From the Fringe...
It’s that time. It’s time for Montana to once again divide, and I’m not talking the Continental Divide either.
No, it’s time for all the love to be thrown out the window as Montana and Montana State fans gear up for the annual Cat-Griz showdown, which takes place Saturday in Bozeman.
In one of the oldest rivalries in college football, for the fan bases, it’s also one of the most heated. Yes, the annual Cat-Griz game takes on all the tones of the Civil War. Families and households are divided. Coworkers do battle all week long, and entire towns become the battle ground for this annual football classic.
But wait a minute. It shouldn’t be all about the hate. And ironically, with this year’s Brawl of the Wild so close to Thanksgiving, Saturday’s 113th meeting between the Bobcats and Grizzlies should be about giving thanks, too.
I know, in some circles, me telling fans on either side of the rivalry to agree on something is nearly blasphemy, but really, if there’s one thing fans who love the Blue and Gold, or the Maroon and Silver should be thankful for, it’s that they have each other.
In a state with no professional sports, without so much as one big-time college football program and with barely a population of a million people, fans, Cats and Griz alike should treasure the fact that we have this. For one Saturday each year, this is Montana’s Super Bowl, and Super Bowl’s can’t have just one team. No, without the Bobcats, the Grizzlies are different, and without the Griz, the Cats don’t have what they have either.
While so many people stand on one side of the rivalry or the other, really, in a strange way, Montana and Montana State are united. Sure, for about three hours on what’s usually a cold and snowy day in November, there is no convincing anybody that the Cats and Griz are united in anything. But for the rest of the year, while the banter and insults and jokes keep going from both fan bases, really, in reality, none of it would exist if both schools and both football programs hadn’t become what they’ve become. If both teams didn’t mean so much to so many people, this rivalry really wouldn’t be a rivalry at all.
And there’s more to it than just the football game. Consider how popular both teams have become. The money being made from both football programs is reaching an all-time high, the attendance at both universities can certainly be attributed to so much visible success on the gridiron, and did anyone ever think we’d be where we are now? I mean seriously, in such a sparsely populated state, with so much of that population spread out over so many miles, did anyone ever think we’d get to the point where we’re selling out two 20,000–plus seat football stadiums on the same weekend?
But that’s where we are. Montana leads the Football Championship Subdivision in average attendance this season. Over six home games, the Grizzlies averaged nearly 26,000 fans per game, while Montana State is currently fourth, averaging just over 19,000 per game with Saturday’s game in Bozeman certain to set a new Bobcat Stadium attendance record.
And interestingly, on three different Saturdays this fall, UM and MSU played at home on the same day, and on a fourth weekend, the Cats and Griz played at home just two days apart. That means, on average this year, roughly 45,000 fans were in two towns to watch two football games on the same day, or close to it four different times.
Those numbers might not mean much in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, or football crazy states like Texas, Florida and Ohio, but in Montana, the fact that that many people care, and pay to see the Bobcats and Grizzlies play every Saturday is incredible, and I can’t help but think, it wouldn’t be that way if both the Cats and the Griz weren’t so popular and so special at the same time. It seems these days, no matter which team you root for, everybody is winning.
Then there’s having a rivalry like this itself, because not everybody has what Montana has.
Yes, there’s some great ones out there like Michigan/Ohio State, Alabama/Auburn and the Civil War in Oregon. But look at some other major schools and they don’t have what we have, an in-state, true Hatfield and McCoy type rivalry. Notre Dame doesn’t have that with Purdue or Indiana. Ohio State certainly doesn’t have that with any other school inside the state. And as proud a football tradition as the University of Nebraska has, the Huskers have never really had a blood-thirsty, in-state rivalry to be a part of. No, the fact that we, as football fans in Montana, have had this Cat-Griz rivalry for over a century, we should all consider ourselves blessed.
And again, to have this rivalry, you just can’t have one without the other.
Former Duke basketball star Jay Bilas summed up how I feel about the Cat-Griz rivalry best when talking about the epic series between Duke and North Carolina, one of the great all-time rivalries in sports. Bilas said: “How lucky are we, to have this to go against, right in our backyard. How lucky are we to have this greatness right down the road from us.”
And that’s honestly how both Cats and Griz’ fans should feel. I hear so much hatred sometimes coming from both fan bases, it sounds as if they wish the other school didn’t exist. To me, that’s just ridiculous.
I’ve lived in Montana all my life. I grew up with this rivalry game. At a young age I chose a side. I, like so many in this state, look forward to this game each and every year, for now too many years to count. And I couldn’t imagine this game, this annual Brawl of the Wild not being a part of my life. I couldn’t imagine it not being a part of this great state. To me, the Cat-Griz game is Montana.
And just because I root for one team over another in the Cat-Griz rivalry, doesn’t mean I don’t consider myself damn lucky to have the other as a part of it. Without both the Montana Grizzlies and Montana State Bobcats, everything we love about the rivalry, about that one special day in November, everything we’ve passed on to our children, all of the special memories, this game that has become such a huge part of a way of life in Montana, well, we wouldn’t have any of it at all.
I just can’t imagine that. For me, as a fan of this game for so long, I couldn’t live without the Cats or the Griz. I wouldn’t want to.