It’s been a year of firsts for your favorite honky-tonkin’ wisenheimer. First hike up to Cha-paa-qn, first time playing onstage at the Wilma (next week), my first Osprey game, and last Saturday, finally, my first Grizzly football game.
It’s not that I have anything against the Griz, of course—it’s more a case of being an ambivalent fan. I didn’t attend the U of M, so there’s no school allegiance. In fact, since I bear the taint of an academic career at Idaho State in Pocatello, I spent several years of my misspent youth hating the Grizzlies and throwing urine-filled schnapps bottles at them from the student section in Holt Arena (then known as the Mini Dome).
But the simple fact is that you cannot live in Missoula without being a Griz fan. At least in public. So when I won a pair of season tickets last spring in the little league raffle, I suddenly became a BIG Griz fan. I couldn’t wait till this first home game. I wanted to capture the sights, the sounds, the smells of a hard-working football team on the field. And I got that. But I got more. A lot more.
It was a windless fall day, the sun playing peek-a-boo with the clouds, temperature in the low 70’s. “It feels weird to be watching a football game in shorts,” said Barb, as we locked the car and began our two-mile walk to the stadium. “Yeah,” I said, “I think we should take ‘em off once we find our seats.”
We walked past $700,000 motor homes parked nose-to-tail with decrepit “Grizmobile” beaters, and melted into the crowd at the North entrance ten minutes before kickoff. A thousand people were waiting to squeeze through the gate, and the alcohol on everyone’s breath reminded me that I’d forgotten to get liquored up before we came.
While we jostled with the crowd, a pair of skydivers dropped down above us. They wheeled overhead, towing maroon Griz flags. Like everyone else watching them, I fantasized about them losing control of their parachutes and smashing into the crowd of people already seated in the upper level. But they disappeared from our view without incident, landing in the stadium as a great cheer erupted from inside.
We entered the gate and headed across the concourse for our section. Just then a loud, percussive BOOM exploded in the stadium. I thought for a moment that one of the skydivers had indeed crashed into the crowd, exploding in a huge fireball. Then I realized it was just the infamous North End cannon, apparently trying to repel a pirate attack.
Our seats are in the North end, about halfway up. Pretty cool. It’s a weird vantage point for someone used to seeing the game presented on TV from the 50-yard line, but it’s exactly the same POV used in Madden’s NFL video game. When the ball is at the other end of the field, the players are so far away they look like little maroon-and-silver ants fighting over a sesame seed. But when they’re knocking on the door at our end of the field, they’re so close that you can smell the Vienna sausages on the linemen’s breath.
We found our seats just in time for the opening kickoff. The music reached a crescendo on the PA, we all got to our feet, and the 25,000 people in Washington Grizzly Stadium roared with all the collective pride of the Griz Nation. The Western State kicker booted the ball high into the air, finally kicking off the long-awaited 2009 FCS football season in Missoula.
Whistle. Flag. Re-doozie. Kinda takes the shine off the opening kickoff when you have to redo it. “Does that mean we have to stand up again?” I asked the guy next to me. He didn’t have to answer. We all stood up again, and this time the play counted.
The first half was pretty sloppy, lots of dropped passes, lots of penalties. I found it difficult to tell what some of the penalties were, because the announcer didn’t say, and the referees didn’t seem to be wired for sound. I have to say, though, that the PA announcer certainly has a pleasant voice, and really does a professional job. Way better than Mick Holien, the “voice of the Grizzlies” who broadcasts the games on AM radio and sounds like he’s getting a reach-around every time the Griz enter the red zone.
If you’ve been to an Osprey game, you know how desperately they try to keep the crowd entertained between hits. Contests, games, races, music, quizzes, all kinds of silliness to fill all the standing-around time in a baseball game. There’s some of that at the Griz game, of course, but it’s not such a non-stop frenzy of promo. And it’s generally more integral to the game. For instance, the announcer says, “First down,” and the crowd yells, “Montana!” That’s kind of cool. Until about the tenth time. Then it feels like you’re kicking a guy when he’s down. (Announcer: “Touchdown!” Crowd: “Six points, bitch!”)
Another thing Griz games have in common with Osprey games is the music. They boom loud rock and hip-hop, but only in abrupt, five-second bursts. This frustrates me, like it does when local radio stations play a medley of rock songs, and then say, “This is the music we play.” Yeah, I know, ass. I’m already tuned in, aren’t I? Just play it.
At the Osprey games, it seems to be anathema to let any amount of silence go unfilled by music or jibber jabber. At the Griz games, you’re occasionally allowed to concentrate on the game without the sonic assault. And when they do play music, at least the selections are not all the obvious crap. “Girl’s Got Rhythm” by AC/DC. “I Got a Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas. None of that seven-string guitar band garbage that makes people cringe. Even the obligatory bleacher-stomping song, “Rock and Roll Part 2,” is much more welcome than “We Will Rock You.”
We were fortunate on this day; the Griz scored most of their touchdowns in the North end zone. That goddamn cannon caught me off-guard every time, even though I knew it was coming. I hope those rented seat-backs are washable. The kicker booted each PAT through the cannon smoke right towards us, and one time the guy next to me caught it. I would have reached for it myself, but then I would have had to put down my nachos and Viking and Milk Duds and large Diet Coke, and my foam rubber finger. “Nice catch,” I said, as he threw it back onto the field.
He smiled and said, “The tough part is that I went to Western State.”[Up next: who knows. But bookmark NewWest.net/BobWire, and check back frequently to find out.]