2013 Griz Football: Resiliency

This busy Griz weekend will officially come to a close in a couple hours and I think my tweet I sent out Saturday evening still sums it up best: It could have gone better, and it could have gone worse.

Our football team dropped a close one to Coastal Carolina yesterday. Once again the Griz staged a very gutsy comeback but this time it fell just a little short. On the brighter side of things, our women’s basketball team went 2-0 this weekend to win the Holiday Inn Lady Griz Classic. The team defeated Idaho in a close contest on Friday evening and then played a great game in the tourney championship to blow out UC Irvine.

This afternoon I attended the Griz football awards banquet. The team and everyone associated with it managed to put the disappointment of yesterday behind them for a couple hours to celebrate a wonderful season. Our athletic director and head coach both spoke some meaningful words, a hard hitting highlight video was shown, and players were recognized. Taking home the big honors were two of my favorite players on the team, Brock Coyle and Jordan Johnson, who both received the Steve Carlson MVP award (on defense and offense, respectfully).

Sometimes less is more so I want to keep it simple: The 2013 Griz football team is one of the best examples of resiliency that I have ever seen in my life, both on a big scale and a smaller scale. When it comes to the larger scale, the majority of the student-athletes on the team went through a turbulent period that few other teams will ever go through. The removal of its head coach, the loss of its MVP, and a microscope pointed right at it as sharp as anything you will find in the finest laboratories will definitely test a squad. But with a “united” attitude and the return of its brother and MVP, the team took the lessons from 2012 and used them to go on a tear in 2013. It is because of the above major tests in resiliency that the team dealt with earlier that they were able to conquer the smaller tests of resiliency this season. I am talking about the come from behind wins and fourth quarter heroics that were on display several times this year.

In life, people from the outside looking in don’t know anything about what goes on in the inside. While they think they do, they really don’t. Most people, including myself, will never know how much dedication, trust, and hard work the 2013 Griz football team poured out to make this year’s campaign such a success. While we can all see the major obstacles they overcame and the dramatic change in wins they recorded, we will never really understand the immense amount of heart that this team exerted on a daily basis. But there is one thing that we can understand, one thing that was clearly visible all season long. This team was UNITED and it was absolutely beautiful. Don’t Blink.

A Special Day to be a Griz

This Saturday I had a first! Never before until yesterday had I worked an overtime football game in intercollegiate athletics. Well, it happened. When things looked very bleak for the Griz football team, the heart and pride of our student-athletes shined brightly as ever as a comeback occurred.

With a little over two minutes left, Cal Poly lined up to kick a chip shot field goal from the nine yard line. This would have iced the game with the Mustangs already leading 14-7. The snap and hold were good but the kick never had a chance as Jordan Tripp, the leader on defense, stormed through the line and blocked the kick.

Quarterback Jordan Johnson then engineered a 90 yard drive that ended in a touchdown on a fourth down and then came an ensuing game tying kick. Cal Poly couldn’t return the kickoff with just a few seconds left in regulation and overtime it was!


A photo I took from the press box of the team singing the fight song after the win.

A photo I took from the press box of the team singing the fight song after the win.

Now I had never worked an overtime game before so Brynn and I had a quick “what now?” type moment but that faded very quickly and we just went with it. I silenced the music so the fans could hear the overtime directions/coin toss from the referee and it was on! Cal Poly won the toss and as is custom in a Kansas City tiebreaker format they chose to go on defense first. However, the defense that seemed to keep the Griz at bay for 58 minutes of the game was no longer on the field and it took just two plays for a touchdown reception by Ellis Henderson to put Montana up.

After the extra point went through the uprights it was pandemonium in Washington-Grizzly Stadium as the almost 26,000 fans went nuts as Cal Poly came out for its turn on offense. The noise in the stadium was absolutely crazy and it hit an all-time high when our marketing intern/captain/amazing football player/player of the game/great person Brock Coyle hauled down a spectacular interception to end the game and start a dog pile in the north end zone. It was an absolute emotional swing from one end to the other.

Our marketing team after the game in the control room.

Our marketing team after the game in the control room.

It was an interesting and fun game to be part of. Our Pink Game gets bigger and bigger each year. This season’s game saw us have our team come through the stands with area cancer survivors, a change to the traditional tunnel entrance that up until yesterday hadn’t been touched in years. The players had a pink touch to their helmets, we showed a very emotional video prior to the game, and Team Up Montana had a great day in front of the biggest gathering in the state.

