Today is one of the smokiest days I’ve seen during my nine years as a Missoulian.  In fact, I’d go so far as to assert that today is among the smokiest days I’ve seen in my twenty-seven years as a Montanan (unless you count the big fire in Yellowstone in ’88 which I only barely remember dropping visible ash into one of my Mom’s favorite paintings of mine).  While the smoke is perhaps thicker today than usual, it has come to be something of a late-summer and early-fall tradition here in the valley.  Fall means smoke.  And fall means football.

The smoke, which today has almost made me forget I even live in a valley, reminded me of how odd the first game of the season was.  It wasn’t necessarily the game itself that was different – we managed a 35-24 win over the infamous Joe Glenn and the Coyotes – it was rather the lack of smoke which for weeks prior and weeks after would be nearly ever present.  For some reason, that day was different.

That day was pure Griz football.  It was crisp and calm.  It felt like fall.  It feel like a hundred other September Saturdays which have come and gone before it.  There were tailgates and cheerleaders and marching bands. And of course there was football. With football came the fans, from all corners of the state they donned their maroon and silver and supported their team like they always do.

Looking back now on the clear, blue sky of September 1st, I see it not just as a day free from stinging eyes and labored breathing, but also as a fitting analogy for the 2012 Griz themselves.  In the last year there’s been an awful lot of smoke curling around the institution of Grizzly football.  Some of it has even been very, very dark.  And this off-season it seems like an awful lot of it has settled in and clouded our vision.

Cutting through that smoke hasn’t been easy for the team or the University of Montana.  Even now it lingers, ebbing and flowing with each news day.  But that first day of September reminded me that in the end the smoke will clear and it will still just be eleven guys on a field playing a game they love.  Obviously this is oversimplified and Griz football still has its share of problems, but at the core is pure, clear, rooted to tradition football.

Tomorrow may be smoky, or maybe we’ll all get lucky and catch a glimpse of blue.  We’ll be reminded of what it was like before the sky went gray and the mountains receded behind the haze.  Either way, tomorrow there will be football.  Eleven guys on a field football.