My 2015 Final Four Prediction

With Coastal Carolina punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, my pick for the 2015 men’s basketball national champion is penciled in. However, I still have three spots left in my Final Four. Taking full liberty to dream very big, I am going to assume that the rest of the teams I list actually make the tournament and that the Selection Committee does me a personal favor and places them all in a different region. I feel they owe me.

Coastal is not only already in the dance but they are my favorite to win it!

Coastal is not only already in the dance but they are my favorite to win it!

Well, I don’t have to assume anything about the tournament status of this second team that I predict to make the Final Four. I am talking about Gonzaga! This 2014-15 Bulldog squad is supposed to be the best in school history. This says a lot as I had the opportunity to watch a bunch of really good ones growing up in Spokane both while serving as a ball boy and as a fan. I hope this is the year Gonzaga finally gets past its own personal best of the Elite 8 and lands in the Final Four. As they will most likely garner a #2 seed they will play the #15 seed Chanticleers.

Gonzaga makes my Final Four.

Gonzaga makes my Final Four.

Do you think I would wish anything less than success for my old employer? I predict that for the first time ever a Big Sky Conference team will make the Final Four and Griz Nation will go nuts. Led by senior Jordan Gregory I am picking the Montana Grizzlies to go very deep in the tournament. Of course they must go deep in their own tournament first. The University of Montana is hosting the Big Sky Conference tourney this week and let me tell you, it is difficult for opposing teams to win in the Adams Center. I believe they will make it through and then shock the world later this month.

This is me at the 2012 NCAA Tournament when Montana played Wisconsin in Albuquerque.

This is me at the 2012 NCAA Tournament when Montana played Wisconsin in Albuquerque.

So those who know me well could probably guess that Gonzaga and Montana were givens. But my final choice? Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Oregon State Beavers. When I worked at Montana, Wayne Tinkle was by far one of my favorite coaches I got to work with. Not too soon after I left for Coastal, Coach Tinkle was hired at Oregon State. What he has done this year in Corvallis is nothing short of spectacular (he inherited a completely depleted roster). Anyway, the Beavers will have to win the PAC-12 Conference tournament to make the Big Dance but with the coaching skills of Wayne Tinkle they will be able to do it. Oregon State will then out-defend and out-hustle opponents as they manage to squeak out win after win until they make it to the Final Four. Waiting for them in the other national semifinal will be the Montana Grizzlies.

Wayne Tinkle will bring the Oregon State Beavers to the promised land.

Wayne Tinkle will bring the Oregon State Beavers to the promised land.

Under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Gonzaga will come out slow and sluggish and Coastal will bury them with the three-ball all night long. What was supposed to be a blowout win for the Bulldogs turns into an easy victory for the Chanticleers. The #15 seed Montana Grizzlies will then battle the #11 seed Oregon State Beavers in the major storyline of the tournament. Wayne Tinkle will coach his heart out against his former team but it won’t be enough as Montana plays its best game of the tournament in front of 4,000 crazy Griz fans that made the trip to Indiana.

This is my 2015 FInal Four bracket.

This is my 2015 FInal Four bracket.

The first ever #15 seed vs. #15 seed national championship will be one for the ages. The game will go to three overtimes and will contain 53 lead changes. However, a charge that Tristian Lucas takes late in the game sends Coastal on a 5-0 run in the final minute and, just like during the FCS playoff game, the Chants beat the Griz.

My final bracket!

My final bracket!

Perhaps a little far-fetched? Maybe a little. But it is March now and anything can happen. As Dick Vitale would say, “I LOVE IT BABY!” Don’t Blink.

My Final Sunday in Missoula

The “lasts” keep coming as I prepare to move out of Missoula and the final Sunday that I will ever spend in the Garden City provided me with a lot of them. I enjoyed a packed day driving around town and taking in experiences that are unique to this western Montana town. Let me share with you my Sunday adventure.

I woke up early and attended the 8 a.m. Palm Sunday mass at St. Francis Xavier. I have thoroughly enjoyed attending services in this absolutely beautiful and historic church. I have benefited from the excellent preaching and ministering by the priests and deacons that have presided over the St. Francis altar. I have taken great refuge in the peace and tranquility I have gained while attending mass during stressful and crazy times. This morning I tried to pay a little more attention to the stained glass masterpieces that enclose the church and cemented a mental picture in my mind. I walked out of St. Francis Xavier today hoping that I will find a great Catholic church in Myrtle Beach as well.

