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Lance Hughes, a superfan's superfan, has a tattoo inside his lower lip that says "FTC" for "Fuck the Cats." He's 6 feet 5-and-three quarters inches, 6 feet 6 inches with his boots on, and 238 pounds, with red hair and a red beard. When he yells "Go Griz!" in his booming voice, all other sound seems to disappear.
Hughes has another tattoo, on his right calf: a maroon Grizzly paw with an "H" for "Hughes" in the middle. He and his two brothers all got that same one together, when his younger brother was facing his first deployment to Iraq. And his ankle has an inked "'91" to commemorate Tim Bush, a former Griz football All-America player with whom Hughes worked at Stockman's Bar and who died last summer in a mining accident. "He was an awesome Griz player," says Hughes. "He was one of the greatest dudes ever."
At the tailgate party Sept. 17, Hughes is eating pulled pork after having just shot-gunned a Pabst Blue Ribbon. It's two hours to the game, and family and friends show up to greet him and gather around his van, which is set up in Parking Lot Z—prime tailgate space, next to the University of Montana's Washington-Grizzly Stadium. "These spaces are, like, you die and then somebody gets it," he says, laughing. "It's the kind of thing that's willed to people."
On the night before the game, Hughes had cleaned his coolers and bought 39 boxes of Twinkies and Ding Dongs. Almost all of his preparation had to do with the party, not the game: making sure there was enough meat to barbecue and enough beer and liquor. The Twinkies and Ding Dongs, though, are for the game itself. Hughes and other superfans sit in the front two rows of section 107. Every time the Griz score, they throw snack cakes into the crowd after the extra point. (They always save some for the players after the game, too.) It's a tradition Hughes's older brother, Bubba, helped start 20 years ago, when Bubba was a kid.
Lance, who is 34, comes from a family of Griz fans. His father, Gary, was a UM assistant athletic director for 34 years, and his three brothers and two sisters all root for the Griz. But until he was in his early 20s, Lance says, he really only cared about skateboarding. Then he attended a Griz game with some rabid fans and found himself stirred as he joined in a cry of "Dee-fense! Dee-fense!" Ever since, he's been smitten.
On game days he wakes his family. "It's like Christmas morning for me," he says. "I get up like a little kid yelling at the wife, 'You excited?'
"And she's, like, 'No. Not yet, stop yelling at me!'
"And I yell, 'You should be excited!'"
Then he turns up the Kanye or Metallica on his iPod, puts on his Griz shirt and starts loading the van. He and his wife, Jessica, have three kids ages 5, 3 and 1. They're not old enough to care about football yet, Lance says, so they don't get to go to the game. Still, it's game day, so they do have to wear their jerseys, even if it's just for the babysitter. "My middle one doesn't like to put hers on," Lance says. "So she doesn't get anything special until she puts it on. My niece watches all the kids and they get root beer floats. But she doesn't get one until she puts the jersey on. She does eventually. Oh yeah. It's game day. It's important. You have to wear your damn jersey."
Lance departs at 10:30 sharp.
"He's in the car at 10:20," says Jessica. "And you better be in the car at 10:30. The only time I didn't get left behind when I was a little bit late was when I was pregnant and I threw a fit: 'You are not leaving a pregnant lady!'" She laughs. "It's serious. He has left people behind, and it will happen—even to me."
When everyone's aboard, they listen to loud party music. No one sings any Griz anthems until the car reaches the light on 6th Street. "We're not allowed to sing the song they come out of the tunnel to—we start that at the light," says Jessica. "And when we get into the parking lot, we do the 'Griz Fight Song'—but not a second before."
Jessica isn't one to complain. She's a big Griz fan, too. When Lance yelled "Go Griz" at the end of his wedding vows, at Caras Park, she didn't flinch, she says. "I didn't expect it, but I wasn't surprised."
She knew what she was getting into. Lance was already a Griz fan when they met. She was teaching in Alaska when they talked about getting married. He asked her if she'd start planning a wedding, and she said yes, so they planned a Christmas engagement. But Lance had other plans. When Jessica returned to Missoula in October for homecoming, he had it all set up. He invited family and friends to a game, a ring in his pocket. "We're going to the game, and we're standing in the student section," he says, "and I'm not drinking because I'm so nervous." The plan was to propose at the end of the first quarter. "I'm standing there sweating bullets, hand in my pocket rubbing the ring box."
Suddenly the Griztron lit up with the words "Jessica, will you marry me? Lance Hughes." And Lance was on one knee.
Jessica says she loved the proposal.
"It was pretty rad," Lance says. "22,000 people saw it...I did make sure she wanted to marry me beforehand. People say, 'That's terrible. I would never want anybody to propose that way.' And I tell them, 'I did that.' And they say, 'Yeah, well, it's different—it's you.'"