Also making the game special were a couple things that happened after Montana clinched the win. In a total surprise, I got to talk to my high school football coach for the first time since I last played for him in 2005! I went down on the field after the game and right away I spotted Mead High School head football coach Sean Carty standing by the player’s tunnel. He was there watching Bo Tully, a former Mead Panther who Carty had coached. It just so happened that it was the first ever game he had watched in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. He said it was an awesome experience, even after attending games at Notre Dame and Michigan. Then, I got to introduce my parents to our athletic director, Kent Haslam. It was special just in the fact that my parents were able to attend the game…I never even thought about the opportunity about getting to introduce them to the big boss of Grizzly Athletics. But it happened just about five minutes after I talked to Coach Carty. Not a bad post-game if you ask me.

I got to visit with my high school football coach, Sean Carty, after the game.

I got to visit with my high school football coach, Sean Carty, after the game.

So even with the Pink Game festivities, even with getting to see my old high school coach, and even with my parents getting to meet our athletic director, the memory that was most special for me on October 19 was the final 15 minutes of the Montana football team’s comeback win. To observe the heart and passion shown by our guys was really cool. I won’t forget it anytime soon. I am so thankful to be a Griz. Don’t Blink.

Grand Forks Recap

Yesterday night at around 9:30pm, our charter plane landed on Montana soil and I walked off the plane and strolled right over to my car in the parking lot and drove back to my place, happy to be back in Missoula. Not to say that I did not enjoy the past few days in Grand Forks, North Dakota, because I genuinely did, I just knew that living there probably would not be my first choice.

Hanging out in the Alerus Center this past weekend in Grand Forks, ND.

Jimmy (co-worker and travel partner) and I arrived in North Dakota on Wednesday night. After flying to Minneapolis first, we boarded a plane that took us 300 miles northwest to Grand Forks. After gathering our luggage, we walked outside into the cold, rainy night, a preview of the weather to come over the next few days.

Well, I guess I should say that the cold and rain we experienced on Wednesday prepared us mostly for the weather to come. I say mostly because come Thursday, Friday, and even a little on Saturday we got well acquainted with the unforgiving North Dakota winds. Because the state, and especially Grand Forks, lacks mountain ranges and big structures in general, wind has free reign over the landscape. Thursday was particularly brutal as winds gusted to 50 miles per hour. Jimmy and I had a tough time walking straight as we struggled moving back and forth between our rental car and the various places we were meeting people in. During one humorous part of the day, Jimmy and I had to focus complete concentration and a 100% effort into placing bags onto a luggage cart because the gusts attempted to snatch the plastic sacks out of our hands and into the cold air. With persistence and stellar grips, we managed to transport all bags safely inside the hotel.

Besides the weather, it was cool to visit North Dakota and see another part of the country. I would be lying if I said Grand Forks was glamorous but who cares? It was nice to drive around in a place with very little traffic. Before we left on the trip, the oddball news about the dude who sold his McDonald’s jug of Michael Jordan BBQ sauce went national. In the story it talked about how the guy has since sold his McDonald’s restaurants and now owns a mini franchise with six restaurants all called Space Aliens Grill. It just so happens that one of those resides in Grand Forks and we drove by it probably ten times during our time there.

Of course we were in North Dakota on business and the athletic facilities we got to enter because of the purpose of the trip probably equated for one of the highlights of our time in the “Peace Garden” state. First we got to look around the Alerus Center, the arena where the University of North Dakota plays its home football games. As the arena is literally connected to the hotel we stayed in, it was a two minute walk from our hotel lobby to the turf of the field. With a capacity of 12,000 and with seating on just two sides, it was a very unique facility. The concourses were gorgeous, the suites nice, the locker rooms respectable, and the playing surface in beautiful condition. Although coming up short on Saturday put a bad taste in my mouth about the facility in general, I must say that building is more than adequate. However, the real shining gem in Grand Forks is the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the home of the North Dakota hockey team. We visited “The Ralph” on Friday to pick up our allotment of tickets and were thoroughly impressed. The floors and walls of the facility are made out of granite. The hall of fame section puts an exclamation point on all what the storied program has accomplished. Sculptures and other memorials line the whole place. Although we didn’t even get to see the ice, I knew we were in a special place.

A look at the Alerus Center from the press box on the day of the game.


Jimmy and I walking into the Ralph Englstad Arena.

Midday on Friday we had completed all work that needed to get done before the team arrived so Jimmy and I had a quick lunch at a pizza place called Rhombus Guys. In an old three-story building in downtown Grand Forks, we were treated to some of the tastiest pizza I have ever consumed. Although the menu contained numerous unique and exotic different types of pizza, we went with the T-Rex pie, a pizza covered in every meat you can think of. The size of the pizza itself was huge and yes, each slice was cut in the shape of a rhombus.

Our football team arrived in Grand Forks at around 6pm on Friday evening. The hotel we stayed in was called the Canad Inn, a very nice place to spend your time in Grand Forks. Containing a giant waterpark and three different restaurants, anyone traveling for pleasure would have more than enough to do without even leaving the facility. The hotel staff and other people staying there treated us great and I can report that I slept great every night I was there.

