From the Fringe...
If you’re a fan of the Montana Grizzlies, then days don’t get much better than Saturday in Bozeman. If you’re a Montana State Bobcat fan, days don’t get much worse.
Such is life in the rivalry that is Montana/Montana State.
Of course, being a Griz’ fan, my day was pretty good. OK, I will admit, it was pretty darn great, especially considering that a year ago, I was watching a really bad Griz team struggle to a 16-7 loss to the Bobcats in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, bringing to end Montana’s first losing season in 25 years.
When you’ve followed the Griz as long as I have, accepting a losing season, with the Bobcats providing the final loss, was certainly something I was ill-prepared for.
So naturally, I was pretty excited in watching the Griz go into Bobcat Stadium and win on Saturday afternoon.
But in the midst of my joy, there was something else happening, something that really has never happened to me during a Grizzly win in the Brawl of the Wild.
What was happening at the same time I was feeling joyous was a bit of sadness.
Honestly, I was sad to see the career’s of DeNarius McGhee, Cody Kirk, Tanner Bleskin and Brad Daly end like that. It honestly bothered me knowing that McGhee’s last pass in a Bobcat uniform wound up being a meaningless ball that sailed way out of bounds. It bothered me knowing that the biggest play in Kirk’s final game as a Bobcat was a fumble which led to a Montana score and a 21-7 deficit the Cats’ were never able to overcome.
Yes, I may be a Griz fan, and I may not have cared in the moment just how much McGhee and Kirk struggled against the Grizzlies on Saturday, but when it was over, the reality that those two players, along with Bleskin and Daly, will never play in another game for the Bobcats really sunk in, much in the same way it sunk in when Chase Reynolds’ glorious Grizzly career ended with two fumbles and a loss to the Bobcats in the 2010 Brawl of the Wild in Missoula.
Many have said, the 11 seniors who played their final game for the Bobcats Saturday, were the greatest senior class MSU has ever had. Considering all that the Cats have done in that time frame, that statement is tough to argue. That group has won Big Sky championships, playoff games, has seen Bobcat Stadium expanded, and enrollment at MSU at an all-time high.
And that’s why, even as a Griz fan, I was struck by the fact that it ended so badly for the MSU senior class. The loss to Southern Utah was probably worse in some ways, because that game meant the Cats could not lose to the Griz and still make the playoffs.
But emotionally, for greats like McGhee and Kirk, who are simply the best quarterback/running back tandem to every play for the Bobcats, to see them go out the way they did, against the Grizzlies no less, was pretty difficult to watch.
Sure, in time, McGhee and Kirk will be remembered much more for what they did as a whole, then for what happened in the 2013 Brawl of the Wild, but in the moment, their last performance will be a lasting image for some time.
However, I hope MSU fans, and fans of the Cat-Griz rivalry never forget those two, or Daly and Bleskin for that matter. Because no matter what happened in the Cat-Griz game, or the week before, those four players will forever be legends in Bozeman. Those four players are four of the greatest Bobcats to ever put on an MSU uniform, and Saturday’s Cat-Griz game doesn’t change that fact.
I was, and am happy the Montana Grizzlies went into Bozeman and beat the Bobcats. Not so much because of the rivalry itself, but because, in my mind, that win was the last demon for the Griz to exercise in what has been one of the darkest times in UM football history.
But at the same time, I felt terrible for McGhee and Kirk, and the rest of the MSU seniors. At the beginning of 2013, it was national championship or bust for the Bobcats, and most of that was because of players like McGhee, Kirk, Bleskin and Daly. On Saturday, that mantra that started back in July came crashing all the way down, and with it, the reality that those four Bobcat greats will never play again.
As a longtime Montana fan, that reality hit me too, and though my loyalties sit on the other side of the Divide Trophy, and always will, my respect for guys like DeNarius McGhee, Cody Kirk, Tanner Bleskin and Brad Daly will never waver.
Simply put, those four are some of the greatest football players Montana State has ever had, and they are also four of the greatest players to suit up in the Cat-Griz rivalry. One game, one win by the Grizzlies will never change that.