Driving out of the parking lot this morning I took one final picture of St. Francis Xavier. What a great church!

Driving out of the parking lot this morning I took one final picture of St. Francis Xavier. What a great church!

After mass I headed over to the Adams Center to watch University of Montana Cheer Squad tryouts. Even though I worked my last football event last night I still wanted to see who would be performing on the sidelines during the games this fall. Most importantly though I wanted to show up and support the returners on the squad who have enriched my life so much. I got to see the tumbling portion of the tryout, talk to a couple of the girls, and meet the mom of one of my favorites on the squad.

I made it a priority to catch some of the UM Cheer Squad tryouts today.

I made it a priority to catch some of the UM Cheer Squad tryouts today.

I stayed too long at the tryouts and had to dash from the University of Montana to the other side of town where I paid my last visit to the hospice family that I volunteer for. Over the past few months I have become very close to this strong couple. Last week when I served my volunteer hours with them I didn’t know if I would be making today’s final visit because of the woman’s deteriorating health. However she was still her kind and thoughtful self this afternoon. Leaving their house today was hard. The husband had a tough time keeping his composure when telling me thank you and I had to do all I could to keep mine when I went inside the room of the wife. Confined to a bed now she used all her strength to reach her arms out and give me the biggest hug while saying “Thank you and God Bless you, honey.”

Needing a little time to just take it easy for a little bit I went back to my apartment and packed a few things while watching the final round of the Masters. I am satisfied with Bubba Watson’s victory and find his achievement of winning two out of the last three green jackets pretty darn good. Once again I was very impressed with the broadcast.

Before I could even see Bubba put his green jacket on though I zipped back over to the University of Montana for a little bit of Sunday exercise. For the final time I hiked “The M.” On an absolutely gorgeous and sunny early evening I trekked up that mountain and sat up at the top for longer than usual, admiring the breathtaking view of the Missoula valley. As I started to go back down I saw everyone beneath me looking over to their right. I of course looked in that direction as well and spotted four elk grazing about 300 feet off the trail. Perhaps they showed up to say goodbye to me?

Myself at the top of The M and also a grainy photo of the elk I saw.

Myself at the top of The M and also a grainy photo of the elk I saw.

I drove down Stadium Way and into the Adams Center parking lot where I went to my office and continued that process of packing up. As I put things away I realized that even though I am 100% ready to leave the state of Montana I am still going to miss Missoula. Don’t Blink.

St. Patrick’s Day in Butte, Montana

I don’t circle March 17 on my calendar each year. Not that I don’t like St. Patrick’s Day, I just don’t get too overly excited about it. In the past I have celebrated it during some years while during others I have treated it just like any other day. This year? With it on a Monday I might wear a polo that has green on it to work and call it good.

However I do tend to adhere to the cliché that goes “try everything once” and that was the mantra I used two years ago when I visited Butte, MT for St. Patrick’s Day. For my non-Montana readers: The Butte St. Patty’s Day celebration is to the state of Montana what the New Orleans Mardis Gras celebration is to the state of Louisiana. Of course the Montana function is much smaller but based on festive spirits, shenanigans, and liberal street laws it matches up very well. Normally I wouldn’t have much interest attending such a free-for-all but since the holiday fell on a Saturday and I had friends going over I went along for the experience.

Sad to say probably the thing that I think of most when reminiscing about that day was the weather. It rained most of the time as dark clouds hung over the town the whole day. The second thing I think of most were the costumes. People dressed for the occasion much to my enjoyment. You had leprechauns, green mascots, green body suits, people decked in green body paint, and any other wild green outfit you could think of. My friend dressed in a green Statue of Liberty costume. I even donned a special St. Pat’s Day wardrobe.

I sported this outfit on St. Patrick's Day in 2012

I sported this outfit on St. Patrick’s Day in 2012

As for the reputation the celebration has I would consider it pretty accurate. It is a rather wild time with lots of people. Vendors selling food and knick-knacks (such as green beads, sunglasses, bandanas) line the streets. Tents are set up and areas of pavement are roped off to accommodate makeshift dance floors and outdoor bars. The St. Patrick’s Day spirit runs rampant. Some people completely overdo it. With as many as 10,000 non-residents converging on the area the town of Butte definitely enjoys its yearly shining moment.

Megan in her Statue of Liberty Irish style costume.

Megan in her Statue of Liberty Irish style costume.

