BOZEMAN — We know about the tangible, concrete things that are at stake for the 121st Brawl of the Wild.
The Great Divide Trohpy, playoff positioning for both teams and a potential Big Sky title for Montana State.
But to the players, the intangible things are just as important. Pride, bragging rights and a whole lot of emotion make Cat-Griz one of the more intriguing rivalries in the country.
But you don’t have to take our word for it. Over the past week, we’ve spoken to a few Cats and Griz legends who have left indelible marks on their respective teams and Cat-Griz history. We asked them just what made this rivalry more than just another game.
DENNIS ERICKSON, FORMER MONTANA STATE QUARTERBACK (1966-68)
Dennis Erickson is a College Football Hall of Famer. Over a 50 year career, he coached two NFL teams, 11 college teams and led the Miami Hurricanes to two NCAA National Championships. He’s been around multiple big time rivalries.
But the former Montana State quarterback says they all pale in comparison to the brawl of the Wild.
“Montana-Montana State to me was the best I’ve ever been involved in,” Erickson said. "It’s not a Power 5 thing, it’s not anything like that. It’s about two schools in the same state, that are in the same conference and you’re either a Bobcat or a Griz for that day.”
Erickson saw a lot of success during his Bobcat playing days. He shared the field with All-Americans like Don Hass and Paul Schafer and helped lead the way to three conference titles.
Even after all the accolades and wins he racked up at higher levels, Erickson still considers himself a Bobcat at heart.
“If it wasn’t for Montana State giving me a scholarship who knows where I’d be,” he said. “That’s where I played and coached and got my start. I owe them a heck of a lot.”
But he has ties to both programs. When Erickson played at Montana State his dad was an assistant at Montana. And now his son Bryce Erickson is the Grizzlies tight ends coach. Despite that, Erickson is still involved in the MSU program, most recently serving on the search committee that ended with the hiring of Bobcat coach Brent Vigen.
Erickson said he’s going watch Saturday’s game on TV and keep his mouth shut.
“It’s hard. It’s like my mom when I played against my dad she always rooted for her son,” Erickson said. “My wife (Marilyn) is the same way. But this game is special. I can’t lose on it, at all actually."
MARC MARIANI, FORMER MONTANA WIDE RECEIVER (2006-09)
Marc Mariani electrified Grizzly fans for four years as a wide receiver and return man, before a Pro Bowl career in the NFL.
Growing up in Havre, Mariani was a die-hard Griz fan. And though he’s a decade removed from his college days but the thrill of Cat/Griz burns just as strong.
”For a Montana boy, it’s why you go to the school. It’s a big deal. It deeply means a lot to a lot of people,” Mariani said. "And to me, it hits a lot of chords. It fires me up, it makes me angry. It makes me want to throw a helmet and some pads back on.”
Mariani had some incredible Cat-Griz moments including the 2008 game when he caught a touchdown and returned a punt for a score.
But his most memorable moment game in 2007.
“My first official start of my career was against the Cats. I didn't have a huge role, but we had a couple injuries and it was down to two sophomores sharing that duty between me and Ty Palmer,” Mariani said. "So we go to Bozeman and for better or for worse, they had to throw a skinny little sophomore out there to try to get some snaps that day."
Mariani has the distinction of never losing to the Cats. And he makes sure everyone knows it.
“When you see a Griz of a Cat, everyone wants to get their jabs in,” Mariani said. “And I just say I’m sorry, I never lost I don’t know how it feels.”
JUNIOR ADAMS, FORMER MONTANA STATE WIDE RECEIVER (2001-02)
When Junior Adams arrived in Bozeman as a a transfer wide receiver from Oregon State, the Bobcats had lost 15 straight games to the Grizzlies. And he quickly felt the burden that laid heavy on the program.
“After they beat us in 2001 they run on the field and they take their pads off. And they had these T-shirts on,” Adams said. "And I think the streak was at 15 or 16 at the time and the T-shirts had 15 on it or 16 on it. And after that point that's when it resonated to me how big it really, truly was."
But he left his mark on the rivalry. In 2002, he caught a pass from true freshman quarterback Travis Lulay and scored Montana State’s only touchdown of the game in a 10-7, snapping the losing streak and starting a new era of competitive games. Each team has won six games since.
Adams is now the co-offensive coordinator for the Oregon Ducks, who are currently ranked No. 12 in the nation and in the hunt for a Pac-12 title. He’s made stops at Washington and Boise State. But his first coaching job was at Montana State following graduation.
"And to this day, I've been in a lot of games since then, and I’m going to tell you, it's still hard to compete against that Cat-Griz game,” Adams said. “Some rivalry games are just big. Cat-Griz is on a whole other level. It’s the Super Bowl. Both teams could be undefeated or 0-11 and that’s the only game that matters.”
DAVE DICKENSON, MONTANA QUARTERBACK (1993-95)
Dave Dickenson is considered the greatest Grizzly to ever put on the maroon and silver — or, in his era, the copper and gold. He had a reputation for being cool, calm and collected and showed it when he led Montana to the 1995 NCAA national championship. So it might be surprising that he felt a lot of pressure to succeed when he arrived on campus in Missoula.
"I felt a lot of pressure because being a local Montana guy and we had had this long streak that it started well before me,” Dickenson said. "And by the time my years were coming along, we were hitting double digits and I didn't want to be known as a guy that was the quarterback whent the streak ended."
Dickenson only started two games against Montana State and both (1993 and 1995) were in Bozeman. He was injured dor the 1994 game in Missoula. Nevertheless, Dickenson won both of his starts in Bozeman, and he’s never been back since.
"The 1995 game is the last time I've been in that city, and I never really felt they wanted me back,” he laughed.
Of course Dickenson likes it when the Griz win, but he’s glad there’s parity between the teams.
“To have a term rivalry, you need to have back and forth. We obviously had our way for what, 16 years, 17 years. And then the Cats have won four in a row,” Dickenson said. “And you want back and forth because that's what a rivalry means to me. So it's back - a huge win for the Griz last year, but the Cats will be favored and probably rightfully so. It will still be a great game."