KALISPELL — The 120th rivalry game between Montana and Montana State continues to inch closer, and few people have better perspective on the clash than Kalispell Glacier head coach Grady Bennett, who knows the rivalry from every side.
"It is really special just because I was on both sides of it. Spent a little bit of time at Montana State, transferred, became a Griz and then I was part of the class that became the first class that never saw a loss," Bennett said.
After spurning the Cats to play quarterback for the Griz in the late 1980s, Bennett is now Glacier's head football coach and does TV color commentary at Griz games for Cowles Media, so while he has straddled the fence, he knows most Montanans have to choose a side.
"In this state you're either a Griz or a Cat. There's just nothing else in this state. There's other states that have big rivalries, but there's so many universities that sometimes it even crosses states. Like Michigan-Ohio State is bigger than even sometimes Michigan-Michigan State, so this is special because you just have one of two choices,"said Bennett.
What makes his choice even more challenging is how he has not only seen it from both sides, but he's contributed to both as well. In 13 recruiting seasons at Glacier, Bennett has sent 12 players to the Griz and 11 to the Cats, and football is just a small part of what he instills in them.
"The key for us this has always been really stressing and building young men try to take high school boys and turning them into fine young men with with a strong character program and really spending time on that. I think wins become a result of that," Bennett said.
"I look at my life and my football career to date and (Bennett) has been one of the most inspirational and impactful people in my life right now," said Montana Grizzly outside linbacker Patrick O'Connell, who graduated from Glacier in 2017.
"He taught me a lot of things not only on the field, but specifically off the field as well. Just how to be a good man, how to how to lead by example, lead on the field, lead off the field, do everything right in the classroom, in the community, and then winning is just kind of a byproduct. And that's that's the mentality that he he has and that he teaches so I couldn't be more thankful for him," O'Connell continued.
So which team does Grady Bennett root for? Depends which week you ask him.
"Well, I've said this every year and some people maybe don't think that I'm sincere but honestly because it's Montana Kids, kids that I've been able to coach and work with. Why wouldn't we want Montana-Montana State to be the top two programs in the FCS every year?" said Bennett. "Why wouldn't we want them to meet for the national championship? So I cheer for Montana State every single game except for one. You know I want the Grizzlies to win this game, but I want our two teams to be in the national championship or the final four and I'm rooting for both and I want it to be a great game and both teams have a chance to get to the playoffs and go very far."