Tales from the MSU tailgate lot

By Taylor-Ann Smith Explore Big Sky Staff Writer

BOZEMAN – The art of tailgating merges the intense spirit of college football with the comfort of home cooking. There’s something about combining friends and family with game-day staples like hot bratwursts and crisp beer, that excites sports fans like little else can.

Montana State University students, alumni and supporters flock en masse to Bobcat Stadium on Saturdays throughout the season to socialize and celebrate – whether the game is part of the agenda or not. Bozeman thrives off of this energy and the excitement of game day exemplifies why MSU is so special to the area. Bobcat football games bring tourists in from around the region, reunite families, and give locals weekend outings close to home. Tailgating is the foundation for it all.

MSU not only provided Dan Russell, 34, with a degree in Sociology in 2003 but also gave him a reason to move back to Bozeman in 2008. Russell met his wife Melissa, 30, while working in her hometown of Lovell, Wyo., and after moving to multiple locations in Montana and Wyoming, the Russell family found a home in Bozeman.

Dan’s Bobcat pride never wavered and he now brings his wife and kids, Mason and Jordan, to the stadium.

“The best part of the weekend is getting together with everyone and cheering on the Bobcats,” Melissa said. “Go cats!” shouts her daughter Jordan as she rings a cowbell.

Mason, 1, and Jordan, 4, love watching the MSU’s Spirit of the West marching band as they parade through the entrance to the stadium. They sport miniature versions of a football jersey and cheerleader outfit while looking out for MSU’s mascot Champ. Melissa’s brother Luke and his wife Kari have also been inspired by the energy and moved to Bozeman this year from Lovell.

tailgate1The Russells share a tailgate lot with the Vancleeve family – owners of Bozeman-based Pinecove Consulting – and never miss a home game. The new recruits now join the weekend festivities, adding that much more energy to the Russell-Vancleeve tailgate lot.

The families enjoy fresh chili and burgers under their tent with a stockpile of cold drinks, and an ever-present game of beer die, a drinking game in which players attempt to toss a die in their opponent’s cup.

The camaraderie of celebrating football and reminiscing about college days brings Dan and his fellow jordanalumni back to every game. Considering that nearly half of Bozeman’s population comes out to cheer on the Bobcats rings true to the saying “the spirit of the West.” With the infamous Cat-Griz rivalry game just around the corner at the University of Montana in Missoula, fans are already prepping for the game.

“The atmosphere is crazy [at Cat-Griz games], and it seems like you can feel the whole state buzzing because of the intensity of the rivalry,” said Nick Dissly, a former MSU basketball player. “The tailgate atmosphere is even better because the game means so much to the fans.”

Whether it’s the companionship, love of the game, or camaraderie that can only be produced by a big sporting event, tailgating will continue to bring Bozeman – and college towns around the country – together for the rest of the football season and for years to come.