Montana, Montana State legends share memories and the meaning of the Cat-Griz rivalry

BOZEMAN – We understand the tangible, concrete things at stake for the 121st Brawl of the Wild.

The Great Divide Trophy, playoff placement for both teams and a potential Big Sky title for Montana State.

But for the players, the intangible things are just as important. Pride, bragging rights and plenty of emotion make Cat-Griz one of the most intriguing rivals in the land.

But you don’t have to take our word for it. Over the past week, we spoke to some of the Cats and Griz legends who left an indelible mark on their respective teams and on Cat-Griz history. We asked them what made this rivalry more than just another game.

DENNIS ERICKSON, FORMER MONTANA STATE QUARTERBACK (1966-68)

Dennis Erickson is a College Football Hall of Famer. In his 50-year career, he coached two NFL teams, 11 collegiate teams and led the Miami Hurricanes to two NCAA national championships. He has seen several major rivalries.

But the former Montana State quarterback says they all pale in comparison to the brawl of the wilds.

“Montana-Montana State has been the best thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Erickson said. “It’s not a Power 5 thing, it’s nothing like that. It’s about two schools in the same state attending the same conference, and you’re either a Bobcat or a Griz that day.”

Erickson had much success during his time as a Bobcat player. Sharing the field with All-Americans like Don Hass and Paul Schafer, he helped lead the way to three conference titles.

Even after all the accolades and wins he’s garnered at higher levels, Erickson still considers himself a Bobcat at heart.

“If Montana State hadn’t given me a scholarship, who knows where I would be,” he said. “That’s where I played and trained and got my start. I owe them a hell of a lot.”

But he has ties to both programs. When Erickson was playing at Montana State, his father was an assistant at Montana. And now his son, Bryce Erickson, is the Grizzlies’ tight ends coach. Despite this, Erickson is still involved with the MSU program, most recently serving on the search committee that ended up hiring Bobcat trainer Brent Vigen.

Erickson said he will watch Saturday’s game on TV and keep his mouth shut.

“It’s hard. It’s like my mother, when I played against my father, she always rooted for her son,” said Erickson. “My wife (Marilyn) is like that. But this game is special. There can I don’t really lose.”

MARC MARIANI, FORMER RECEIVER OF MONTANA WIDE (2006-09)

Marc Mariani electrified Grizzly fans for four years as a wide receiver and return man before launching a Pro Bowl career in the NFL.

Growing up in Havre, Mariani was a die-hard Griz fan. And though he’s a decade away from his college days, Cat/Griz’s thrill burns just as strong.

“For a boy from Montana, that’s why you go to school. It’s big business. It means a lot to a lot of people,” Mariani said. “And for me, it hits a lot of chords. It fires me, it makes me angry. It makes me put a helmet and some pads back on.”

Mariani had some incredible cat griz moments, including the 2008 game when he caught a touchdown and returned a punt for a score.

But his most memorable moment playing in 2007.

“My first official start of my career was against the Cats. I didn’t have a big role, but we had a couple of injuries and it was down to two sophomores splitting that role between me and Ty Palmer,” Mariani said. “So we go to Bozeman and they willy-nilly had to kick out a skinny little sophomore to try and get some snaps that day.”

Mariani has the distinction of never losing to the cats. And he makes sure everyone knows.

“When you see a griz of a cat, everyone wants to get their jabs in,” Mariani said. “And I’m just saying, I’m sorry, I’ve never lost, I don’t know how it feels.”

JUNIOR ADAMS, FORMER MONTANA STATE WIDE RECEIVER (2001-02)

By the time Junior Adams arrived in Bozeman as a transfer wide receiver from Oregon State, the Bobcats had lost 15 straight games to the Grizzlies. And he quickly felt the burden that weighed on the program.

“After they beat us in 2001, they run onto the field and take off their pads. And they had these shirts on,” Adams said. “And I think the streak was 15 or 16 back then and the shirts were 15 or 16 on them. And after that point, I realized how big it really, really was.”

But he left his mark on the rivalry. In 2002, he caught a pass from realtime freshman quarterback Travis Lulay and scored Montana State’s only touchdown with a 10-7, ending the losing streak and ushering in a new era of competitive play. Since then, each team has won six games.

Adams is now the co-offensive coordinator for the Oregon Ducks, currently ranked 12th in the nation and in the hunt for a Pac-12 title. He has held stints in Washington and Boise State. But his first coaching job was after he graduated from Montana State.

“And to this day, I’ve played a lot of games since then, and I’ll tell you, it’s still hard to compete against that game of Cat Griz,” Adams said. “Some rivalry games are just big . Cat-Griz is on a whole other level. It’s the Super Bowl. Both teams could be undefeated or 0-11 and that’s the only game that matters.”

DAVE DICKENSON, MONTANA QUARTERBACK (1993-95)

Dave Dickenson is credited with being the biggest grizzly to ever wear maroon and silver—or, in his day, copper and gold. He had a reputation for being cool, calm, and collected, and showed it by leading Montana to the 1995 NCAA national championship. It may come as a surprise, then, that he felt a great deal of pressure to succeed when he first arrived on the Missoula campus.

“I felt a lot of pressure because I’m a Montana native and we had this long phase that started way before I did,” Dickenson said. “And as I got older, we hit double digits, and neither do I. I don’t want to be known as a guy who was the quarterback when the streak ended.”

Dickenson only started two games against Montana State and both (1993 and 1995) were in Bozeman. He was injured at the 1994 Missoula game. Still, Dickenson won his two starts at Bozeman and has never been back since.

“The 1995 game was the last time I was in this town and I never really felt like they wanted me back,” he laughed.

Of course, Dickenson likes it when the Griz win, but he’s glad there’s a tie between the teams.

“To have a terminological rivalry, you have to go back and forth. We obviously had our way for what, 16 years, 17 years. And then the Cats won four straight,” said Dickenson. “And you want to go back and forth because that means rivalry to me. So it’s back – a big win for the Griz last year but the Cats are favored and probably rightly so. It’s still going to be a great game.”

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