JEFF WELSCH 406mtsports.com
Editor’s Note: This column appeared ahead of the 2021 Missoula Brawl. Given the unique circumstances of this year, it seems appropriate to host it again with a slightly updated version.
BOZEMAN — In the late summer of 2004, after 13 years on the front lines of Oregon’s decidedly uncivilian civil war, I arrived in Bozeman, eager to witness the smaller school showdown I’d only heard about when — oddly enough, I thought then – the “Brawl of the Wild”.
Well, I didn’t think for a moment just because the audience was smaller that the grudge between Montana and Montana State supporters would be any less feverish. I’d covered seven football feuds between Boise State and Idaho in their Big Sky Conference days, and I remember Boise being particularly provincial with its equal parts Bronco and Vandal alum in late November.
I also knew that as the new sports editor of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, I would be stepping into a raw leather world miles from the green refinement of western Oregon, even as the transition from dusty pickups to squeaky clean Land Rovers was well under way.
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My first taste of the intensity of our Super Bowl was hammered home within weeks. I had the audacity to predict a higher Big Sky Football finish for the Grizzlies, even though that’s exactly what had happened in the previous 19 seasons, dating back to MSU’s 1984 national title run.
A voicemail the next morning, half-jokingly, I think, admonished me to stick to the Wild West tradition of sitting facing the saloon door, lest my anatomy be altered if I was caught napping.
— Victor Flores (@VictorFlores406) November 17, 2022
Never, in more than a decade of routinely picking Oregon State to finish behind Oregon, has anyone in Corvallis ever suggested crushing me into a pile of human entrails.
As if that wasn’t a pause-worthy foretaste of my new surroundings, a few weeks later, after the start of hunting season, a wide-eyed reporter I’d brought over from Oregon shared his story of coming home to the apartment, which he made platonic along with a college student from Montana. Not even a piece of milquetoast, having briefly lived amidst gangs on the mean streets of Tacoma, Washington, he was still limp when he entered the shared bathroom and saw bits of a moose carcass hanging from the showerhead.
That was just after we chased a black bear sow and her two cubs out of the Chronicle parking lot.
And in case we thought these guys were one-offs, the office scanner was a nightly babble of wildlife encounters that ranged from mountain lions stalking pets to a bear breaking into Ace Hardware on Main Street.
I didn’t need anyone to tell me Montana was wild. It has proven it regularly.
I was given free rein to redesign the Chronicle esports section as I saw fit, but I once unknowingly crossed a line.
That was the one time I called The Game “Brawl of the Wild” in print.
“It’s Cat-Griz,” I was admonished by a senior colleague, in a tone and tenor that suggested I’d have better success feuding with this hyperphagic mother bear over blueberries.
My quizzical look demanded an explanation, and I got one in an otherwise objective bastion: “Brawl of the Wild” was written in 1997 by gifted Missoulian wordsmith Kim Briggeman for a rival newspaper (Strike One) in Missoula (Strike Two), the hideout the Griz (Strike three).
Some conspiracy theorists were even convinced that the Chronicle was a Griz secret, despite our vast amount of Cat content. The newspaper’s burgundy A1 banner was suspiciously close to UM’s maroon, and the newsroom was known for its infiltration of UM J-school insurgents.
Calling it “Brawl of the Wild” only confirmed the narrative.
So Cat-Griz it was for my 3½ year tenure, although even that angers local UM supporters who wouldn’t concede a second bill to a rival they dominated from the mid-1980s to 2015.
They insist on “Griz-Cat” but… Sorry. no
It’s a cadence breaker, much like the McCoys and the Hatfields, Costello and Abbott, Cher and Sonny.
Eighteen fall later, with MSU winning six of the last 11 on the field and finally being able to shake off little brother’s jabs, I learned this much:
• Don’t write prediction columns even if the tips are obvious.
• Search parking lots for bears and bathtubs for moose carcasses.
• It will never be “Brawl of the Wild” for the true blue of the Bobcat Nation.
• Above all, the fight for the Great Divide Trophy, whatever you want to call the game, does not take the intensity or emotion to the background of the Apple Cup, the Big Game, the Victory Bell, the Territorial Cup or the Oregon Grudge game now known earlier than the civil war.
Ours is the only rivalry I know of where what to call it can be almost as contentious as the game itself.
Brawl is of course here to stay. But I suppose we can all agree that the history-making tale, with its annual mud-and-blood riots, echoes “Brawl” and “Wild” — clever and useful as they are if you’re trying Lure College, for example GameDay from ESPN to Montana – so redundant as telling us Montana is “wild” when it routinely shows us.
Nothing out of the ordinary about two simple words that, despite their parsimony, immediately conjure up images of “brawl” and “wild.”
406mtsports.com Executive Sports Editor Jeff Welsch can be reached at [email protected] or 406-670-3849. Follow him on Twitter at @406sportswelsch