Las Vegas bar turns into Griz Nation on game days

2010-11-20T22:00:00Z 2010-11-21T08:09:36Z Las Vegas bar turns into Griz Nation on game daysBy VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian
November 20, 2010 10:00 pm  • 

LAS VEGAS - No one was killed and only two Bobcat fans were injured Saturday when nearly 300 fans of the football teams from Montana and Montana State jammed into a way-off-the-strip pub here in Sin City to watch the 110th meeting between the two schools.

It's been like this - tons of UM and MSU fans showing up, not injuries to them - every November for years now, ever since a snowbird and a displaced Montanan asked the pub's owner if he could dial up a Grizzly football game on his bar's old satellite TV back in 1992.

Torrey Pines Pub owner Bob Bonner has been tuning in Grizzly football games on a weekly basis ever since.

"They showed up with about 10 people the first time," Bonner says of Pete Marinkovich, once of Anaconda, and Dave Kearns, once of Townsend, who made the initial request in 1992. "The next week there were a couple more, and a couple more the week after that, and ... "

He motions to the wall-to-wall sea of people decked out in maroon and silver, a crowd peppered with many others dressed in blue and gold, who have packed the bar so tightly, it's tough to worm your way through the standing-room-only pub.

Some of those in Griz colors, like first-grade teacher Katherine Lightner, now of Las Vegas but formerly of Lolo, got here by 6 a.m. (it's Vegas; the bars are open 24 hours a day) to claim the best seats in front of the biggest TV at Torrey Pines.

She spent the five hours leading up to game time grading tests taken by her students at Arturo Cambeiro Elementary School, and the next three hours cheering.

Lightner is one of dozens of regulars who show up at Torrey Pines every Saturday to watch Grizzly football games throughout the fall.

Former Missoulian sportswriter Jon Kasper, who first wrote about the place several years ago, nicknamed the bar "Grizzlyville," and the name has stuck.

The weekly gatherings of up to 100 Montana backers now swells to as many as 400 for the annual Brawl of the Wild, filling with both displaced Montanans and vacationing ones.

"It's my Super Bowl, my New Year's Eve, my St. Patrick's Day all in one," Bonner says of the Griz-Cat game.


He makes it fun.

"This is a Montana bar, and today is Montana's day!" Bonner bellows into a microphone just before the game starts.

His four bartenders and all his food and cocktail waitresses are all decked out in Griz gear.

Bonner juggles remote controls during the game to pipe in the music fans are used to in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. You may be 1,300 miles away, but you'll still get your "Cotton-Eyed Joe," "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and "Who Let the Dogs Out" here.

He'll tell the crowd to listen close, that he's just called Nellis Air Force Base and ordered up a flyover of F-18s to honor the Grizzlies, then punch up a recording he has of the fighter jets.

Bonner has even put together his own boom crew, and brought in a fogger to simulate the Griz running out of the tunnel.

"Anyone can put TVs on," Bonner says. "I try to bill us as the second-best place in the world to watch a Grizzly football game."

Still, he tones down the Grizzly rhetoric when Griz-Cat day arrives each November.

"When it's not Montana-Montana State, it's more full-bore," Bonner says. "It's important to make this day a Montana day in Las Vegas, and all Montanans are welcome here."

When Montana scores, he plays the Grizzly fight song. When Montana State scores, he plays the Bobcat fight song.

There's a split-the-pot drawing, and more than $1,000 is divided between the winner, and the scholarship associations for both UM and MSU.

For other UM games, Bonner will mimic the public-address announcer in Washington-Grizzly every time UM picks up a batch of yards - He'll yell, "That's another FIRST DOWN ..."

"... MONTANA!" the crowd will holler back.

But Bonner does the "First down" thing only once in a while during Griz-Cat games, enough to keep the Montana fans happy, not so much that it could rub Montana State fans the wrong way.


Butte would be a really good place for Bob Bonner to be from, but instead he's a Philadelphia native who landed in Vegas by way of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"I was 23 years old, and had a friend who said he knew a guy in Las Vegas who had connections, and we should go check it out," Bonner says, pausing for a moment before adding, "He had no connections."

The friend lasted just a month and a half, but Bonner - who arrived with $200 in his pocket - has been here ever since. He built, and opened, Torrey Pines - a neighborhood bar far removed from the city's glitter and lights - in northwest Las Vegas in October of 1991.

A year later Marinkovich and Kearns arrived with the necessary satellite coordinates and the request that the Vegas bar put a Grizzly game on one of its TVs.

"He said he'd try," says Marinkovich, now 70, a retired contractor who was back in the bar Saturday for the Grizzly-Bobcat game.

None of them had any idea they were laying the foundation for the Las Vegas headquarters of Griz Nation. Bonner, whose pub sponsors a bus trip from Las Vegas to Flagstaff every other year when Montana plays at Northern Arizona, says he's as surprised as anyone that the Vegas bar he built 19 years ago quickly developed a Montana theme.

"It really snowballed," says Marinkovich, who tries to get back to Missoula once a year for a Grizzly game. "I tell Bob all the time, we really created a monster with this."

Who shows up at Torrey Pines for the game? Las Vegans like Bob Johnston, who spends his summers in Polson. Former Montanans like George McConville and Bob Blake, who graduated from Whitefish High School in 1983 and live here now. Clifford Lynn, a Missoulian who works for Neptune Aviation and is here, with a pack of pals from his Sentinel High School days, for his bachelor party. Polly Jorgenson, a 1993 UM grad from Kalispell who teaches third grade in Las Vegas.

And then there are the Bobcat fans, in the minority in Grizzlyville, but who still appear to make up at least a third of the crowd.

"I got booed when I came in," says Megan Vergith, a Bozeman native attending nursing school at Nevada-Las Vegas. Her mother told her about the Griz-Cat festivities at Torrey Pines. With her is Joey Jebne, another former Bozeman resident and one-time MSU student.

They and the other Montana State backers get louder as Montana squanders several scoring opportunities in the second half. When MSU stops a Grizzly drive late to seemingly put the game away, another Bobcat fan reacts by hitting his fist against a Torrey Pines wall - covered with Grizzly photos and memorabilia, Montana license plates and street signs - in celebration.

That sends a three-foot-long maroon metal street sign - "Montana Grizzlies Ave." it reads - crashing down on his, and his wife's, heads.

The sign conks both so hard it draws blood.

"Karma," decides a Grizzly fan seated at the bar.

Dazed at first, both Bobcat fans turned out to be OK, as did their team, which claimed a 21-16 victory watched by several thousand people in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, and several hundred more here in Grizzlyville.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at vdevlin


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