(Editor's note: This is the third in a three-part series on the 25th anniversary of the Montana Grizzlies' 1995 national champion football team. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. For all 95 at 25 content and stories, click here).
MISSOULA -- In the years leading up to Montana's 1995 NCAA Division I-AA football title, the main shows on campus were Griz and Lady Griz basketball games with the Mike Montgomery and Stew Morrill eras for the men and the dominant Robin Selvig years for the women.
However, while basketball is still a force at the University of Montana, Griz football became the headlining act on campus and across the state after that win over Marshall 25 years ago.
“(Former head coach) Don Read has a lot to do with that," said former Griz quarterback Dave Dickenson. "Mid-80s he came in and I think we had the fan support and the backing of our alumni that we wanted to build something, but who had the vision and who had the plan, it was Don.”
That victory not only changed the perception of Griz football in Montana but on the national scale as well.
“It’s fun because even when I meet other people just from around the country and I’ll say where I’m from, a lot of people, even at bigger schools, have heard of the University of Montana and the football team,” said former Griz safety Blaine McElmurry.
“As you get older you start to realize and as you go back people still come up to you and your kids kind of look at you like, ‘Why are they talking to you, Dad?’" said former Griz wide receiver Matt Wells. "You realize that you did have a part in something pretty special.”
While the players were young they knew they had accomplished something that would stand forever.
“The President of the United States, Bill Clinton, is calling Coach Read and Dave and so it’s a little surreal, but you know that this is a big deal," said former Montana kicker Andy Larson. "The amount of people showing up when we got off the plane and when we went to the fieldhouse, the place was totally sold out. There were, whatever, 7,000-8,000 people in the fieldhouse and that was really amazing.”
Following that win, Montana went on to win the Big Sky Conference 13 of the next 14 years. In 2001, the Grizzlies were back on top as they won their second national title.
“Having gone to several games throughout the years and just watched it progress and the stadium get bigger and bigger and bigger, you certainly know that you had a part in that,” said Wells.
“That was something that we were trying to establish, tying to put Montana on the map as a national powerhouse," said former Montana linebacker Mike Bouchee. "And to know that our team sort of picked up where previous teams left off, and we were able to achieve that goal and maybe hopefully set the program up for further success, it means the world to me as a Missoula kid who grew up watching the Griz.”
The Griz made it to the title game three more times in that decade with appearances in 2004, 2008 and 2009 but failed to bring home the trophy. The Griz haven’t reached a title game since that loss in 2009.
While it’s been more than a decade since an appearance, the reputation still stands at the FCS level. The Griz just need to find that magic once again.
“I think it has continued," said Dickenson. "I’m really happy Bobby Hauck is back. To me, that fits, that’s what Montana is.”
“It kind of stuck," added McElmurry. "Even though they haven’t had the success, they are still considered a powerhouse and a few games here or there and they’re right back in it.”