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Montana fans travel far to see Grizzlies in FCS title game

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | January 7, 2024 12:05 AM

FRISCO, Texas — The Montana Grizzlies are back in the NCAA Division I Football Championship for the first time since 2009, and there’s no way Mark Josephson wasn’t going to be there in person.

For one thing, he’s just a couple years older than fellow Big Timber Herder Bobby Hauck, who happens to coach the Griz. Though if Montana had made the FCS title game in the years Hauck didn’t coach, from 2010-2017, it might not have made a difference.

“I’d probably still be here,” Josephson said Friday night at the Frisco Bar and Grill in Frisco, Texas, just outside of Dallas. 

The spacious bar overflowed with Griz fans, cheerleaders and one mascot Friday. Not all of them were from Big Timber, and certainly not many of them with the foresight Josephson displayed. It took the Griz three postseason wins to get to Frisco for Sunday’s noon showdown with South Dakota State. Two of them came in overtime.

Josephson had those sharpied in. 

“I bought flights and hotels right after the Cat game,” he said. 

He and his daughter, Sojin, are both Big Timber and University of Montana grads: he’s an attorney in his hometown; she’s a former CBS This Morning associate producer now working in Bozeman.

They’ve seen a lot of Griz games, including a certain playoff matchup with South Dakota State in 2009. The Jackrabbits came to play that day, taking a 48-21 lead in the third quarter.

“The Griz were down by however many touchdowns, and then my dad and his friend, Tom, they wanted to leave the game,” said Sojin, who would have been 15 at the time. “And I said, ‘We can’t leave; we drove all the way here.’”

Grizzly fans know the rest. South Dakota State kicked off, and Marc Mariani started a string of 40 straight Montana points with a 98-yard return. The final was 61-48.

“It was the greatest game that I had ever seen,” Sojin Josephson said. “And we almost didn’t see it.”

BROTHERS KEVIN and Scott Eames didn’t go to the same high school — one’s a Billings Senior grad, the other went to Billings West — but they both joined the same UM fraternity, married New Yorkers and traveled far to get to Frisco.

They’re also both old enough to have weathered the unfriendly confines of Dornblaser Field.

“We’re both Sigma Chi’s, and Pat Curry was a Sigma Chi, and Scott Gratton and Dave Paoli,” Kevin Eames said. “We had our reasons to go there, to see our brothers.”
By the time Washington-Grizzly Stadium opened in 1986, both were back East. Scott Eames came to Texas from New York City; Kevin Eames from New Hampshire.

It’s clear that Frisco Bar and Grill had outdone the watch parties the two survived — and in some cases, organized — from the mid-90s on.

“For years, I used to take my mother and my wife, who’s not even from Montana, down to the Australian Club on the west side of Manhattan,” Scott Eames said. “We would get 500 Montanans to come to the Grizzly-Bobcat games.”

With Kevin Eames, Griz (and Cat) fans have also been congregating at the Winner’s Circle in Rumney, N.H. Before that there was the Lucky Dog in Lynn, Mass.

“Lynn, Lynn, city of sin. You never get out once you go in,” he said. ”One year we had about 145 people at one of our parties. And Bill Johnston, who was the alumni association director at the time, happened to be in Boston for a convention and just happened to come to our party, the biggest one we had.”

Before that, well, Kevin doesn’t remember the bar name; it was 27 years ago in Canton, Mass.

He does remember the place having two large meeting rooms, and during the 1997 Cat-Griz game — the Griz escaped 27-25 thanks to a late Brian Ah Yat bomb that set up a last-second field goal — the other was filled with people from Sinn Fein.

(“What’s Sinn Fein?” he asked. “Don’t ask,” was the reply)

Not long after Don Read and the Griz won that 1995 national title, Eames started calling UM’s alumni association for satellite coordinates. He needed his Griz fix, and in the days before Apple TVs and phone apps, that is what you did.

“First it was 25 people,” he said. “Then it climbed and it climbed. Then the Bobcats started sending me a satellite box. I would hand it to the first MSU fan that came in.”

These days, he said, 65-75 people typically show. This November MSU fans outnumbered UM’s.

The Griz won 37-7, but the day didn’t go by without drama: At halftime their bartender suffered a heart attack while Kevin was on the phone with Scott. Kevin dropped his phone and started helping give aid.

“I could hear everything,” Scott said.

“They had to shock him three times,” Kevin said. “He made it.”

BACK TO Mark Josephson. The Grizzlies had to survive Furman 35-28 in overtime and needed double-OT to beat North Dakota State 31-29 to advance.

Josephson had to weather those games too, in his way.

“I never watched the overtimes,” he said. “I was pacing the concourse. My friends will all tell you; I can’t look. And I paced around during the Furman game and we won. So when we went into overtime in the NDSU game, I told the people sitting there, ‘If I stay here, I’ll jinx it.’ I just did laps around the stands.”

As Crash Davis said: Respect the streak. At least he stayed in the stadium, and — in a role reversal of sorts — had his commitment to Texas rewarded. Fourteen years later, Sojin Josephson was a little unsure about buying airfare in November.

“I thought that was a little aggressive,” she said.

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or at fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com.

    Monte takes photos with fans during a Griz Gathering held at Frisco Bar & Grill in Frisco, Texas, on Friday, Jan. 5. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider 
 
 
    Monte takes photos with fans during a Griz Gathering held at Frisco Bar & Grill in Frisco, Texas, on Friday, Jan. 5. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider 
 
 
    Monte takes photos with fans during a Griz Gathering held at Frisco Bar & Grill in Frisco, Texas, on Friday, Jan. 5. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider 
 
 
    Monte takes photos with fans during a Griz Gathering held at Frisco Bar & Grill in Frisco, Texas, on Friday, Jan. 5. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider