You’re in the Rockies. It’s cold, it’s windy, it’s Montana State Bobcat football at Bobcat Stadium. Bobcat Stadium on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana is located in one of the more picturesque settings in all of college football. Seats from high up yield views of mountain ranges in all directions. It can get cold, windy, and snowy anytime of the year, but often it can be downright nice, sunny, and never any humidity. It’s just that whenever I’m scheduled to review this venue, the weather always takes a turn for the worse.
Official seating capacity is 17,777 but crowds in excess of the capacity, which are the norm, are accommodated with standing room only areas and temporary bleachers. The 2013 edition of the Brawl of the Wild against the rival Montana Grizzlies brought in a record crowd of 21,527.
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Food is in abundance, both inside and outside the stadium gates. The concessions under the grandstands offer all the typical choices. Combo meals, including french fries (add garlic sauce for $1), a 32 oz drink (Pepsi products), and everything from hot dogs, polish dogs, nachos, chicken tenders, pizza, and more from $7 to $9. There are also all the typical stadium snacks, such as popcorn, cookies, and candy. In warm weather, slushies and snow cones ($4 for 24 oz.), and in cold weather hot chocolate ($2).
If you have the time, wander from stand to stand before deciding what to buy as each one sells slightly different items, and there are specialty stands along the way as well, including the Smokehouse BBQ with pulled pork or beef brisket sandwiches ($7), an espresso stand, and Big Sky Bakery (their caramels are wonderful) ($5).
Beer is not currently sold inside the stadium, but MSU is having an ongoing discussion about that issue. It's part of the lively debate happening in various parts of the country about schools cashing in on beer sales but also having a greater ability to control underage drinking by carding, curtailing drunk driving and bad behavior by cutting off sales after a certain point in the game, and restricting stadium reentry so people can't go back to the tailgates to drink unfettered after the game has started. As of now you can leave and re-enter Bobcat Stadium at halftime with a hand stamp, so you can enjoy the nearly unlimited food and drink options at the surrounding tailgate parties.
Check the weather forecast before going to the game, then take everything with you even if the conditions are predicted to be balmy. This is especially good advice if the game starts in the late afternoon and ends after sundown as the temperature difference between day and night in Bozeman can be extreme. Just don't skip out on a game because it's predicted to be cold. The cold games are always the most exciting. Dress in layers and don't forget a seat cushion. The metal bleachers draw heat out of a human body at an alarming rate.
The stadium has an irregular shape with the grandstands on three sides each built in different eras. The all metal east stand is showing its age dating back to the stadium opening in 1973. The stand lacks handrails along the stairs and the view from the first few rows is often obstructed by a walkway across the front. The architecturally striking concrete and steel skybox side was constructed in the late 1990's. Site lines are terrific from this stand and the walkways and concourse are easy to navigate and are handicapped accessible. The south end zone bowl is the newest addition to Bobcat Stadium-completed in 2012. This stand houses the student section and the band and holds the noise in remarkably well. False starts are a frequent occurrence by the opposing team when backed up to the south end zone. If it's hot day, the skybox side is comfortable in the shade and if it's cold the east side bleachers will soak up any sun that's out.
One of the improving aspects of the Bobcat Stadium atmosphere is the growing Spirit of the West Marching Band. The band keeps entertaining throughout the game and even when the score is not favorable, the band members always seem to be having a good time.
The player's entrance is impressive as a highlight video is played on the jumbotron, then the team runs out on the field through a large inflatable Bobcat head, accompanied by fireworks and loud music. They run to the opposite end zone in front of the student section where most players take a knee for a short prayer or moment of reflection before getting down to business. By this time, the crowd has filed from the surrounding tailgates and are sufficiently warmed up and loud.
Things are much quieter right after halftime, no matter the score as the stadium almost completely empties at the end of the second quarter. Bobcat Stadium's generous reentry policy allows fans to leave the stadium and head back to the tailgates. Many don't make it back for the start of the 3rd quarter-an issue that the hardcore fans lament, especially if it's a close game. But eventually everyone does find their way back to their seats and the stadium is rocking again.
Bozeman is a vibrant and growing college town of about 40,000. The city routinely makes best places to live lists, especially by publications promoting an outdoors lifestyle. Mountains surround the town and world class fly fishing, biking, rafting, hiking, ice climbing, and skiing are just minutes away.
Downtown Bozeman, which is less than two miles from Bobcat Stadium has an eclectic mixture of bars and restaurants. Bobcat fans often start their game day downtown with breakfast at the Western Café or Main Street Overeasy, and celebrate a Bobcat win or drown their sorrows at any number of bars such as the Point After or Rockin' R.
There's also a small business district right across from the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse (just across the parking lot from the stadium) that contains the ever popular Spectators Sports Bar and Grill and the new Bridger Brewing featuring beer brewed on site and pizza.
A little farther away, but still an easy drive, the Club Tavern and Grill inside the Gran Tree Inn on North 7th Avenue is a great place eat and watch a game on one of their many big screen TV's. The Gran Tree Inn is a great choice to stay if you need lodging for the weekend. If you will be in Bozeman on a football weekend, make your reservations ahead of time as all the motels will be full.
If craft brews are your thing, Bozeman has 4 breweries including the aforementioned Bridger Brewing, Bozeman Brewing Company, 406 Brewery, and Outlaw Brewery (under construction).
Finally, no trip to Bozeman would be complete without a cheese steak sandwich from the Pickle Barrel. The little sandwich shop is located by the north edge of the MSU campus on West College Street. I'm told they have other great sandwiches, but I never get anything but the cheese steak, which I think is the best sandwich in Montana.
