Wish You Were Here

By VERINA PALMER MARTIN

It’s just another Saturday in October and we’re surrounded by the usual crowd of zealous Griz fans wearing a sea of maroon and talking up Montana football. We’ve got a hot and spicy Bloody Mary in hand and we’re exhilarated by the 70-degree chill in the air.

What? A 70-degree chill? Whoops! Did I forget to mention I’m sitting in Scottsdale, Arizona? Well, for a few hours every weekend, we forget it, too. It’s not exactly hot chocolate and Schnaaps football weather here, but it feels like it after months of living in triple-digit heat. In a few weeks, though, we’ll be downright giddy watching our hometown shiver in the stands at Washington Grizzly Stadium while we bask in our sunny days. Even so, we’ll wish we were there.

Instead we’ll be here, at Duke’s Sports Bar & Grill in Scottsdale, with the local enclave of Montanans who traded the mountains for the desert, the snow for the sun, but will never, ever, abandon their Griz. Here we have our own cheering section led by owner Al McCarthy, originally a Butte man and always a Griz fan. Look around the bar and you’ll see a Griz banner, Big Sky Brewing bar signs and newspaper clippings from The Montana Standard. You can take the boy out of Montana but… well, you know.

“I’ve shown every Grizzly game since 1994,” says Al in his growly but affable voice. “This is a Montana bar, that’s how we treat people.”

Think of Duke’s as a place like Cheers. Everybody may not know your name, but when someone yells “FIRST DOWN!” these desert dwellers know the answer: “MONTANA!” Here we meet new people who remind us of old friends. We talk about our favorite Missoula haunts such as the Mo Club or Reds, Tower Pizza or Hoagieville. We inevitably find connections that make us one big Grizzly family.

Al has trained his staff well to cater to Montana fans. Though his servers likely have never stepped foot near Big Sky Country, they randomly shout a fan-rousing “Go Griz!” as they keep the beer and food coming. The Bloody Mary bar is stocked with all the proper fixings for this tailgating staple, including the ass-kicking horseradish that starts off any real Montanan’s morning. (It’s important to note that Arizonans have no clue how to make a Montana-worthy Bloody Mary, which is why my concoctions are notorious in our social circle.)

This is why fans like ’86 UM grad Stacy Loveland, a native of Cascade, Montana come here. Stacy’s lived in Scottsdale for 17 years working as environmental waste director, and doesn’t miss game day at Duke’s.

“I love the camaraderie and the energy that permeates with Montanans, even when they’re not at home,” says Stacy. “After all, it is a Griz Nation!”

On this Saturday, Montanans outnumber the Lumberjacks about 75 to 3, and these are just the obvious fans wearing their requisite Griz Gear. One of the three sad Jacks is here with us. On any other day, he’d be rooting for the bear, because it took just one Griz experience in Missoula for him to become a true follower.

It’s not at all surprising to see so few Northern Arizona fans show up to watch the annual mauling of NAU, considering Montana fans dominate the Lumberjacks in their own stadium in Flagstaff. We’re actually a little embarrassed for them when our tailgate party takes over their parking lot.

Every now and then a lone Bobcat fan wanders into Duke’s, homesick and seeking solace from his Montana peeps. Despite being outnumbered, he’ll fling a little Cat poop until he’s properly humbled and welcomed into the fray – as long as he’s willing to buy us a beer, or a pitcher, or two. It’s always works to play the Montana card in this crowd. We take care of our own.

All that will change come November, during the Brawl of the Wild. A litter of Bobkitties will make a respectable appearance at Duke’s, which typically is overflowing by 10 a.m. and prompting a confused local Fire Marshall to show up and tell Al to bar the doors against the Montana mob in the parking lot.

Those who choose to snooze on Nov. 20 will have to find the satellite feed elsewhere, but it just won’t be the same. We’ll be at Duke’s!

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Verina Palmer Martin is a Missoula native who fled town in 1986 in search of truth and eternal sunshine, which led to a  longtime newspaper career in Arizona. She’s happily married to a Montana boy who tracked her down 20 years ago, and he still makes her laugh like he did in high school. She blames the UM School of Journalism for her addiction to news ink and ridiculously high journalisticethics.