BOZEMAN — Montana State’s Homecoming football game against Idaho inside Bobcat Stadium Saturday brought with it some familiar faces back to Big Sky Country.
The victory for the Bobcats was also a defeat for some other Montana natives in a homecoming of their own. Former Helena Capital and Carroll College teammates Paul Petrino and Troy Purcell had family and friends inside the stadium, but no member of Idaho’s staff knew Bozeman’s game-day experience better than Bobby Daly, the former Montana State all-American linebacker.
“Approaching the stadium I kind of got chills,” Daly said Saturday before kickoff. “It brought me back to how I would approach a game as a player and I kind of want to bring that same mindset as a coach, you know? We talked about it earlier, it’s all business, but at the same time it’s cool to be back and it’s going to be a fun day.”
Friends and family weren’t alone in welcoming Daly back to Bozeman and Bobcat Stadium. Mother Nature offered fresh snowfall Saturday morning, the first such occurrence on game day this season, and on Daly’s first trip back in more than half a decade. The irony wasn’t lost on him, either.
“Right, right. We got off the plane (Friday) and it was 55, 60 degrees, sunny, and everyone thought I was crazy for saying it was going to snow (Saturday),” Daly laughed. “It’s Montana weather, you know? You blink and it’s rain, snow, sleet, sunshine, you never know what you’re going to get.”
“When I was playing here and it was snowy outside, we had that grass field with the plows out there, but by the time it was game time it was a little bit muddy,” he continued, recalling his playing days in MSU’s No. 54 jersey. “There are a lot of improvements on campus, a lot of improvements to the stadium, it’s cool to be back. A lot has changed in the six years that I’ve been gone, but a lot’s the same, too. I’m excited to be back, excited to compete and hopefully we can go out here and get the win.”
Winning in Bozeman is something Daly knows plenty about, and it was the focus of his message to the team, specifically the inside linebackers he coaches, before Idaho took the field.
“I’ve kind of clued them in on what kind of environment it’s going to be,” he said. “We have a great opportunity to come out here in front of an awesome environment, hopefully the energy from a visiting crowd can get us pumped up, too.”
Daly admitted it’s no easy task for the visiting team to win in Bozeman, especially with a rowdy Homecoming crowd. He said players were curious about some of his fondest memories as a Bobcat and there was no hesitation.
“I got a chance to talk to the team (Friday) night and I went back to 2006, where we went out, started the season by beating the University of Colorado in the first game of the season and then we came home and had a string of three straight home losses,” Daly said. “We were able to get things turned around that year, we went on and won six in a row, several of those at home, ultimately we won the first playoff game in a long time inside Bobcat Stadium against Furman, so that was a very special memory for me. We continued on to the quarterfinals, going down to play Appalachian State, who was the eventual national champion, but that’s a season that really has good memories for me.”
Now Daly is back in the conference that started it all, the Big Sky, where he was a walk-on no less, before helping MSU to a league title in 2005, leading the conference in tackling the next two seasons and enjoying his all-American campaign in 2007.
Daly has been with the Vandals for six years, including this fall’s inaugural season back in the Big Sky after dropping down from the FBS ranks, where Idaho has sputtered to a 2-3 overall record, including a 1-2 mark in league play entering Saturday’s game at MSU.
The challenge of the Big Sky isn’t a surprise to its former all-conference middle linebacker.
“I knew it all along, coming to the Big Sky Conference, there are a lot of good teams in the Big Sky Conference. Our coaching staff knew it as well, too, so it’s not like we thought we were going to come in and blow everyone out of the water,” Daly said. “We knew we were going to have to compete week in and week out and we’re having to do that. Obviously we faced some adversity (against Idaho State) in the last week, but we’re hoping to get back on the right (Saturday).”
That wasn’t in the cards for Daly and the Vandals on Saturday, as the final horn sounded with the scoreboard reading 24-23 in favor of Montana State. Earning a win was goal No. 1 of this business trip, but there was still the consolation prize to fall back on.
“Seeing family. I’m a long way from home, six-hour drive at times, so it’s good to come back and see dad, see mom and see my brother, plus friends as well,” he said. “I’m excited to be home. I get to see them a little bit in the summer, a little bit over Christmas, but that’s usually about it. My parents make it out to a couple games throughout the season, but more than anything it’s good to be home to see people that I know and love.”
Mom and dad, a former Bobcat gridder himself, were in the crowd Saturday, proud of their son, as was Daly’s brother, Brad, the third member of MSU football in the family, who just happened to win the Buck Buchanan Award given to the best defensive player in the nation.
With that much blue and gold in the family, exactly what colors was the Daly family wearing Saturday?
“I got them tickets, so I hope they’re wearing black and gold, man,” Daly said. “I know they have a lot more Bobcat gear than they do Vandal gear, but I’ve been trying to get as much Vandal gear out to everybody as possible.”