and Montana State leading up to Saturday’s 21-16 Bobcat win in Missoula.
I heard perspectives from former players, current players, parents of players and fans young and old, all of whom sit on both sides of the fence in what is known annually as the Brawl of the Wild.
Obviously, I have my own perspectives on what I consider to be Montana’s greatest yearly sporting event, having seen 10 such games in person. Like so many people in this state, I’ve lived the Cat/Griz game.
And while there’s always hype, always a buildup before each Brawl, Saturday’s game, like so many others, developed into one that will always be remembered, and through a rivalry already packed with so much history, will stand on its own.
First things first, it’s not breaking news to anyone that I’m a Grizzly fan and have been ever since I was old enough to make the choice of which school to root for. But that doesn’t mean the Bobcats don’t do things in the Cat/Griz game which catch my attention each year, and Saturday was no different.
Early in the first quarter, it became quite clear to me that Cat quarterback Denarius McGhee is something special. And while that may not be a shocker to many people either, it was my first chance to see McGhee up close, and he certainly lived up to his billing.
McGhee may not have had his best statistical game of the season by any stretch, but it this was his first Cat/Griz game, in the most hostile environment in the FCS and in the most hostile conditions anyone from his home state of Texas has probably ever seen.
Impressive to say the least.
My second thought: As a Griz fan, McGhee gets to play against Montana for three more years?
Not so impressed.
Then there’s Chase Reynolds.
I’ve watched a lot of great running backs come through Montana over the years, including the two backs Reynolds has been chasing down for the all-time rushing record at UM, Yo Humphrey and Lex Hilliard. And while I won’t ever rank the three in any order as they all have a special place in the annals of Griz history, there’s no getting around me saying what an honor it’s been to watch and cover Reynolds the last three seasons.
It’s been a thrill to watch Reynolds since he broke out of nowhere his sophomore year, but after Saturday’s performance against the Cats, it became an honor. He truly saved some of his best for last, and while he’s played with a banged up shoulder all season long, he showed what a warrior he is by coming back from a sparkling first quarter, then hurting the shoulder again, only to return in the second half and dominate the game like only he can.
Not bad for an eight-man player from Drummond, and when he’s gone, I’ll miss seeing No. 34 for certain, as Reynolds, like so many others on both teams embody the spirit of the Cat/Griz rivalry.
And there was the game itself. The Cats won and they certainly deserved it. As I said earlier this year, they were playing like the best college football team in the state this year, and now they have the hardware to back that up, no matter how much it pains me to say have seen it, or say it.
But there’s always next year for the Griz. After all, UM doesn’t lose to the Cats too often, so while I’ll take the loss hard on a personal level, the beauty of this game is that the two foes will meet again, and again and again.
But what the game really showed was just how special a day it always is, and like everyone I talked to all week about it said, there’s really nothing like it. I mean, where else would 26,019 (a new record crowd for any sporting event in the history of Montana) people show up to stand outside in -15 degree wind chills, a howling 25 mph breeze and driving snow to watch a football game? Only Montana and only for Cat/Griz.
Yes indeed, the Cats won, their fans are happy, while Griz fans have a year to sulk. And trust me, my wife will be counting the days until the sulking can officially end. But in reality, we are all winners. Everyone in this great state who embraces this great rivalry wins because there truly is nothing else like Cat/Griz and we’re all lucky we have it in our lives.