This weekend will mark my 45th observance of the Bobcat-Grizzly Game, “the Brawl of the Wild,” as it is now hyped. I’m not too keen on the brawlish aspects of the event, especially what goes on in the stands and in town after the game. Nor do I like the barbs that fly back and forth for weeks beforehand in the name of rivalry humor. Some remarks delivered in jest are received as jabs, and why cultivate animosity with a neighbor? I’m not even particularly a football fan. Yet I’m irresistibly drawn to the Bobcat-Grizzly game.
My first game is touted as the most exciting one in the history of the rivalry. It was in 1968 at the old Dornblazer Field. Some guys on the field that day would end up being my friends. One guy in the stands would end up being my husband. Others I would never know, but would always remember.
Top of that list would be the hero of the game, a Bobcat from Great Falls named Paul Schafer. He was an amazing athlete, and it didn’t hurt my interest any that he was movie-star handsome. Ahead 24-9 in the fourth quarter, the Griz seemed to have the game sewn up, but the Cats scored three touchdowns in the last 9 minutes. Paul Schafer scored the first one with 8:15 on the clock and dove into the end zone to clinch the game with 12 seconds to spare.
Twenty-four years later, Paul Schafer was killed in a skiing accident on Big Mountain. He was only 44 years old – young to me now, but impossibly old-sounding in 1968. When I heard the news, the memory of that game came back as fresh as yesterday. He was a Bobcat who stole victory from my Griz, but he sure was something to see.
One of my favorite Cat-Griz memories was a game I didn’t even stay for. It was in 2002, also in Missoula. Friday had been one of those perfect, golden autumn days, but Saturday morning the temperature dropped 30 degrees in 3 hours. By the time I arrived at the President’s pre-game brunch, snow was falling. In the University Center Ballroom, some 200 Montanans had gathered. Once students at either MSU or the U of M, they now had careers as teachers, lawyers, engineers, bankers, and the like, but over time we had all become neighbors in that small town with long streets we call Montana.
Then-President Dennison liked to showcase his university’s talent at the brunch, and that year it was a music student from Conrad. She had long dark hair; a pure, pretty face; and a voice like one of those deep, plush chairs in the lobby of the Algonquin ... the kind of voice you just sink into and can’t leave, so complete is the luxury. She sang “Summertime,” her voice ballroom-dancing across the glossy notes, calling up a languid Southern summer she had probably never experienced. Behind her, a blizzard of the type she knew all too well swirled soundlessly against the wall-to-ceiling windows. The elegance and incongruity of that moment stayed with me throughout the first half of the game.
But the Cats were stifling my athlete du jour, John Edwards, and their freshman quarterback, Travis Lulay, was having himself a day. On the wet bleachers in the ever-worsening blizzard with my nose running like a fire hydrant, all I could think of was “Summertime.” At half-time I went to Rockin’ Rudy’s, bought the Sarah Vaughn version and drove home, toasty warm and driving slow, listening to the game and thinking of that Conrad girl. It wasn’t summertime, but the living was easy.
My least favorite Cat-Griz memory was in 2010. Chase Reynolds had been my favorite player for years. He had caught my eye in his high school days and at the U of M captivated me for three years, waltzing his way to the end zone again and again. It was his senior year in 2010 and he had struggled with injuries all season, but in the second half, they put him in and he started dancing again! With plenty of time left in the game, he needed only 3 yards to set a new Grizzly rushing record. The press corps was jumping up and down on the sidelines, yelling, “Give him the ball!” But he didn’t get it. The Griz lost in a heartbreaker … and no one was more broken-hearted than Chase Reynolds.
Sometime during the last decade, I lost interest in attending the game in person. I don’t like sitting in the stands with people who cheer when an opponent is injured. I don’t like having to look at fanwear depicting Grizzlies doing obscene things to Bobcats or vice-versa. I don’t like all the frenzy and fury. And, of course, I don’t like being cold.
But I do like watching young people shine. I do like connecting again with all these Montanans who have been and will be part of the story of my life and the history of the state. And someday when I’m in the E-wing of the Salt Lake City airport, killing time till six flights to Montana cities all leave within 15 minutes of each other, I’ll strike a common chord with someone in the shared memory of that gorgeous guy diving into the end zone, that pretty girl singing “Summertime” in a blizzard, that kid from Drummond stranded 3 yards short of history … or maybe something that happens this Saturday.
So I’ll be watching. I hope you are too.
This is Mary Sheehy Moe, retired from education but still interested in Montana’s kids and the schools that help them shine.