The fact that six of the “worst” games on this list belong to Grizzlies victories has nothing to do with the bias of this article’s author. Rather, it’s due to the fact that in the history of Cat/Griz, the Grizzlies have won 14 meetings by at least 30 points. The Bobcats have done so only six times and three of those occurred before 1904.
These games were chosen on a number of criteria, which included score difference, miserable playing conditions and (in the case of 2011) unmet expectations.
1904, Missoula, University Field, Griz 79 – Cats 0
Montana Agricultural College, which would later become Montana State College, marched into Missoula with a six game winning streak over the University of Montana “Varsity.” However, in the days before forward passes were allowed, touchdowns were only five points and the scoring team received the following kickoff, the Varsity scored 14 touchdowns en route to a 79-0 victory, the largest defeat in the history of the rivalry.
What adds to the lore behind this game is that the following year, MAC abolished football right before the scheduled 1905 meeting with the Varsity. Could the decision have been due to the 79-point defeat? Possibly. MAC would not play football again until 1908.
1959, Bozeman, Gatton Field, Cats 40 – Griz 6
After a scoreless first quarter, the Grizzlies were driving into Bobcat territory when Bobcat Jim “The Missile” McLeod picked off a pass and returned more than 80 yards for the touchdown. From there the Cats would score an additional 34 consecutive points, Jim McLeod would score his second touchdown of the day with a 58-yard run. The Grizzlies scored late, preventing the shutout. Despite the more than 200 yards passing from Griz quarterback John Schulz, the Cats outgained the Griz on the ground 313-15.
1966, Missoula, Dornblaser Field, Cats 38 – Griz 0
Action got underway when future NFL Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud made a 38-yard field goal. Don Hass blew the game open with a 55-yard touchdown run. Leading 17-0, the Cats got two special teams touchdowns as Russ Dodge and Gary Popiel returned a kickoff and a punt respectively for touchdowns. Sophomore Bobcat QB Dennis Erickson (who would later coach the University of Miami to two National Championships) tacked on the final score. It was the first time the Grizzlies were shut out since 1928 and the first since 1908 against the Bobcats.
1970, Missoula, Dornblaser Field, Griz 35 – Cats 0
The Grizzlies, at the height of the Jack Swarthout era, entered the game with 18 consecutive regular season victories. The Cats entered the game 1-6. After a the first half ended 7-0 in favor of UM, the Grizzlies scored 14 points in both the third and fourth quarter, winning 35-0, and out-gaining the Cats 395-108 in total yards. The Grizzlies would go on to their second consecutive Cameilla Bowl, where similar to the year before, they lost of North Dakota State, due in part to a rule that prohibited the Grizzlies from using junior college transfers for the game.
1985, Reno H. Sales Stadium, Bozeman, Cats 41 – Griz 18
The defending national champion Bobcats limped into this game with a 1-6 record, the Griz at 2-4. Trailing 24-10 the Griz mounted a late first half drive that ended when Bobcat Tyler Winter intercepted a pass in the end zone, which eventually sealed the game. The Griz nearly match the Cats in total yards (434–454) but four Griz turnovers were the difference. The Cats would not beat the Griz again until 2002.
1987, Reno H. Sales Stadium, Bozeman, Griz 55 – Cats 7
In Pat Kearney’s “The Divide War,” former Grizzly radio announcer Bill Schwanke noted that before this contest, Grizzly assistant coach (and future head coach) Robin Pflugrad wrote him a message saying, “We will block at least four punts today.” Indeed, the Grizzlies would block four punts that day, two of which were accounted by Griz defender Jason Ray. The Cats did not score until the third quarter, when they trailed 42-0. Griz QB Scott Werbelow threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Overall the Griz outgained the Cats 462-159.
1989, Reno H. Sales Stadium, Bozeman, Griz 17 – Cats 2
While only a 15-point difference, this game is remembered as having some of the worst weather in Cat/Griz history. With winds up to 40 miles per hour and some lightning and hail to boot, the Cats would take a 2-0 lead when the wind took a Grizzly punt snap into the back of the Griz end zone. The Cats clung to this lead until the Griz scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. The Griz barely outgained the Cats 192-161.
1999, Bobcat Stadium, Bozeman, Griz 49 – Cats 3
While the previous two Cat/Griz games had been exciting, down-to-the-wire ball games, this one was anything but. Griz QB Drew Miller had a field day, throwing for 305 yards and four touchdowns. Griz receivers Jeremy Watkins and Jimmy Farris both totaled more than 100 yards receiving. Freshman Griz QB John Edwards threw a TD pass at the game’s end, a sign of things to come. This would be the final year for Griz coach Mick Dennehy and Cats coach Cliff Hysell.
2011, Bobcat Stadium, Bozeman, Griz 36 – Cats 10
With the Cats ranked No. 1 and the Griz at No. 7, this was one of the most anticipated meetings in the rivalry’s history. The day started rough for the Cats when Jason Cunningham’s opening field goal try hit the uprights. Leading 5-0, the Griz found Kavario Middleton for a fourth-and-goal TD, leading 12-0 at the half’s end. The Cats responded when QB DeNarius McGhee found WR Elvis Akpla for a 7-yard TD. On the very next play, Griz QB Jordan Johnson hit Jabin Sambrano for a 79-yard score and the Cats never recovered. Griz running backs Peter Nguyen and Dan Moore both ran for over 100 yards.
Adding to this game’s mystique is the fact that, technically, it doesn’t count. Due to an NCAA investigation that concluded several Grizzly players received illegal benefits from boosters, this game, along with four Grizzly victories, were vacated.