Story by Danny Davis
By day, 26-year-old Brint Wahlberg is just your run-of-the-mill realtor. But by night, Wahlberg assumes his alter ego and, along with a legion of fellow fanatics, protects the World Wide Web from, among other things, the dreaded Bobcat.
Is Wahlberg a modern day Superman? Hardly. He takes the form of Re/Max Griz and is one of many University of Montana fans who find time to post on eGriz.com, the message board for UM athletics.
“It’s a fun site,” Wahlberg said. “It can become quite addictive at times. It’s a great place to waste a couple hours of your day.”
EGriz is an online message board that boasts nearly 3,300 accounts on its member list, although eGriz founder Chris Lynn estimates that 1,500 of those belong to active posters. The reasons for joining the message board are vast and varied, ranging from diehards wanting to network with other supporters of the maroon and silver to fans hankering for a chance to lament about the football coaches’ play calling.
“I joined because the Internet has opened up a whole new way to communicate about sports and other interests,” said Jim Joyner, a former eGriz moderator who posts as GoodGodGriz. “It’s a good way to keep in touch with other fans.”
Since eGriz has become synonymous with the UM fan base, some might be shocked to learn of its origin.
The site was originally launched in February of 2001 as a homework assignment that Lynn was completing for an introductory Web design class at Montana State University. At first, the Web site was just that, a homework assignment, and Lynn, who eventually transfered and graduated from UM, said the site received minimal online interest.
A dirty play changed all that.
On Dec. 15, 2001, Montana beat Northern Iowa 38-0 to earn a trip to meet Furman in the national championship game. Although the Griz had taken a crucial step to its eventual second I-AA title, much of the postgame talk was about Panther wide receiver Jake Soliday, who was ejected after punching UM safety Dave DeCoite in the groin. Lynn obtained a video of the punch and posted it on eGriz, and interest instantly started piling on.
“That’s what really got eGriz well-known, and now it’s huge,” Lynn said.
EGriz went from a Web site that Lynn said was receiving around 100 hits a month before the punch to what it is now, a popular board that Lynn believes will receive around 15 million hits this month.
Whether it is the middle of September or the end of February, football rules on eGriz. Both basketball teams gather some in-season interest on the board, but one is far more likely to partake in a discussion about the third-string safety than he is about the UM soccer team. For example, over the weekend, there were more posts (32) about the Butte-Missoula Big Sky high school football game than there were about the UM volleyball team’s big 3-1 victory over in-state rival Montana State on Friday (2).
“Football is king,” Wahlberg said. “Basketball is picking up a lot, but, just like the university, football is king.”
What football is to the board, eGriz itself is to the message boards of the Big Sky Conference. Weber State and conference newcomer Northern Colorado are the lone schools not to have a fan board, but eGriz is easily the most active of the seven Big Sky sites.
“The Idaho State one is like the same 14 or 15 people on there all the time,” said Ryan Divish, a UM graduate who posts on both eGriz and Idaho State’s “The Bengal Den.” “The other Big Sky schools have their message boards but they all post on eGriz. For the Big Sky Conference, it is kind of the message board.”
Many of the fans of conference foes that flock to eGriz happen to be Montana State fans, which has helped build an interesting, yet somewhat contentious, atmosphere on the Internet. By all accounts, the Griz and Cat fans seem to mostly get along except for a certain few weeks a year.
“We never turn anyone away unless it starts to get nasty and ugly,” Joyner said. “It’s all in good fun until the Griz-Cat week, and then it gets a little more serious.”
With millions of people viewing Lynn’s product, eGriz has become somewhat of a business. Although it only costs him about $50 a month to run, Lynn says that he doesn’t make an incredible about of money on the site. Lynn did admit that he does turn enough profit to “make enough money to buy a few toys.”
As the years have gone on, eGriz has evolved from more than just a fan center and has branched out into different realms. Random, non-sports-related threads pop up from time to time, ranging from political banter to comedian Dane Cook to a 1,187-post thread devoted to scantily clad women.
“You have to sort through the shit to find the good stuff,” said UM senior Mike Nugent, who joined eGriz as GRZZ as a senior at Sentinel High School.
A more significant problem on the board could be the secrecy granted to the posters. While some members are able to break news about Grizzly athletics because of ties they have to the department, some posters use their anonymity to hurl personal attacks and concoct false rumors.
“Some people take it too seriously,” Divish said. “With the anonymity you can be whoever you are. I think some of the people take a certain persona that they wouldn’t be in real life. It’s easy to write bad things about a player or the coaches when you are Griz Fan 272 than when in real life.”
Nugent echoed Divish’s sentiments.
“It’s kind of pathetic, actually,” he said. “You just kind of have to learn what to ignore and what to read. It’s terrible, it makes you amazed how immature adults can be.”
Often the targets of these Internet attacks, UM athletes and administrators for the most part know about the eGriz but try not to take the chatter too seriously.
“I’m an old newspaper man, so you get used to half the people agreeing with you and more than likely the other half not agreeing with you,” UM Athletic Director Jim O’Day said. “My wife and family probably get more upset about it than I do.”
Lynn said that he, along with a few other moderators, try to control the outrageous content on the site and will disable the account of a member who is constantly stirring up trouble. Some other posters, however, have their own ways of deciphering whether a posted report is fact or fiction.
“I pretty much don’t believe it unless it’s come from a certain group of people that have posted for years,” Wahlberg said. “I think a lot of the people on there are the same way.”
The 24-year-old Lynn is planning a move to Boulder, Colo., in his near future because his girlfriend was transferred there for work. Lynn plans on still running eGriz from Colorado but hopes to one day get involved with a similar project with one of the area’s professional franchises.
EGriz.com is not officially associated with the UM athletic department and Lynn doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon. In fact, through what he blames on a squabble with the UM Bookstore, which runs montanagrizzlies.com, Lynn has been unable to obtain press and field access for the last two seasons.
Even though eGriz is not directly affiliated with the university, O’Day said he understands the importance of the Web site.
“I always think that as long as people care, your program is going to be healthy,” O’Day said. “People care about our program, and when they don’t care is when we are going to start to have trouble.”