Foreign journalist in enemy territory

I’m not much of a morning person. It’s not that I don’t do it, I just don’t like to. However, the morning of Saturday, Nov. 19 at 6 a.m., I’m awake and ready to go. Writing for the sports section of the Exponent is an amazing experience for moments just like this one: driving three hours down Interstate-90 to witness the 116th Brawl of the Wild in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

The Bobcats won their first conference game against UC Davis on Nov. 12. With a record of 3-7, my expectations were low for the Bobcats, but University of Montana lost to Northern Colorado the previous week, and they needed to win the game in order to make the FCS playoffs. It seemed unlikely that the Bobcats could win, with so much at stake for the Grizzlies.

I arrived at the stadium at 10 a.m. and was directed to a parking lot where I received my press pass. When I parked, I was immediately reprimanded by a parking lot associate who claimed I had barged into the parking lot and couldn’t just enter into any place I wanted. I apologized profusely but was still met with open hostility. I think my MSU Alumni sticker on my car had something to do with it. Once I got my pass, I parked elsewhere and made my way to the Bobcat tailgaters and mingled with them. I was delightfully surprised by the amount of Bobcat fans at the stadium.

It was nearing game time, so I entered the stadium and was surprised at how close the fans were to the field. I made my way to the press box, which looks like a Cold War relic, and dropped my backpack off. It was nearing the time for both teams to take the field and warm up, and I wanted to hear the reception of the fans as the players enter the field.

In the past, I would typically sit in the press box for the entire game, so I am able take notes during the game. The box creates a unique vantage point seeing all of the players and the replays on the televisions. But, for this game, I wanted to be down on the sideline with the team for the second and third quarters. Once on the field it was tough to maneuver. On the sideline there was not much space to roam with the coaches, cheerleaders, reporters, cameramen, staff and the football team crowding the area.

For most of the game, Griz Nation was angry, expressing their displeasure by either yelling or sitting in complete silence. Most of their frustration was aimed at two players: Griz senior quarterback Brady Gustafson and Bobcat cornerback, graduate student John Walker. After a few stalled drives by the Griz, the fans were frustrated and found fault in Gustafson, who was underperforming by their standards.

At the cornerback position, Walker has been a fierce competitor toward his opponents, always challenging the best wide receiver. After Walker gave up a touchdown on the Grizzlies’ first play of the game, he used every opportunity to fight back. In the corner of the west end-zone, Griz Nation picked up on this. They taunted Walker, and he happily replied. Each quarter it seemed as though another section of the stands began to challenge Walker. Each quarter Walker got better.

While Walker made the most noise verbally, MSU junior Bryson McCabe made the most physically. Each play fans can hear the crack of the pads. Then there is the sound of a hit from McCabe. When he makes a tackle, there seems to be a shockwave that follows. The frequency in which McCabe delivers a crunch to his opponents is a reminder of the difference between his ability and the ability of others. McCabe is at another level.

My plan to return to the press box after the third quarter changed after the Griz kicked a field goal with 49 seconds left making it 24-10. When the Griz scored again with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, making the score 24-17, the stadium erupted and Griz fans went wild.

However, the Bobcats stopped the Grizzlies from coming any closer and pulled off the upset in a 24-17 victory against the in-state rivals. It was amazing to be on the field and watch the players celebrate when the clock finally ticked down to zero. I couldn’t help but feel like a part of their celebration.

Throughout this season, I was able to get to know some of the players. I watched their frustration as the losses piled on, but I could also see their determination to continue playing and fighting through each game. The emotion and satisfaction I could see on their faces after this victory was rewarding, for them and me.

I got to witness firsthand the hard work both teams put into this game. As a reporter, I never understood why players would base the success of a season on just one game, even the Brawl of the Wild, but being on the sideline, hearing the taunts from the Griz fans, seeing how hard MSU played against their rivals, I finally understood.

It was a great day to be a Bobcat.