CONTENTS Leaving Life in the Parking Lot
Where is the Parking Lot?
Fighting the World's Fight
Diva in Her Own Right
AROUND THE OVAL
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
About the Montanan
Leaving Life in the Parking lot
Confessions of a Griz addict
By Tom Lutey
Illustrations by Bob Zingmark
Im a Grizzly football addict. I admit it.
Ive never broken into a cold sweat at the sound of Cotton-eyed Joe, sold blood for 50/50 tickets, or woken up in a strange end zone, but I have all the classic symptoms. Ive crisscrossed the country twice in search of the elusive euphoria of a national championship. Ive worn out two sets of tires making the 400-mile round trip to Missoula from my home in, gasp, Bozeman. Ive missed one home game in eight years: my sister was getting married — out of state, nowhere near Missoula. And plane connections werent good.
The last four months of every year, my life waits in the parking lot outside Washington-Grizzly Stadium. It gets to the point that you have to do it to feel normal.
But feeling normal and being normal are entirely different things. Grizzly football has forever warped my sense of identity. I have only two photographs accounting for my marriage of ten years — before and after shots. The first is a much trimmer version of my now fat self decked out in a rented Michael Jordan signature tuxedo, my arms wrapped around my bride of five minutes. Id have a tough time picking those two people out of a police lineup. With all the persuasion of someone selling a miracle diet drug, I assure friends its really us.
In the after photo, two large maroon bear paws cover my wifes cheeks. One half of my face is silver, the other maroon with a large number 14 signifying the length of the Griz winning streak over the MSU Bobcats. Its 1999. The goal post in the background is in shambles and the Martel Field scoreboard reads Bobcats 3, Visitors 49. I now tell my Bobcat friends there are teen motorists beside them at stoplights who werent licensed to crawl the last time the Cats beat the Griz in football.
Its a subtle transformation from normalcy to Griz fiend. Sure, ones zealot soul must be fertile, but the seed has to be sown. Knowing the drug of football is more addictive than any opiate, athletics officials make sure that first taste of Grizzly football is free.
It starts out with student seats, the first-come, first-served bench seating on the southeast 10-yard line, prepaid through athletics fees. But the soul builds a tolerance to watching games from the corner of the end zone. Soon the newfound fans are seeking purer forms of stadium seating in the reserved section — where the hard cores dwell. Theyre fraternizing with the likes of Evan and Cara Filby, retirees from Idaho Falls, Idaho, who make the 648-mile round trip to Missoula at least six Saturdays every fall, more if the Griz stay at home during the playoffs. And Chuck Johnson, state Capitol bureau chief for Lee Montana Newspapers, who always seems to know the Helena scuttlebutt about the team. West of the 50-yard line, theres a tall blond lady in an embroidered stockcar jacket toting a cylindrical purse crafted from a license plate. Thats Montana Governor Judy Martz, Griz for life.
Football regulars call this concrete dish of 19,000 fans the Grizzly nation. Opposing quarterbacks unable to bark out plays at the line of scrimmage call it deafening. My raw voice usually doesnt rise above a whisper until the Wednesday after the game, by which time Im buying cough drops for the next weekend. Should fans ever begin picking up their mail at the ticket office, this would be the eighth largest — certainly the loudest — community in the state. Just forward my letters to West section 109, row 13, seat 14.
However, soon it isnt enough to have 16 inches of aluminum bench to call your own. You realize there are twice as many games to be had, twice as many Saturdays to get your fix. If a 400-mile round trip to Missoula is okay, why not an 850-mile round trip to Spokane? Theres always driving involved for Griz fans in Bozeman, anyway. (To get the games on the radio, we have to drive thirty miles out of town and park on a high hill. This is Bobcat country, and airwaves are Grizzly-free.)
Through psychological trickery you convince yourself the team needs you. You inform your boss that Father Joe Glenn and the Hail Mary Choir of the Church of Immaculate Reception are performing in Portland, Oregon, and you need a religious holiday.
My boss tells people Im crazy. Hes seen the family photo pinned to my cubicle along with ticket stubs from Huntington, West Virginia; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Hillsboro Stadium (where the Griz annihilated the Portland State Vikings 33-21); and another from Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington (where the team torched the Idaho Vandals with 505 passing yards and 45 points).
But he doesnt know the half of it, hasnt heard the story of how the spouse and I drove 350 miles to Pocatello with a punctured can of bear spray leaking underneath the seat of my tiny Toyota pickup. We might have stopped and fixed the problem sooner had I not, hurrying to get to the game, decided my wife was just coming down with an irritating cough. Unfazed by the ordeal, I now include immune to bear spray under special skills on job applications.
A delirium sets in on football road trips not unlike the pain-transcending state of spawning salmon. Tired of driving through the middle of the night in heavy downpours, weve camped beneath the bright halogen lights of interstate truck stops, daubing with our socks at leaky window seams. Weve charted our way through snowstorms so blinding it almost made sense to hang one hand out the car door and feel for the edge of the interstate.
The trips are hell and, save for the occasional honk and wave from a fellow Grizzly nomad, lonely. However, there is nothing like pulling into the parking lot at a Grizzly road game and realizing that within the swell outside the stadium gates, the home team fans are grossly outnumbered. Griz fans dont visit a home teams stadium. We rent it. We dont show up for the tailgate. We bring the beer, the bratts, the band, the cheerleaders, the dance team, the long, black semi trailer with the giant grizzly painted on the side of it. Like hippies at a Rainbow Gathering, we greet one another with a big welcome home, regardless of where home happens to be on any autumn Saturday.
What if you lose? my mother always asks as I hand her the keys to my house so my game-day-loathing cats are fed while Im out nursing my habit. Its like asking a male preying mantis what hell do if his blind date doesnt work out. Half the teams in the country lose every Saturday, I tell her. More often than not, our team is in the winning half, but Ive gone to the big banquet only to realize too late that the Grizzlies were the main course.
I watched from the nosebleed seats of Marshall Stadium as a one-man wrecking machine by the name of Randy Moss, now the most talented receiver in the NFL, punked our guys in the 1996 national championship game. Ive also curled up on the carpet of Missoula International Airport, praying the fog would lift so my 1995 charter to Huntington, West Virginia, could take off. Ill take the sinking feeling of watching Moss thump the Griz 49-29 over a hard airport floor and the missed 22-20 championship victory of 1995.
Its never easy to say yes to an $800 plane ticket to a football game, but its just as difficult to say no. The team needs you, after all. Caught up in the euphoria of a semifinal game victory, my wife and I have high-fived our seat mates, vowing to meet them at the championship game, only to come to tears rationalizing our way out of the trip a few hours later. The leaves we never raked in the fall are buried beneath the snow we desperately need to shovel. The pale December light lasts barely long enough for a football game. Its just one more game . . . Cursing our obsession, we find ourselves standing in the travel office, paying top dollar for one last chance to leave life in the parking lot. Just one more.
Tom Lutey is a 1995 graduate of UMs Journalism School. Between Griz games, hes a general assignment reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. His wife, Teresa, is treasurer of the Bozeman chapter of the Grizzly Athletic Association.