Sorry, alumni, you've caught us at a bad time.
Homecoming football is supposed to be about brats, beer and a fat scoreline. With the old boys and girls back in the stands to cheer the home team, the last thing you want them worrying about is the possible disintegration of an entire season before their very eyes.
Unfortunately, the University of Montana Grizzlies have more pressing business than the jollification of the grads at hand as they prep for the Vikings of Portland State, Saturday's foe. Like saving their hides and self-respect for starters.
Let's be perfectly clear about this and not beat around the bush-losing to Portland State this weekend is just not acceptable.
Whether you're a down-to-earth fan anxious to see some Rose City pantywaists get thrashed or a faux-intellectual musing on the weighty mytho-poetic load born by a ritualized combat between avatars of Norse warriors and the Great Bear, the consensus is clear:
The Vikings must be brutally dispatched back to their sissy-boy Republic of Nike, with no cappuccino to go.
To put things in perspective, last week's loss to the unbeaten Weber State Wildcats handicapped the Grizzers' Big Sky Conference campaign big time. A home defeat at the hands of totally unheralded Southern Utah, sandwiched between wins against Stephen F. Austin and Cal Poly SLO, likewise took UM down a peg.
Now, it's basically win-or-else for the rest of the season. Another loss not only hurls any hope of league glory deep into the soot-dark Realm of Impossibility, but also puts the Maroons on the national bubble. In Division I-AA, you see, a team traditionally needs at least eight wins to grab an at-large berth in the 16-team championship bracket.
The task before Mick Dennehy and the lads is not necessarily simple, especially given that the Griz have yet to truly catch fire-even in their victories. Quarterback Brian Ah Yat played like a man in the grip of demons to get the come-from-behind win over SFA down Texas. Cal Poly is a much tougher opponent than they used to be, but the 37-14 score justly reflected the Grizzlies' superior quality.
One imagines that Southern Utah blindsided an overconfident Montana. By all accounts, Weber baffled the offense with a complex defensive scheme while enjoying the comforts of playing in front of their homecoming crowd.
Worthy excuses aside, though, those are the sorts of games Montana fans expect to win. Right or wrong, hopes for this year are cranked to 11-as has become the norm. The match-up with Portland State, who beat defending Big Sky champs Eastern Washington two weeks back, should call forth the Grizzlies' answer to the endless challenge of keeping their supporters satisfied.
Griz fans, still nursing an emotional hang-over from the '95 national title, will undoubtedly cry and whine like spoon-fed little brats if the season ends before December.
In order to keep hope alive, Ah Yat has to lose his lately developed, disturbing habit of throwing interceptions. He threw away two last week and three against Southern 'Tah earlier this season. At home and on the street, fans have handed the defense a merciless tongue lashing already. With Weber back Morgan Welch piling up 215 yards all by his lonesome last week, one feels they might just deserve it.
The Griz are on a tight, high wire now, and nothing less than total savagery from everyone in a helmet will do. The presence of a few gamebreakers on the D side of the ball-we're talking Marcus Wilson, Adam Boomer and punt-stuffing freshman Etu Molden-should inspire the rest of the unit to ratchet up a notch.
Fans rolling back into G-City hoping to watch a juggernaut steam along may be disappointed. The young season has already seen a few sour moments. Then again, if the Griz have backed themselves into a corner, there's no question that they have the talent to brawl their way out. It's just a matter of rooting out the vein of pure, old-fashioned meanness inside.
If they hit it Saturday, I wouldn't want to be standing around the ground floor wearing PSU's green and white. It could get ugly.
Grizzly defensive back Adam Boomer has shown brightly despite the University of Montana's decidedly lackluster defense. Photo by Todd Goodrich