If you asked me for a recommendation on whether you needed to experience St. Patrick’s Day in Butte I would say no. I had an interesting time but I wouldn’t say I had a great time. If you are a college student and want to let loose in a town you might never go to otherwise I would probably say take it or leave it. But for all of us other people I just don’t see a real point. My idea of a perfect St. Pat’s Day is sitting down at one of Missoula’s two great Irish restaurants and eating a warm dinner….not traveling two hours to stand outside in bad weather while eating vendor food and putting up with overly intoxicated people. I guess it all comes down to personal preference.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all! If you choose to celebrate have fun but be safe. To be honest I am going to enjoy when the day is over because

To Drive in the Snow or Not?

Today something happened in our athletic department that has never happened before since I have worked for Grizzly Athletics: One of our teams had to pull out of a competition because the travel necessary to get to the site was too dangerous. Here is the short summary of what occurred…

The bus transporting our indoor track and field teams to a meet in Bozeman had to put on the brakes just 20 miles outside of town and return to Missoula. Why? The snow and ice covered roads posed too much of a risk to justify trekking the final 185 miles for a chance to compete at the last chance Montana State Bobcat Open.

I guess I should mention it just wasn’t the hazardous roads themselves that deterred that bus from continuing to our rival’s backyard. Also contributing was the forecast for continued precipitation combined with the numerous cars already out of commission on the side of the road and the perplexity of the bus itself getting stuck a few times on the short voyage. In the end the decision was a no-brainer.

However, driving in the winter weather is not always a no-brainer for many, especially those of us who live in the colder, northern states. We were raised driving in the snow and take pride in our ability to navigate through it in our vehicles. To me waking up in the morning and seeing that a few inches of snow fell over the night is second nature. I just get in my car and drive to work. But sometimes we get so confident in our winter driving skills that we fail to see the difference between a few inches of white stuff on the ground compared to much more extreme conditions.

I took this picture this morning. Although the roads were snow covered they were safe to drive on plus it was beautiful out!

I took this picture this morning. Although the roads were snow covered they were safe to drive on plus it was beautiful out!

Last night I drove home from work after the basketball game right when it started to blizzard out. I made the mistake of taking the interstate and found myself in the middle of the freeway on a snow covered road with absolutely no visibility. I turned off the radio, concentrated on doing the best I could to find my exit, and wondered aloud why I didn’t wait a few minutes or take a different route. Although I only had to drive some four miles those were definitely four white-knuckled miles.

Why did I put myself through it? Why have I put myself through it previous times before? Well in all fairness many times we don’t know how bad it is actually going to be. It is easy to look out the window or assess the conditions from where your car is parked at and go from there. Conditions change and surprises await. That is part of the problem. The other part of the problem though is ego. As I said earlier, many of us have it programmed into our minds that we must drive in the roughest of winter storms, even if we own a Toyota Solara. There is pressure to get places and for many people, especially males, using the roads as an excuse is not acceptable.

Although sometimes I think it is. The track and field bus today did not continue to Bozeman because the driver, coaches, and student-athletes were not comfortable. They stopped at an exit, had a meeting, and made a decision to go back to Missoula. I think all of us are capable of identifying that feeling inside of us that says “I don’t feel safe”. At that point we must act on that gut feeling and not test the roads. Sure, we might have to swallow our pride but it is always better than the alternative of driving and not making it to our final destination. Don’t Blink.

Off to the NCAA Women’s Tournament

In just a few minutes I will hop on a bus with the UM Cheer Squad and UM Marching Band and we will head west down I-90 en route to Spokane for the 2013 NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament. Leaving an hour before the Lady Griz and support bus leaves town, we will be able to give the team a proper welcome when they pull up to the Red Lion Downtown Hotel at about 7 p.m. local time this evening.

The Lady Griz received a #13 seed from the Selection Committee and will tip off against #4 seed Georgia on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. inside the McCarthey Center on the campus of Goznaga University. As with any Robin Selvig coached team, Montana will play with a lot of heart and focus and will have a great shot to be in the game at the end.

For me this will be a new experience. I have never attended a women’s NCAA tournament before so I am excited to take in the madness and see what it is like in the other mega March bracket. I am also pumped to see in person our Lady Griz team that has battled so hard all season long get the chance to square off in the most storied tournament at its level against an SEC team.

My duties on this special trip entail supervising the cheer squad and band while of course covering the Lady Griz experience through our new media channels. It will be at least a wonderful few days in Spokane but hopefully with a victory over Georgia it will extend to about five wonderful days in Spokane.

