Washington-Grizzly Stadium – Montana Grizzlies
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A River Really Does Run Through It
The history of football at the University of Montana is divided into two distinct eras – before Washington-Grizzly Stadium and after. Prior to the opening of the stadium in 1986 Griz football was an afterthought in Missoula and throughout Montana. Winning seasons were rare. After the stadium opened, the Montana Grizzlies quite rapidly became a national I-AA/FCS powerhouse, winning the Big Sky Conference Championship and appearing in the national playoffs in almost every season since the stadium opened, including two National Championships. The facility’s impact is so significant that the Big Sky Conference recognized the opening of Washington-Grizzly Stadium as the number one moment in conference history.
The stadium is so-named for Missoula based construction and railroad mogul, Dennis Washington and his family, who made a large donation to get the project under construction. It started out as a 12,500 seat venue sunken into the ground with earthen berms on each end. Several expansions have occurred over the years filling in the end zones, adding small decks over the north end zone, and adding a deck over the east side stands. The official capacity now stands at 25,217, but crowds in excess of 26,000 are not out of the ordinary, giving the Griz one of the best home field advantages in all of college football. Since Washington-Grizzly Stadium opened, the Griz have won almost 90% of their home games.
Not resting on their laurels, the university just announced that, thanks to another large Washington family donation, the new $14 million Washington-Grizzly Champions Center will be constructed on the south end of the stadium providing locker rooms and a weight room for football and all other UM sports.
Food & Beverage 4
There’s plenty of concession stands inside the stadium and a lot of variety, but the real good stuff is outside at the hundreds of tailgate parties. The delicious odors of grilling waft all over campus on game day.
Back inside, the prices aren’t extreme for all the standard items. A Griz Dog is $4, chili cheese nachos $4, 24oz. soda (Coke products) is $3, and hot chocolate or coffee, which is a necessity when it’s chilly is $3. Pizza Hut has a big presence below the north end zone, and there are numerous specialty stands throughout the stadium so before deciding, take a stroll along the concourse to see what’s available.
As with most college venues, beer is not sold inside the stadium, but fans are allowed to leave and reenter with a hand stamp, so it’s no problem to grab an adult beverage at a tailgate party at halftime.
When one thinks of Montana one might think of wide open spaces. But Washington-Grizzly Stadium is wedged into the University of Montana campus at the junction of Mount Sentinel and the Clark Fork River with very little room to spare. The density of the stadium and campus generates an energy that transmits to the tailgate parties happening on almost every spare patch of grass creating a festive environment on game day in Missoula.
Though having one of the largest seating capacities in FCS football, the inside of the stadium feels compact and intimate. There’s very little room beyond the sidelines and end zone which makes the opposing team feel just that much more uncomfortable. The stands, which are fully enclosed, are right on top of the field making Griz fans feel like they are truly part of the action instead of just observing the action. When they get it cranked up, which they often do, the fans really give their beloved Griz a huge boost.
The grizzly bear mascot Monte gets the crowd going with his acrobatic antics before the team comes out of the tunnel and throughout the game the huge video board will show him dancing and carrying on from the sidelines, in the stands, or even crowd surfing.
There’s not a bad seat in the house, even from the new upper deck on the east side called the Majestic Plaza. The view from the top offers a great offensive/defensive coordinator perspective. Most of the seating is basic metal bleachers. A seat cushion as an insulator between your rear-end and the seat is strongly recommended if the weather is cold.
The Grizzly Marching Band, PA announcer, piped in music, and the video board are well coordinated and make a very professional presentation throughout the game. The PA guy does a good job of keeping the crowd informed of down and distance and delights the crowd with his signature sharp and loud “FIRST DOWN!” after which the entire crowd responds “MONTANA!”
The stadium and the Adams Center, which houses Dahlberg Arena, are seamlessly knitted into the campus. I highly recommend taking a stroll around the nearby academic buildings while you’re waiting for the burgers to cook at your tailgate party. There’s interesting architecture, statues, and pleasant views throughout this tree covered university.
Downtown Missoula is just a few minutes walk from the stadium and campus across the Clark Fork on a beautiful pedestrian/bicycle bridge. It’s a lot of nature for such an urbanized area. Once downtown you’ll find all kinds of interesting shops, bars, and restaurants. The Press Box Sports Bar, right off the pedestrian bridge, is one of the most popular hangouts for Griz fans. A couple of personal favorites downtown are the Tamarack Brewing Company’s restaurant on Front Street and the Iron Horse Bar and Grill on North Higgins.
Missoula has an outstanding brewing scene. It was recently proclaimed as one of 9 Small Beer Cities That Deserve National Attention. If you’re a fan of craft brews, you must try some of the local offerings. The Big Sky Brewing Company is nationally known for its Moose Drool among many others. And don’t leave town without trying one of my all-time favorite brews, Cold Smoke, from the Kettlehouse Brewery.
