MISSOULA — The Brawl of the Wild is the oldest rivalry in the history of Montana and Montana State, with the football teams playing 117 times since 1897 heading into Saturday’s game in Missoula.
Early on in the series, the teams periodically played each other twice in the same season, didn’t schedule games every year or had one team back out of playing.
The game wasn’t played 100 years ago because of the combination of World War I and the worldwide Influenza Pandemic, the latter of which is estimated to have killed at least 50 million people around the world and 675,000 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The prospects for the 1918 season seemed bleak coming into the school year with numbers depleted by the draft. By Sept. 27, the United States Department of War issued a rule that football players in the Student Army Training Corps “would not be allowed to leave the universities except on Saturday afternoons,” according to the Sept. 28, 1918, issue of the Great Falls Tribune. That ruling made travel for games in the sprawling western United States difficult.
Players were allowed to leave from Friday evening to Saturday evening in November, and William E. Schreiber, the physical director at Montana, announced the Griz would play Montana State on Nov. 9 in Bozeman, according to the Oct. 12, 1918 issue of the Missoulian. The four platoons of the SATC could each make a football team and play each other for an intramural title to help select an all-SATC starting 11 to take on the Cats.
The SATC students remained on campus when the universities were closed because of the flu outbreak later that month, but Schreiber canceled the plan on Oct. 25 because “the gymnasium and the shower rooms are being used for hospital purposes, and no other showers are available,” according to the Oct. 26, 1918 edition of the Missoulian. Football was “called off” at Montana as the “flu epidemic causes abandonment of series.”
Montana State canceled football two days later on Oct. 27, 1918, by order of Captain O.C. Heath, the commanding officer of Bozeman’s SATC. It was “a matter of precaution to help enforce the health rules to prevent the spread of influenza among the young soldiers,” the Great Falls Tribune wrote in its Oct. 28, 1918, issue.
The Griz had hopes of still playing football, and Schreiber announced on Nov. 19 that two of the platoon teams would play on Thanksgiving in the first and only game of the season. However, the game got canceled on Nov. 26, marking a season with no football. “We did not get into the gymnasium in time to give the men practice, and it would be dangerous to play a game if the men were not in shape,” Schreiber said in the Nov. 27, 1918, edition of the Missoulian.
The Bobcats’ 31-23 victory over Montana last year in Bozeman was only the second time the home team had won in the Cat-Griz rivalry in a nine-year stretch. MSU’s win last season snapped a string of five straight UM victories at Bobcat Stadium.
With the game shifting to Washington-Grizzly Stadium this year, Montana will try to make it two in a row for the home team for the first time since the Griz prevailed in 2006 and 2008.
The Bobcats won in Missoula in 2010 (21-16), 2012 (16-7) and 2016 (24-17). The Grizzlies prevailed in Bozeman in 2007 (41-20), 2009 (33-19), 2011 (36-10, though this game was later vacated due to NCAA infractions), 2013 (28-14) and 2015 (54-35).
Of the 16 rivalry games played in Missoula since Washington-Grizzly Stadium opened in 1986, Montana has won 12 times.
Rivalry date moved 25 years ago
The 93rd meeting between Montana and Montana State was moved to be the final game of the regular season 25 years ago in 1993.
The move was made for financial reasons in terms of getting crowds to the stadium in winter weather. Montana State athletic director Doug Fullerton explained it as “try to draw 15,000 for Eastern Washington in the middle of November,” according to the Nov. 13, 1993, issue of the Missoulian.
The Brawl of the Wild has been the final game of the regular season each year since then. Montana leads the series 18-7 since the game was moved.
Montana State unveiled via social media on Thursday its uniform combination for Saturday’s game. The Bobcats plan to wear white from head to toe — helmets, tops, pants, shoes and gloves — which is similar to what they wore in their 24-17 victory in Missoula in 2016.
MSU’s white helmets, adorned with the traditional block “M” stickers on the sides and the blue and white stripe that runs front to back, will include additional signage.
On the front portion of the stripe it will read “1889,” which commemorates the year Montana became the union’s 41st state. On the lower back portion of the helmet, on the bumper pad, it will read “3-7-77,” a number sequence that has been used in association with early frontier vigilante justice in Montana.
For the first time since 2006, the head coach on both sides of the Brawl of the Wild has a connection to the state.
Griz coach Bobby Hauck is a Big Timber native, competed in track at Montana and has coached for the Griz as a position coach and head coach. Montana State coach Jeff Choate was born in Idaho but played and coached football at Montana Western.
In 2006, Hauck coached the Griz, while Mike Kramer led the Cats. Kramer had coached at Helena High School and was a defensive line coach and defensive coordinator at Montana State in the 1980’s.
When Kramer left after the 2006 season, Rob Ash took over but had no connection to the state. Ash stayed on until the end of the 2015 season, and then Choate was hired. At that time, the Griz were being coached by an outsider, Bob Stitt.
‘High stakes’ bet
As is tradition, friendly betting from the statewide political realm has commenced this week, with U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Montana attorney general Tim Fox renewing their annual wager on their Cat-Griz loyalties.
Per Twitter, Daines, a Montana State graduate, has agreed to fly a Griz flag from his truck for one weekend if the Bobcats lose, while Fox, a UM alum, will fly a Bobcats flag if Montana falters.
This is the sixth consecutive year that the two have made the wager. Fox has prevailed three times while Daines has won twice.