Game Day

It won't be T-shirt weather if ESPN's College GameDay comes to Missoula, but there are plenty of other reasons for the show to venture to Montana come Nov. 20.

BOZEMAN — By now, you’ve heard the buzz.

ESPN’s College GameDay might — might — be considering a novel trek to Missoula on Nov. 20 for the 120th Brawl of the Wild. At this juncture, it seems a longshot given that No. 3 Michigan State is at No. 5 Ohio State for a game with major playoff implications that features the two Heisman Trophy frontrunners, but hey — why not?

Psst: The Spartans lost Saturday. And the Cats and Griz took care of business big-time.

GameDay Gang, you can do Columbus, Tuscaloosa, Gainesville or Norman any time, and you usually do. And we get it. We like warm weather as much as anyone out here in the hinterlands.

But you’ve been to Florida 34 times since your 1993 debut. The Intermountain West? Once, to Boise State in 2010. OK, eight if we credit you with Colorado’s Front Range and eastern Washington’s Palouse — and no, the crimson Wazzu flag waving behind your set at every locale doesn’t count.

So let’s do this ESPN.

Need more reasons to head West, young men and women of GameDay?

From A to Z, here are 26:

A is for Aggies, which is what Montana State was called back when the series begin in 1897, except it was Montana State A&M College then and Montana was actually the Montana State University Mountain Lions and, well, it’s all so confusing you’ll have to come sort it out for yourselves. Upshot is, once a year the Land Grant warm-up-the-tractor shoulder-chip vs. State U. latte-sipper elitist-snobbery thing, real and imagined, is as heated here as anywhere.

B is for Blizzard, and we don’t mean the Dairy Queen variety. We doubt you remember much about those routine visits to Tallahassee or Austin or Athens but you'll have a tale to tell your grandkids if the gales of November come slashin’, as they are often wont.

C is for Corso (Lee), the loquacious GameDay prognosticator who might insist MSU/OSU is the clear choice given his Big Ten coaching legacy. Well, not so fast my friend … besides, where else can you say you went "full Monte" on the set (Griz mascot headgear, we mean; cue Bobcat boos).

D is for Desmond (Howard), GameDay analyst and former Michigan great who should feel right at home with the Cats’ colors and block ‘M’ logo. While here he could screen-shot for the folks back in Ann Arbor the, um, blueprint for how to defeat an in-state rival.

E is for Erickson, a name synonymous with college football greatness. Dennis coached two national title teams at Miami, but his roots are in the Brawl, first as a quarterback at MSU and then as an assistant. Your house-divided GameDay storyline: His late father, Pink, and wife, Marilyn, are Griz alums; son Bryce, who's still nevertheless in his dad's will we presume, coaches tight ends for UM.

F is for Fly fishing, the best in the world even in November when your guides — the two-legged varieties and the loops on your 5-weight rod — are iced up. While angling, get video of betting-line guru Chris “Bear” Fallica in a Griz wetsuit surfing the wave train on the Clark Fork below the, yes, Beartracks Bridge.

G is for Grizzlies, and not just the snarly ones wearing maroon and silver. Where else would you have a realistic chance of seeing an actual uncaged, unleashed, top-of-the-food-chain wild-animal mascot within a short drive of the stadium?

H is for Hip Strip, Missoula’s humming eclectic hub where the postgame people watching is the closest thing we can offer to Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue.

I is for Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month, and with Montana’s eight tribal nations, there’s no better time or place to acknowledge Indian contributions to college football, from Jim Thorpe (Sac & Fox) to current Texas quarterback Casey Thompson (Kiowa). Betcha didn't know: A speedy Sioux who would later become a blacksmith in Crow Country scored a TD for the Carlisle Indians on the only hidden-ball play in the sport's history.

J is for Jeff Ament, the Pearl Jam bassist, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and Havre/Big Sandy native son who would be a perfect Ten as the week’s celebrity guest picker and set a Tone for future pickers.

K is for Kirk (Herbstreit), the GameDay analyst who’d see an FCS power assured of upending his Buckeyes assuming transitive-property rules prevailed. After all, Montana beat Washington … which beat Stanford … which beat Oregon … which beat, well, you know.

L is for Last Best Place, which is precisely what the GameDay crew will discover Montana is — even if those gales of November do come slashin’.

M is for Musburger (Brent), the Billings product and Hall of Fame broadcaster who called the epic Montana-North Dakota State game for ESPN in 2015. Fly him up from Vegas if for no other reason than to introduce the scene and announce, “You are looking live! ... at one of the most beautiful settings in all of college football!”

N is for Novelty. You’ve only chosen a half-dozen FCS sites, ESPN. And we’ve already chastised you for your fly-over mentality toward the Intermountain West. As novelty goes, the Brawl of the Wild will rival the USS San Diego setup ahead of Navy-Troy in 2012.

O is for Overrated, the chant that will echo into the mouth of Hellgate Canyon from the winning fans toward the losing team, guaranteed, given that both are — in case you missed it — ranked.

P is for Pandemic, which canceled the Brawl in 2020 and leaves us all twice as ravenous for a game that never needs brimstone to fire us up anyway.

Q is for Questionable, as in weather. Rain, sleet, hail, snow, wind, sunshine — potentially all in the same quarter. In some states, they have ominous names for weather like this. We call it Saturday.

R is for Rivalry. Yeah, you’ve seen Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, Oklahoma-Texas, Florida-Georgia and UCLA-USC, but trust us: You’ve never seen a backyard brawl like ours. For starters, just try to get UM coach Bobby Hauck to utter the words “Bozeman” or “Montana State”. BTW, if you need him for pregame interviews on the eve of next year’s Brawl across the Great Divide, plug “Livingston” into your GPS. Somewhere, Woody Hayes is smiling.

S is for Sentinel, the mount home of the whitewashed ‘M’ above UM's stadium, the most picturesque backdrop in all of FCS just ahead of Bozeman and its ‘M’ and right there with Washington, BYU, California and Colorado in all of college football.

T is for Thirty-seven (37), the hallowed number bestowed upon the Griz player who best represents the Spirit of Montana. Also, 37 more than the number of times GameDay has been to Montana. Just sayin'.

U is for Underdog, of which there’s never any such thing in the Brawl no matter the Vegas line. Missoula Miracles are real, on both sides.

V is for Vigen (Brent), the first-year Montana State coach, who aims to continue his predecessor's work and give new meaning to the term Vigen Diet in Missoula.

W is for Washington-Grizzly, the Sistine Chapel of FCS stadiums. Did we mention it’s the most picturesque setting in all the FCS?

X is for marking the calendar for the next year’s Brawl, which is what every Montanan will do the morning of Nov. 21, cheers or tears.

Y is for Years — 124 to be exact, the number of celestial orbits since the first game, making it the oldest FCS rivalry west of the Mississippi. In short, we've waited a long time, and besides, you might be the only folks in America who haven't visited us (or moved in) in the past 20 months.

Z is for Zootown, Missoula’s hip nickname and where GameDay will find unmatched Montana hospitality — unmatched, that is, until the Bozeman Brawl in '22, when you'll inevitably return because, to paraphrase The Eagles, you can check out of Montana any time you like ... but you can never leave.

406mtsports.com executive sports editor Jeff Welsch can be reached at jeff.welsch@406mtsports.com or 406-670-3849. Follow him on Twitter at @406sportswelsch

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