There are several motels close to campus and downtown that are an easy walk to the stadium and many bars, breweries, and restaurants. You won’t need to worry about fighting traffic and paying for parking if you bring along a good pair of walking shoes and leave the car at the motel.
Missoula is not your typical Montana cow town. The city definitely has more of a pacific northwest vibe – think Portland or Seattle. There are a ton of recreational activities available in and around Missoula including hiking, mountain biking, road cycling, canoeing, rafting, fly fishing, skiing, and much, much more. It’s hard to get out of shape in a place that has so many outdoor activities to offer.
Travel to any corner of Montana and you will find people wearing the maroon and sliver school colors on hats, coats, and sweat shirts. Griz fans are everywhere in this state and they are loud and proud about their team. On a football Saturday, a parade of vehicles streams toward Missoula from farms, ranches, small towns and every large city in Montana. For many, many years now the University of Montana has led or been near the very top of FCS football attendance in numbers that would make many FBS programs jealous.
Griz fans don’t limit their fan displays to just hats and t-shirts. There are busses, motorhomes, trailers, tents, and canopies all displaying the school colors and logos. Everything from new motorhomes to old motor coaches and retired city busses are all decorated up and parked along Campus Drive on game day.
In the stadium they make their presence felt. The configuration of the stadium and the loyal fan base are a volatile mix to any opposing quarterback trying to call an audible. Washington-Grizzly stadium is loud and the Griz fans make it so.
Washington-Grizzly stadium might have ranked a perfect score in this category if Missoula still had passenger rail service, but most other forms of transportation, with the possible exception of horse and buggy are accommodated.
When approaching Missoula from the east on I-90, Washington-Grizzly Stadium is pretty much the first major building you notice when exiting Hellgate Canyon and entering the city limits. Take the East Missoula exit (exit 107) or the Orange Street exit (exit 104). If approaching from the west just look for the big “M” on Mount Sentinel. The stadium is right at the base of the mountain.
The Grizzly Athletics website GoGriz.com includes handy guides that give all the details on how to get to and from Washington-Grizzly Stadium including where to walk, bike, park, and shuttle. This information will be especially helpful for anyone with disabilities as there are some well thought out services provided.
Most of Missoula, and especially the areas in and around campus are very pedestrian and bike friendly. The riverfront trail system connects the campus to downtown and areas to the west along both sides of the Clark Fork. The pedestrian/bike bridge brings people to and from downtown across the river and to and from the stadium without any conflicts with motor vehicles.
For those who don’t want to fight traffic or walk, the Grizzly Shuttle provides rides to the game from many area bars and restaurants, downtown parking garages, south campus, and the East Broadway park and ride lot.
Parking lots are scattered so it’s a good idea to check the maps and have a good idea where you are going before making the drive. The lots closest to the stadium are sold out to boosters. Other lots on campus are available with parking fees ranging from $5 to $15. If you don’t mind a pleasant walk, there is lots of free parking available across the river at the East Broadway public parking lot. When that gets full a lot of people park on dirt areas along the railroad tracks parallel to East Broadway.
Inside the stadium the concourses and stairways are wide enough, though they get pretty congested at halftime as the crush of fans head back to the tailgates. Restrooms are clean and plentiful throughout but also crowded with long lines at halftime.
Return on Investment 4
Ticket prices ($32 to $42) are among the highest in the FCS, but for good reason. Season tickets are sold out with long waiting lists and tickets to individual games can be hard to come by for the biggest games and nearly impossible to get when Big Sky Conference rivals like the Eastern Washington Eagles and the Montana State Bobcats come to town.
Concession stand prices seemed reasonable and in line with what one would expect at a college sports venue.
A day out to Washington-Grizzly stadium is well worth the expense and effort to see the great game of college football played in such a fun and lively atmosphere. You won’t go away disappointed except of course if you’re a fan of the team the Griz are playing, because your team will most likely not be leaving with a win.
Washington-Grizzly Stadium warrants full bonus points including (but not limited to) the following:
Western Montana: The drive to Missoula from East, West, North, or South through Western Montana is beautiful.
The North End Zone: One of the most imposing structures in the Big Sky Conference, the fans in the loud and crazy north end zone with its twin upper decks are a nightmare for opposing teams.
Campus Drive: The road wraps around the east and north sides of the stadium and passes under a concrete support known as the Grizzly Gateway. It’s closed to through traffic on game day and becomes a tailgating main street lined with busses and motor homes.
Hall of Champions: This corridor in the Adams Center right next door to the stadium is a very well put together museum to Grizzly Athletics’ history. It’s a must visit for any Griz fan and even if you’re not a Griz fan it’s still a nice place to get inside and warm up for a few minutes.
Monte: The Grizzlies mascot Monte keeps the crowd entertained throughout, and whoever’s in the suit is one amazing athlete.
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