Can Saturday get here fast enough?
That’s the question for any football fan living inside Montana’s borders right now.
Because Saturday is when the No. 7 Montana Grizzlies travel to the No. 1 Montana State Bobcats for the 111th “Brawl of the Wild”, or as us old timers like to simply call it…Cat-Griz.
Or wait, is it Griz/Cat?
That question proves the point about just how much this game means to so many people in the Treasure State. Whether you like the Griz or the Bobcats, whether you’re new to the rivalry or you’ve been watching since the days of Montana’s “Wild Bill” Kelly or MSU’s Jan Stenerud, this one game, this one day fills you with pride, passion, tradition, anger, disgust, joy, bliss, happiness and hatred — and just about any other superlative I could come up with right now.
Of you care about Montana's biggest football rivalry then on that one Saturday each year, your emotions will run the gamete.
This game is special, and it holds meaning to a lot of people from a lot of different places in our great state. There are college football rivalries unfolding in the next few weeks all over America: Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama (Iron Bowl), Oregon-Oregon State (The Civil War), Washington-Washington State (The Apple Cup) and Army-Navy just to name a few. But for us, this day is it.
We all have our favorite moments of past Brawl’s. I know I have plenty, but a few that stand out include my first Brawl in frigid Bozeman in 1993, Army Helicopters cutting through the fog at Washington-Grizzly Stadium during the national anthem of the 1996 game, Kris Heppner’s kick at the buzzer in Bozeman in 1997 and Marc Mariani’s punt return for a TD in the 2008 game in Missoula. Reading that, I guess it’s not hard to figure out what side of the rivalry my heart lies on.
And even though I’m 37 and have been closely following the rivalry since I was young, I’m still learning to appreciate its great history – a history that’s unmatched by many rivalries in all of college football. For example, I was under the naïve impression that Mariani would have been the only local product to catch touchdowns in the Brawl. I recently learned that Harlem’s Dale Schupe starred in UM's 1955, 19-0 win in Bozeman. Schupe caught a touchdown pass, led the Grizzlies that day in rushing and also had several big returns.
That’s a neat fact considering another former Harlem star, Rick Haluszka will play in his third Brawl on Saturday. Haluszka is a tight end, special team’s standout and the holder for the Bobcats.
I also had no idea that the Grizzlies and Bobcats didn’t play each other for different stretches in the early part of last century, and while I knew past Brawl’s were played in Butte, I had no idea the series was played 28 straight times in the Mining City.
I was also unaware the Bobcats, who trail the Griz in the series 69-36-5 have put together three different stretches throughout the rivalry of six straight wins over the Griz.
When you add those three up, it even surpasses Montana’s 16-game winning streak from 1986-2002. I kid the Bobcats.
But in all seriousness, what I just wrote is only a fraction of the history surrounding the 15th longest-running rivalry in all of college football. And the history brings us to the present.
I know I haven’t seen too many Brawls with as much riding on it as Saturday’s game in Bozeman. The Bobcats have put a remarkable season together, they are the No. 1 team in the FCS going into the Brawl for the first time in school history, they have a chance to lock up the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and to beat the Grizzlies for the fifth time in the last 10 meetings. The Griz too have put a streak together — six straight wins after an ugly loss to Sac State, they have fought their way back to No. 7 in the rankings and with a win will win a share of the Big Sky title as well as the conference’s automatic berth to the FCS playoffs. A win would also give the Griz revenge as the Cats knocked Montana out of the playoffs for the first time in 17 years last November in Missoula.
If there was a Cat/Griz game with more at stake than this one, someone please tell me.
And I think that’s why you’ve seen even more rivalry smack, more hatred than ever this season and it will come to a head, and hopefully a classy and safe head this Saturday at new and improved Bobcat Stadium.
I don’t quite think some Griz fans know what to think of the Cats being the best team in the state right now and it’s led to a little Montana-fan insecurity we haven’t seen in a long time. Conversely, I don’t quite think Bobcat fans know how to be fans of the best team in the state and possibly the country right now either. I’ve seen some pretty absurd message board assertions coming from Cat fans this season and have dealt with some of it myself. As a Griz fan, I expect obnoxiousness and teasing that the Cats are No. 1, but I’m also objective enough to say right here and now that I have believed the Cats were the best team in the country and that they would win the national championship this year.
Whether they beat the Griz or not, the Bobcats are still my pick to win it all in Frisco, TX., in January. On the inside, I bleed maroon, but reality is reality and rivalry or not, I can still find a shred of objectivity when talking about the Cats.
Many Griz and Bobcat fans can’t, won’t and refuse to find that same objectivity and that’s ok. That’s what makes this “Our Game”. The rivalry, the fans, the players, the coaches, the names of the towns, from Billings to Turner, from Troy to Baker, we as Montanan’s make this rivalry great, we, who care so deeply about Blue and Gold and Maroon and Silver are what makes it so special.
And whether it’s hatred or happiness, the “Brawl of the Wild” is Montana. For one day, the entire state divides and one side conquers. It’s unique and it belongs to all Montanan’s.
Past, present and future, there’s nothing else like Cat/Griz and there won’t be anything like this Saturday’s game in Bozeman.
And through the 364 days of water cooler talk, cow pasture chatter, message board fodder and all of the buildup, in less than four days, we’ll once again find out who’s right and who’s wrong.
Saturday just can’t get here fast enough.
Why I think the Cats will win
Three D’s. Denarius, Defense and Doctor, as in Elvis. While Cody Kirk and the MSU running game has been all the rage this season, QB Denarius McGhee is a big-game player and an even bigger leader. He’s too poised to let the Cats make costly mistakes. MSU’s defense is first or second in almost every significant category in the Big Sky and WR Elvis Akpla, while having Trumaine Johnson on him most of the game, will make at least one big play. Other reasons include backup running back Trey Robinson, defensive tackle Zach Minter, kicker Jason Cunningham and likely the most hostile environment a Griz team has ever faced in Bozeman.
Why I think the Griz will win
Veterans, Depth and Talent: The Bobcats may be the better all-around team, but the Grizzlies have 23 seniors, all of who will have an impact on Saturday’s game. Players like Trumaine Johnson, Jon Opperud, Caleb McSurdy and Alex Shaw will all be starting in their fourth Cat/Griz games and experience speaks volumes in this game. The depth Montana has is still second to none. Playmakers like Peter Nyugen, Jordan Canada and Jabin Sambrano are home-run threats with every touch. Other reasons include a huge offensive line, Bryan Waldhauser at defensive tackle, kicker Brody McKnight and the fact the Griz are already 3-0 in answering losses from last season.