BOZEMAN, Montana---

By around 5:45 AM, I figured out a routine. It was a routine to help me actually do this job, sure, but also for plain ol' survival.

I'd do laps around the parking lots surrounding Montana State's football stadium, or the sprawling GameDay set, looking for a tailgate rig with an open fire. I'd walk up, introduce myself, and ask if I could stand by the fire for a few minutes, if only to make sure my fingers and toes still worked. I'd sheepishly laugh and say that it was my first time in Montana, and I didn't really appreciate what I was getting into. The fans at the rig would graciously share their fire, along with the breakfast burritos and pasties and copious amounts of alcohol that I had to politely turn down.

I was born and raised in Ohio. I've lived in Chicago for years, and spent most of my life in places that get cold. I had two pairs of socks, snow boots, a flannel shirt, a sweater, big ol' Carhartt jacket and gloves. I didn't look like a Californian moron that had no idea that it got cold in November.

But Chicago isn't at elevation, and I had never heard of the concept of a "dry cold", which I can assure you feel different.  At 5:00 AM on Saturday, when fans first started trickling onto the set, my phone told me it was -4, and it felt colder than that.

The fans I spoke to agreed. Wet cold, dry cold, whatever. Brother, it was (*#&@(#@ cold.

But that doesn't mean we can't have some fun, right?

***

It wasn't just me being a giant baby. A GameDay staffer told me on Friday that the Brawl of the Wild would be the coldest production in the history of the show. That presents some legitimate logistical challenges.

For one, we were told that some of the equipment needed to actually set the dang stage up on Friday had frozen. Batteries often don't work as effectively under prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures, so anybody with cameras needed to bring plenty of backups. Golf carts are a production stable for moving workers and equipment all over the set, and given the snow, ice and cold, a staffer told us they had to make sure the tires were actually sufficient.

Plus, there's the whole matter of keeping the talent warm. GameDay is a three-hour show and one that relies on everybody keeping a high energy level. While everybody is a professional and very much wanted to be here, it'd be silly to pretend that the environment wasn't a factor. As Desmond Howard reminded the local media in a scrum on Friday, "I live in Miami."

If it was any other show, I probably would have been concerned. But GameDay staffers told us that their advance team and operations staffers were honestly excited about the challenge, and as far as my untrained eyes could tell, everything still went off without a hitch. If something important broke, they did a good job of hiding it.

So why come out here right now? Why subject everybody to hours and hours of biting cold?

Was this the biggest game of the weekend? No. Even with it being a more underwhelming FBS slate, you still had Illinois/Michigan, USC/UCLA, Bedlam, Cal/Stanford, and more. It arguably wasn't even the most important FCS game of the day.

But, as Rece Davis reminded us on Friday, GameDay isn't always about going to the biggest game of the week. They want to be around good football, of course, but this is television. The bitter cold, after all, almost became a character on the broadcast. You had the majestic mountains as the backdrop. The show is constantly looking for new and unique experiences, and boy did the Brawl deliver.

It delivered because this town wanted this show.

I got into town on Thursday afternoon. All over Main Street in downtown Bozeman, you'd see signs and marquees, specifically welcoming the GameDay crew to town.

When the show bus first rolled into town on Thursday, the school rodeo team and police turned it into a mini parade downtown. People lined the streets to clap and wave.

This is not something that happens for most TV shows!

Even if bringing the show to campus doesn't automatically mean you were playing in the biggest game of the week, it's absolutely still a sign of national validation. It is a sign that your program, your community, and your culture, can anchor a three-hour national broadcast, one that even now, still sets the table for the sport.

If you're in Austin, or Columbus, or South Bend, maybe you take that sort of thing for granted. But GameDays don't come every day at the FCS level. The show has never come to Montana before.

The Big Sky Conference understood that importance. For those that don't follow FCS football especially closely, the Big Sky is one of the three best conferences in the country, along with the Missouri Valley and the CAA. Coming into the game, Montana State was ranked #3 in the country (ahead of some program you might have heard of, North Dakota State), while Montana was 13th. Other Big Sky programs were ranked 2nd, 7th, 21st, and 24th. That's impressive depth.

But GameDay had never come to a Big Sky game before, period. So the league embarked on a very public marketing campaign, dating back to last season. There was the fake protest. The relentless tweets. Hell, at least one Montana lawmaker drafted legislation to encourage the show to come to Montana.

Is that what ultimately brought the show to Bozeman?

Probably not, although it didn't hurt. If I'm being honest, it played a role in my decision to make the trip. But multiple GameDay officials told me that this was a bucket list trip for the show anyway, one they wanted to make if the schedule, logistical considerations, and on-the-field performance all fell into place. This year, it absolutely did.

I know the GameDay hosts were excited to make this trip. They told us as much, on Friday, and you could tell from watching the show. And I think I completely understand why...because coming to events like this is rejuvenating, no matter how freaking cold it was outside.

This is why we do what we do

I asked Rece Davis how he and his colleagues can keep the show fresh, after being on the road for so long and after doing it for so many years. After all, everybody gets burned out sometimes, right?

He told me something I've deeply believed in for a long time. College football isn't just something you do for a few hours on a Saturday...but it's a lifestyle. He lives this sport. So do his teammates.

The 20,000+ people who piled into that stadium, shoulder to shoulder, singing and yelling and cussing in the freezing darkness...they live it too. They know they're not just watching a game to entertain them for a few hours, but they're reconnecting with their community. Those tailgates, the chants...they're deep expressions of their own identity. To love the Brawl of the Wild is to if only for a little while, begin to understand Montana.

That's why anybody who works in this business still does it. If you can't get that feeling of excitement, if you can't share in that joy, I don't see how you can produce any stories worth paying attention to. It's why we, as reporters, get to know every airport gate in O'Hare, why we slog through the occasional forgettable game, the corruption, the drama, good, bad, and ugly. Because we still live for the transcendental moments, those connections with new parts of this great country.

Friends, it's no secret to anybody who regularly reads this newsletter that I've struggled with burnout a bit. The NIL beat isn't always the most emotionally or spiritually uplifting. The business of college football has seemingly rolled from one potential catastrophe to another. The constant avalanche of news can be overwhelming. I'm not ready to quit the beat or anything, but I can't lie and say every week of Extra Points has been fun. You know the truth as well as I do.

Weeks like this are fun. This is why I do what I do, and I know it's why everybody involved with GameDay does it, and why the fans make their funny signs, drink their fireball, and stand out in the cold and the snow and the dark.

This can be a deeply stupid, corrupt, and frustrating sport. But the day that I can't sit by a fire with the parents of some football players and share their pride in their children, the day I don't feel the electricity of a crowd, the day I don't laugh at a great GameDay sign....that's the day I close up shop and find a new beat. That day isn't today.

I felt alive in Bozeman, and I know I wasn't alone. That's worth getting a little romantic over, I think.

But seriously though. I don't care if it was dry, wet, or in between. It was cold as shit. Next time, friends, I'm coming in June.


I'll be sharing another newsletter about the Brawl of the Wild tomorrow, digging a little more into the rivalry itself. Because so many folks will be traveling this week, we'll be on a truncated Extra Points schedule, though. The last newsletter of the week will run on Tuesday AM. We'll return to regular publishing the following week.

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