By Jim O'Day
Special To CSJ
College Sports Journal
Editor's Note: Former Montana athletic director and NCAA Division I Football committee chairman Jim O'Day, a Montana alumnus, gives a special look at the Brawl of the Wild, one of the most heated rivalries in the Football Championship Subdivision. This piece was originally published by Make It Missoula and the original story can be found at this link: http://www.makeitmissoula.com/2012/11/jim-oday-griz-cat-football-game/
MISSOULA, MT. — For the first time in five years, I finally get to attend a Griz-Cat football game in person.
Each of the past four years, I was either en route or stuck in a room at the NCAA Headquarters in Indianapolis, awaiting final results of that day’s games, scurrying through results and statistics, and listening to pertinent information and facts about the teams under consideration for the few remaining spots in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Tedious as it could become at times, it was a task I loved and enjoyed. I had an opportunity to meet some of the finest athletic directors in the country, as well as respected NCAA leaders, and their friendships remain today.
Not a week goes by that I still don’t hear from at least one of them.
I missed a lot of great football action in either Missoula or Bozeman those four years, but perhaps the most defining was the one in 2008 as I watched on my laptop computer as the Griz ran out of the tunnel at Washington-Grizzly Stadium wearing their “throw back” copper and gold uniforms.
Knowing what lay ahead, and the surprise element that was kept a secret until game-time, I sat in the St. Paul/Minneapolis International Airport – volume on high – as the team emerged from the tunnel.
I will never forget the excitement I could hear from the crowd, and under the screaming of radio announcers Mick Holien and Scott Gurnsey. The noise drew quite an audience in that section of the airport… and a few new Griz fans who would later “Make It (to) Missoula” for an upcoming game at the base of Mount Sentinel.
For the first time in two decades, the University of Montana football team goes into the annual Griz-Cat game with no chance of advancing into the NCAA Division I FCS football playoffs.
Although the Griz missed the postseason two years ago via a 7-4 record, and fresh off two consecutive appearances in the national championship game, Montana had an opportunity to extend its record streak of consecutive appearances in the playoffs had they defeated their arch-rivals from Bozeman.
However, it wasn’t to be as the Cats claimed a 21-16 victory in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The last time UM didn’t have a chance to qualify for the NCAA playoffs heading into the final weekend of the regular season was in 1992 when the Grizzlies went 6-5.
Since then, Montana had qualified for the playoffs in 18 of 19 seasons until this year. The Grizzlies go into the “Brawl of the Wild” with a 70-36-5 winning record against Montana State.
While the Grizzlies won’t be in the 2012 NCAA playoffs this year, a couple of options will most likely exist if Montana fans want to catch some post-season action.
Most likely, both Montana State and Eastern Washington will be in the running for hosting playoff games either Thanksgiving weekend or the first weekend in December. Both are a short drive from Missoula.
Local fans have been very fortunate over the years as Washington-Grizzly Stadium has been the site of 35 playoff games the past 23 years. That’s an impressive statistic, and ranks at the top of the FCS level.
These games were also very beneficial to the local economy as millions of dollars were exchanged in the community by those supporting local businesses from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
Hopefully, next year the Griz will be back in the playoff picture.
Jim O’Day was Director of Athletics at the University of Montana from 2005-2012. Prior to that, he served as the Assistant Director of the Grizzly Athletic Association and later as the Director of Development for Intercollegiate Athletics at UM.
Prior to returning to his alma mater in 1998, O’Day was the owner and publisher of the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank, Montana.
Jim currently works for The Farran Group, a real estate development/ investment firm based in Missoula, MT.
In addition, Jim serves as a consultant for Epio Solutions out of Seattle, a sports based agency primarily focused on monitoring social media platforms for various colleges and universities.