It is time for the madness to start! Good luck to the Griz basketball team tonight against Syracuse in San Jose and good luck to the Lady Griz on Saturday. What a thrill this basketball season has been for Montana. I am so proud to be a Griz. Don’t Blink.

Destination: Colorado

This past evening I blogged about energy drinks and you can bet on it that at 4am in the morning, I am sipping on one right now. My travel partner, Jimmy, and I are moments away from going to the airport where we will hop on a 5:55am flight that will take us to Denver as we begin preparations for the Montana football team to arrive for its game against Northern Colorado on Saturday.

This will be the second consecutive week of travel as last week we were in the Spokane/Cheney area for a game against Eastern Washington. However, as I originally hail from Spokane and was obviously very familiar with my surroundings, the next few days will be a completely different experience for me. Beyond flying into the Denver airport a couple times, I have never actually truly been inside Colorado before. As with any new place for me, I am excited to see another different geographic region.

I will be in the Centennial State Thursday through Saturday as we get business done. During this time I will not be blogging or communicating through social media. Please be sure to watch the Montana vs. Northern Colorado football game this Saturday at 1:30pm MT on Root Sports. Have a great rest of your week and a safe start to your weekend and I will talk to you all on Sunday. Don’t Blink.

A Game I Will Remember

Back in Missoula after several days down south, I am trying to adjust my internal clock and get back in the mountain time zone mode. You see, right now my body is all sorts of messed up. I guess that is what happens when you pull an all-nighter Tuesday night, travel all day Wednesday, work non-stop from Thursday through Saturday in the  eastern time zone, finish work at 3am Sunday morning, and then travel all day once again. Because of this schedule, I admit that a lot of what happened over the past several days seems like a blur. Certain things seem to run together and I am hard pressed to say exactly what days we completed certain tasks on. However, despite all the cloudiness over the last week, there is something that is still crystal clean in my mind, totally unscathed from the hustle and bustle: last night’s football game.

 

On Saturday evening, the Appalachian State Mountaineers hosted the Montana Grizzlies in a regular season, non-conference dream matchup between FCS powerhouses.  In Boone, North Carolina, in front of 30,000 people under the lights, the two best programs at their level clashed in yet another down to the wire game. When all was said and done, Appalachian State came away with a 35-27 victory.

 

In my first game working on the advanced travel crew with Jimmy, I learned a lot. We ran around frantically as we were either meeting with people, traveling from one place to the other, transporting our own people, or preparing for a meal/walk-through/hotel check-in/etc. Because of the pace we were moving at combined with the jet lag and travel fatigue, it is easy to see why I can’t recall everything with pinpoint precision. Thus, it speaks volumes to how special last night’s game was as my memory from 6pm ET to around 10pm ET is spot on.

Kidd Brewer Stadium was filled with over 30,000 fans last night.

It is hard to describe the atmosphere of last night’s game. Well, wait a second, maybe it really isn’t. If you were in attendance for the 2009 Montana-App State semi-final game, then you have an idea of how Saturday night was. The Appalachian State students packed their designated section two hours prior to game time. During those two hours they had a great time dancing, engaging in cheers, and doing anything to get on the video screen. Speaking of the video screen, the App State game operations crew ran a special highlight video of the 2009 game that basically paid homage to Montana. It was cool and a very respectful thing for our hosts to do. The entirety of the pregame rivaled what we have in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. While I don’t think their tunnel walk outshined what we have, their fireworks display was right on the field and very impressive. As I have said before, I love getting the chance to enjoy a sporting event and observe what other teams are doing. It is so nice to be removed from the craziness and stress of actually running the show.

The fireworks go off while the cheerleaders get the crowd going.

Once the actual football game got started, it was an intense and fun experience. Even though the game was non-conference and even though it was early in the season, both teams knew the underlying importance of what was at stake. It was the battle of the two most successful programs at the FCS level, it was east versus west, it was one tradition against another tradition. Both teams played hard and I don’t mean that in the cliché type of way. I mean it more from the standpoint that the teams hit hard the whole game, played with passion, and did whatever they could to win. The stadium was packed. The students were wild, the general App State fans were into it, and a certain section of people dressed in maroon and silver made their presence known the whole game. The large ASU band, the very good crew of cheerleaders, and that Mountaineer mascot that kept running up and down the home sideline also added a special touch to the atmosphere. As the evening got darker the bright lights illuminated yet another nail-biting finish.

Many Griz fans traveled south for this special matchup.

