Fans sporting green and yellow and devotees decked in maroon and silver stood mightily close together Saturday, sort of like the numbers on the scoreboard during the game.

Truth be told, Mark Sather, of Fargo, North Dakota, had been on the lookout for some rival spectators early in the morning. He'd be rooting for the North Dakota State Bison, but he and Lee Johnson, also of Fargo, rather like the fans of the University of Montana Grizzlies.

At other games, Lee Johnson has beckoned Griz fans over when he sees them because he knows them as a fun-loving crew. So Saturday, the Bison boys chatted up as many new friends in Griz gear as they could.

"We stand out here and just visit with everybody who walks by," said Sather along the river trail.

Down the path a ways, Cheryl Donoven, of North Dakota, was also gabbing with some newly found pals from the home team.

In fact, Donoven said Barb Maier, of Missoula, greeted her on the trail with a question: "Are you feeling welcome in Missoula?"

Easy answer, seeing the tight circle of clashing colors.


On the field, the University of Montana Grizzlies and the North Dakota State Bison football players clobbered each other, with the home team scraping out a win in the last seconds of a nail-biting game.

Outside the stadium, the opposing fans exchanged stories and laughs, and they even shared specially concocted pregame beverages.

Even farther away from the stadium, though, football was far from the minds of some.

This weekend is the final one before school starts, and elsewhere on campus, students bought books, checked out the recreation center, changed their cellphone plans and even expressed some disdain for the fandom at the northeast end of campus.

Inside the University Center, George Jensen, of Butte, had just bought a psychology textbook. He wore a strand of beads on his wrist, but they were a turquoise color, not maroon or silver.

"I have zero interest in football. It think it's kind of a vulgar sport if you think about it," Jensen said.


Let's hope Jensen and Lee Pedersen didn't find each other on campus. Pedersen has been a Griz fan for a long time, and the woman from Tacoma, Washington, even got a ticket in the north end zone.

"My best friend's son sold me his ticket," said Pedersen, whose husband is a UM alum.

She paid the price on the stub, too, $50. Pedersen, originally from North Dakota, admitted folks from her native state weren't too bad, and in fact, she and her friends had a hospitable offer from Bison fans in Missoula.

"They invited us for Bison burgers later," Pedersen said.

She declined with a wee jab.

"Griz burgers are better."


But the Bison fireball might be an unparalleled pregame treat. At the very least, the combination of ingredients was as surprising as the Grizzlies victory in the season opener over the four-time FCS national champions.

Heather Klug, of Fargo, is the "Bison Blessing Lady," and she used to drop Cheez-It crackers straight into the open maws of fans. She could give out 150 in three minutes.

Somewhere along the way, the Cheez-It got added to a Fireball shot. Klug hands out the shot, and in exchange, football fans pledge their undying loyalty to the Bison.

The Bison blessing happens so quickly, fans of all stripes take the pledge.

"Many of them have taken Bison blessings," Klug said, pointing to surrounding Griz fans.

One budding fan snoozed at one tailgate despite the revelry, and she could be easily forgiven. Lucia Thorness held a tiny sports fan, her little girl, 7-week-old Cara.

Thorness couldn't find Cara's Griz onesie, so the newborn was decked in a flowery one. She was growing up a member of Griz Nation without a doubt, though. 

"Griz games are the only games we usually watch. That and the Super Bowl," Thorness said.

Once the game started, the roars coming from Washington-Grizzly Stadium reverberated around much of campus.


One corner the crowds couldn't penetrate was the Gallery of Visual Arts. The first game of the season doesn't usually land on the weekend before school starts, so the campus hubbub extended beyond the stadium, albeit at a lower volume.

Inside the gallery, Cathryn Mallory was putting the finishing touches on a fiber sculpture she planned to ship to an exhibit in South Dakota. Mallory, a professor and director of the gallery, planned to spend much of the weekend right inside those walls.

"I'm trying to finish work, pack up, clean the gallery, prepare for my classes, and there's no time for football," Mallory said.

She figured her corner of campus might have been as far away from football as anyone could get this weekend. Later on in the year, she might head to a game, but Saturday, her to-do list was much too long.

Outside the campus recreation center, Rebecca Mamrol had just finished a strength workout. She's a new physical therapy student, and she had tried out the gym for the first time.

"It's a quiet time at the gym for sure," Mamrol said.


It was noisier and rowdier closer to the action.

Officer Roger Dittberner was stationed on Campus Drive, and he said he'd had four calls in one hour of problems in the stadium.

"There's all sorts of drunks out fighting in the stadium, and people starting to pass out," Dittberner said.

In these cases, he said, campus police are more interested in keeping the peace in the stands than handing out tickets. Police also try to help people get home safely, he said.

He was dismayed to hear people had been smoking cigarettes right off the river trail despite fire-safety restrictions, but he said the stream of people heading to the river to relieve themselves before the game was pretty much business as usual.

If Dittberner sees people doing so, he reminds them the Adams Center has bathrooms, but he knows some will still go to the river because the lines to the outhouses are long.

As he talked, the cannon boomed, and Dittberner cheered.

"Ooh. We got points. Yes!"

More points, in fact, than the Bison, in the end, with the final score 38 to 35. This time around, the Griz gave the Bison more than their hospitality to remember.