MISSOULA — In 2003, then-first year head coach Bobby Hauck led Montana to a win over Idaho in what turned out to be the last meeting between the long-time rivals for over a decade.
Idaho returned to the FCS and the Big Sky Conference this year, reigniting the second-longest rivalry in Montana program history when the series picks up on Saturday with each of the teams in a bit of a down year.
“When you talk to some of the older fellas that have been a part of this program, this game was a huge, huge game in these parts for a long time,” Hauck said. “We’re aware of that. We’re certainly excited to be able to play this thing again.”
Montana and Idaho have played each other 84 times since the series started in 1903. The Vandals own a 55-27-2 edge, but Montana is 8-2 since 1991.
Idaho left the Big Sky Conference in 1995, and the teams played five times from 1999 to 2003 when the Vandals were an FBS team. The Griz went 4-1, including winning the final four meetings.
Hauck said the team will discuss the series and the meaning of it this week. Reid Miller, a transfer from Arkansas, has already started to learn about the rivalry and the Little Brown Stein trophy the winner gets to keep until the next meeting.
“I’ve heard of the Little Brown Stein,” Miller said. “It’s going to be fun to keep it and play hard for it.”
Hauck has coached against Idaho four times, three of which came when he was a defensive backs and defensive line coach at Montana. In 1988, the Griz posted a 26-17 home win in the regular season, but the Vandals got revenge with a 38-19 home win in the playoffs. In 1989, the Griz lost on the road, 30-24.
Hauck was the head coach when Montana beat Idaho, 41-28, on Sept. 27, 2003, in the most recent meeting.
“The fact that we haven’t played since 2003, that game, to these guys,” Hauck said sitting between Miller and Keenan Curran, “probably has as much significance to these guys as the 1903 game. But to the guys that were there, it has extreme significance, including me.”
The renewal of the rivalry has an added layer with Butte native and former Carroll College quarterback Paul Petrino being the Vandals’ head coach.
“The extended families between our two, we know a lot of the cousins and everybody else,” Hauck said. “In Montana, you kind of grow up with those guys even though you’re living down the road a little ways. So, I’ve known Paul for a long time. He and my brother Tim were probably closer friends just because they were the same age. Known him for a long time. Think he does a good job.”
Montana heads to Idaho with a 5-4 record after jumping out to a 4-1 start in Hauck's return to Montana. The Griz snapped their three-game losing streak with a 57-14 road win over Southern Utah on Saturday.
“You definitely saw the complete spectrum of what we can be if we play a complete game,” Curran said, “and that was pretty exciting.”
The Thunderbirds have been a disappointment this year, and the Griz did what they should against a one-win team if they want to return to the dominant ways of Hauck’s first tenure.
“We’re a young team getting better,” Hauck said.
Idaho comes into the game at 4-5 despite having FBS talent and players who won All-Sun Belt honors on their roster. The Vandals have lost four games by 23 or more points, but they are 4-0 at home and coming off a 31-27 upset of North Dakota.
“The thing that stands out about them is you can tell they’re real sound in everything they do, so you can tell they’re well coached,” Hauck said. “Both sides of the ball and in the special teams area, they do everything right. They play real well in terms of execution at home.
“I can tell that they’re coached tough, they’re a tough football team. I think it starts up front for good football teams, and they’re good on both sides of the ball up front.”