In a wild fourth quarter, both teams came up with Sportscenter worthy plays and with less than nine minutes to play only one point separated the two teams. With under a minute left to play in the game, the Griz had the ball and threatened to tie the game up. However, as sports go, it was just not meant to be.

 

Before, during, and after the game, App State fans were admirable. Save for the handful of drunk students that every school has, everyone in that stadium seemed to be classy. After the game as I was running back and forth through the crowds I couldn’t count how many times Appalachian fans said to Montana fans as they crossed paths “Thank you very much for coming.” True to the great nature of many of our fans, they all responded with either a “Congratulations,” “Thank you for your hospitality,” or “Hope to see you down the road.” Rivalry at its best.

I had a great time watching the game.

Last night I was very fortunate to be on the sidelines and witness a great college football game between two teams, two schools, and two fan bases that have the ultimate respect for each other. What I watched play out on the field and in the stadium plaza after the game is something I will always remember. No case of jet lag could ever touch that. Don’t Blink.

Taking the Fun Out of Sasquatch

It seems like you can always count on Montana to generate some pretty weird news stories. Shoot, just in the past couple weeks alone we have heard about a man exposing himself to traffic-goers, a cow that got on the loose that had to be put down by a sniper, and a guy who used bear spray on young children. However, amidst a very busy day at work something even more bizarre caught my eye today as I scrolled through my Twitter feed during a meeting.

The headline read “Man dressed as Sasquatch hit and killed.” Of course with my high level of curiosity and my interest in anything conspiracy related, I had to follow the link. Knowing that the man had died, I knew it would be a rather somber story but the headline really did not do enough to say how grim it really was. The man met his final fate on U.S. Highway 93, so high speeds were involved. He was also hit not once, but twice, making for a definite grisly accident scene. Finally, providing the ultimate blow to this sad story were the drivers who hit him; the first unlucky motorist was a fifteen year old girl, the second was also a teen driver (no age or sex released). Could you imagine how these two young people must feel right now?

But let’s back up for a second. Of course I can’t get out of my mind the image of the man stalking down the highway in his Sasquatch costume, catching the eyes of confused drivers. What is this thing on the road? Should I be concerned? Should I lock my doors? Are my eyes playing tricks on me?

I love everything from UFO’s to ghost stories to the loch ness monster. I eat it up. Included with these unexplained and hotly debated phenomenon is also the legend of bigfoot. Over the years though it has seemed that the legitimacy of bigfoot has lost credibility. Grainy, 7/11 type security footage of various Sasquatch sightings have fallen under the “hoax” category. People who claimed to have seen the beast have had their accounts dismissed on the notion of their own craziness. Others have received notification that what they saw was an actual existing primate or bear. While unidentified flying objects and spirits that haunt old houses and cemeteries continue to receive credible attention from experts and enthusiasts, Sasquatch has become, well…..kind of a joke.

This latest incident has done nothing to help change the deteriorating image of bigfoot. People who knew the Sasquatch impersonator say he was in costume only to perpetuate the bigfoot hoax. He was not doing scientific research, he was not trying to become closer to wildlife. All he was doing was trying to pass on some lie. Making the story even sadder, officials are suspecting that alcohol could have played a role in the man’s actions. Can we just say now that the Bigfoot legend is dead?

But of course the real tragedy is not that some “storied” myth of a half man/half ape living in the woods took another hit. First off, a man is dead. He leaves a family behind. That alone can be considered a tragedy. But I always believe real tragedy is when the innocent are forced to suffer. I can’t stop thinking about that fifteen year old girl who hit the guy. Fresh off getting her license and probably on cloud nine because of her new privilege, she now has to live with the frightening image of hitting a man in a bigfoot suit for the rest of her life. How do you deal with that at fifteen years old? I feel equally as bad for the other teen involved as well. Could you imagine seeing someone get hit and then having no control whatsoever to avoid doing the same thing? What is this teen telling himself/herself?….”Maybe if I didn’t hit him, he would have survived.”

This story will probably make the “weird news” sidebars in newspapers across the country. It might get picked up by the television show “1,000 Ways To Die”. The late night hosts might joke about it. I mean, what is not to laugh about some wacked out guy in a makeshift bigfoot costume walking up and down an old Montana highway? Well, when phrased that way there is some humor involved. But we can’t simply just leave it at that because there is so much more to it. A person is dead and young lives are devastated. I like weird news and I like the unexplained, but not at the price of that. Don’t Blink.