On Saturday, the game atmosphere inside the Alerus Center was a little different than anything I have experienced before. Not to say it was bad by any means, it is just different playing football indoors, especially the way that the arena is set up. Prior to kickoff they turned the lights off in the facility and had the band perform (it was a “Blackout” theme). Again, I had never seen anything quite like it but it was pretty cool. As usual, we brought along a very large Montana cheering contingent that cheered loudly and proudly throughout the whole game. In the end, North Dakota scored in the final minute to defeat the Griz, 40-34.

Lots of Griz faithful made the trip to Grand Forks.

Thankfully I was able to take the team charter back home to Missoula, enabling me to have a nice relaxing Sunday in town. This upcoming Saturday our team is at home again as we take on Idaho State on Military Appreciation Day. Going on these trips makes me so very thankful and proud of the gameday experience we offer in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. I can’t wait for this Saturday to come and for the Griz to get back into the win column. Thanks Grand Forks for the hospitality, it was nice to visit your town. Don’t Blink.

Missoula Up In Smoke

When researching a place to live, a big part of gaging if that certain location is a good fit is to look at the air quality that impacts it. Some people can handle the smog filled atmosphere of a metropolis such as Los Angeles, others cannot. Usually, looking at the average air indexes of cities can give you a good idea on if the place fits your personal needs or not. However, such is life, certain uncontrollable events can occur that will alter the normal meteorological/climate patterns of an area and disrupt what people are normally used to. When Mt. Saint Helens erupted, ash descended on cities on the total opposite side of Washington State, thus polluting the air and sending the normal pleasant days of May for a complete twist. When 9/11 occurred, the New York City air became filled with nasty toxins that have had devastating effects on thousands of people. Closer to my home, we are currently undergoing a pretty significant challenge to our usually healthy air.

Over the past few weeks, Missoula has turned from a gorgeous, colorful slice of paradise to a dark, smoke filled bowl. With wildfires raging in the Bitterroot area of western Montana and in the Idaho Panhandle, The Garden City has been the unlucky recipient of more smoke than any compulsive liar could ever manage to blow.

In normal times, the air in Missoula could rightfully be caught in bottles and sold for an expensive price to anyone in need of a “breath of fresh air.” The Missoula air is usually golden, a sweet reminder of why Montana is The Last Best Place and a selling point for all the California people who decide to pack up their belongings and head north to take up residence in our beautiful state. Whenever I would return to Missoula from travel to a bigger city, the major factor that would help me get over my post-vacation depression would be to step outside of the town’s mini airport and breathe in the clean, therapeutic Montana air. On my many return trips from Las Vegas, filling my lungs with the Zoo Town vapor immediately refreshed my body from several days of sun, smoke, pollutants, and other unsavory things. It was an immediate cure. Good thing I don’t have any Vegas trips planned for the next couple of weeks, I would hate to have that experience totally flipped around.

On the flight back home from Tennessee last week, the descent into Missoula was something else. Instead of mountains, valleys, and the beautiful colors that define a western Montana autumn, all I could see out of my window seat was grayish-brown smoke. Nothing became visible until about a minute before we landed. As we descended I looked at Jimmy and told him that I couldn’t believe people were living in this. After five days spent in the sticky, humid air of the south, I was ready for some reprieve. However, what I got when I stepped outside was 5X worse than what I had been exposed to over the better half of the past week. I walked through what seemed like plumes of smoke to my car as my nose was greeted with the somewhat welcoming smell of a campfire…only no hot dogs or marshmallows were present. This was not right.

The smoke has only gotten worse in Missoula. This past Friday, the school district canceled all of its after school football games. Even night competitions were called off. To get an idea of how bad it is, the homecoming football game for one of the local high schools here had to be moved to Ronan, a very small town sixty miles north of Missoula. We went on with our football game here at The University of Montana but from my vantage point in the press box, it was a pretty weird site to see Washington-Grizzly Stadium filled with a brown, hazy smoke for the whole game. People were wearing masks in the stands.

I feel for the people who have a low bodily tolerance for the smoke. Surely for them it has to be hell living in Missoula right now. As someone who can handle even the dirtiest of air, it is even tough for me to stomach this environment. It is a challenge to find the silver lining in something like this but if you look closely enough, you can always find a couple things. First, the sunsets have been pretty cool. The smoke has made the sun look bright red as it sets over the mountains. Secondly, it just really makes me appreciate even more the rich, healthy air we get majority of the time.

With the fires still raging, Missoula is likely to be under smoke for quite a while. Our saving grace? WIND! Right now, we need strong winds from the west to blow this smoke out of our valleys. Until then, it might be better for the health conscious and nature loving people of Missoula to spend more time inside. Eventually this will pass and we will have our clean air back. I know I won’t take it for granted again. Don’t Blink.