While in Bozeman, be sure not to miss the Museum of the Rockies, right next to Bobcat Stadium.
Over the years, Bobcat football games have become a big social happening. While most are there for the football, many come from all over the state of Montana to reunite with family, friends, and former classmates. People are in a good mood and generally friendly.
Bobcat fans show up early to line up along the path connecting the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, where the team's main locker room is located, leading to the stadium entry gate an hour and fifteen minutes before kickoff to witness the procession of mascot, cheerleaders, band, players, and coaches called the Bobcat Prowl. Kids and few of the grownups get in close to high five the players and coaches as they walk by.
The MSU students in the end zone bowl keep the energy level up throughout the game, standing the entire time, with the help of the Spirit of the West Marching band. The visiting team enters the stadium from a tunnel just below the student section where they always receive a raucous welcome.
Visiting fans are warmly welcomed at most tailgate parties, but those wearing opposing team's colors, and especially the maroon of the arch rival Montana Grizzlies, are cautioned that they may get some flack if walking through the tailgate area east of the stadium (between the stadium and Museum of the Rockies). If you can give it back as well as receive it then that might be the place for you. There is a security presence in the tailgate areas to make sure things don't get too out of hand.
Bobcat fans have long since figured out that getting to the stadium early is a good thing. The crowd at Bobcat Stadium is about half the size of the overall population of Bozeman so naturally there can be some traffic issues.
The stadium is located south of the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Look for the big white dome, which can be seen from most anywhere in Bozeman. From I-90 you can take exit 305 and take 19th Avenue to the MSU campus.
The section of Kagy Boulevard that passes in front of Bobcat Stadium is blocked off to motor vehicles and renamed Bobcat Boulevard on game days. This makes driving from one side of the stadium to the other inconvenient, but it greatly enhances pedestrian and bicycle safety.
There are handicapped parking spaces behind both grandstands and attendants at the intersections near the stadium to guide you. Handicapped parking spots fill up fast, so if you need one plan on getting there early.
Most campus parking spots are free except for the tailgating spots which must be reserved in advance. If you're not there early you might have to walk a little ways. Private property near the stadium is made available for parking for a fee ($5-$10), and the Museum of the Rockies makes parking available for $20. The museum spaces are close to the stadium if you want to get back to your car at halftime and they are the easiest spots to get out of after the game.
Bozeman has a limited public transportation system, but there are two bus routes that run on Saturday's that connect the MSU SUB, downtown, and various other locations. Check the schedule at Streamlinebus.com.
The parking lot between the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse is now paved, along with the driving lanes in the parking lots immediately adjacent to the stadium where the tailgating takes place. This has been a huge improvement, but good footwear is a must as there's still some muddy areas beyond the driveway lanes and sidewalks and the paved surfaces will be slick in inclement weather.
The restrooms in Bobcat Stadium are new, clean, and accessible. The newest restrooms under the end zone stand are the most spacious with shorter lines. There are also a generous amount of port-a-johns in the tailgate areas.
Ticket and concession stand prices have risen recently, but as long as the Bobcats keep up their winning ways, the ever growing Bobcat Nation will fork over their cash. A day out at Bobcat Stadium is still well worth it for anyone who loves college football. Sideline tickets are $43 and the end zone seats are $23. If all seats are sold, standing room only tickets are made available for $22.
The Big Sky Conference is known for an exciting, high scoring brand of football. The coaches are innovative and the players are highly skilled. In most Big Sky games no lead is safe and no deficit is too great to overcome. It's always a great show.
With no professional or big time FBS teams anywhere close, both of Montana's flagship schools, Montana State and the University of Montana, enjoy an elevated status statewide far beyond most FCS teams.
A few more items that make Bobcat Stadium special:
Bobcatnation.com: This website (not affiliated with MSU) is where Bobcat fans gather online to talk about their favorite team. It's a good place to go if you're a visiting fan to get info on where to stay and eat and any other logistics that need to be worked out for your trip to Bozeman.
Champ: The Bobcat mascot Champ is a favorite to fans young and old. Be sure to get a high five from Champ when you're at the game.
The Great Falls Tailgate Party: The Bobcat Boosters from Great Falls, Montana sets up a huge tailgate party for every home game. A donation gets you in where keg beer, soft drinks, hot chocolate, coffee and great food are available. The menu changes every week, but it's always good. The Great Falls folks make a special effort to welcome fans from the opposing team. They're always set up at the front entrance of the stadium right off Bobcat (Kagy) Boulevard. Just ask around, everybody knows where it is.
Burning Monte: The Great Falls folks always burn a teddy bear in defiance of the rival Montana Grizzlies' mascot Monte. Some find this tradition a bit crass, but it's become a fixture at every home game. They've even been known to let fans of other opposing teams, who also don't like the Grizzlies, do the honor of lighting up Monte.
School Song: After the game, win or lose, the players walk over and serenade the student section with the school song, "Stand Up and Cheer." Of course the students, band, and fans all join in.
Bobcat Stadium on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana opened in 1973 as Reno H. Sales Stadium. It was a serviceable, but unremarkable venue featuring metal bleachers along each sideline and smaller wooden bleachers in each end zone. Major renovations completed in 1998 and 2011 and growing crowds brought on by a streak of winning seasons beginning in 2002 have transformed Bobcat Stadium into one of many great venues, in appearance and atmosphere, in the Football Championship Division (FCS).
Official seating capacity is 17,777 but crowds in excess of the capacity, which have become routine, are accommodated with standing room only areas and temporary bleachers. The 2012 home opener, which was also the first night game in the history of Bobcat Stadium, drew a record crowd of 20,767.
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