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Which comes first, the Cat or the Griz?
Bottles of limited-edition Jack Daniels are adorned with commemorative "Griz/Cat Missoula 2008" labels at Grizzly Liquor in Missoula.

MISSOULA - It's time for the annual Griz-Cat game - the name game, that is.

Time for the back-and-forth debate on blogs, in coffee shops, in offices and on campuses about which comes first, Griz or Cat, when referring to the annual college football rivalry.

The University of Montana's press releases about the 108th Montana and Montana State matchup refer to the "Griz-Cat" game. Montana State University calls it "Cat-Griz." Bottles of Jack Daniels sold at Grizzly Liquor in Missoula this week include a shiny gold medallion engraved "Griz/Cat." Those same gold medallions sell on bottles at Belgrade Liquor near Bozeman, but with "Cat" out front.

"It's amazing how this is a sticking point," said Bill Lamberty, MSU's sports information director. When he first moved to Bozeman from Wyoming in 1990, few people made the distinction. But anymore, even Lamberty has been corrected by a Griz fan for putting his Bobcats first.

"I've had people who said Griz-Cat in the next sentence just to get that out there," he said. "Griz fans like hearing their name first."

For some fans, it's a way to show team loyalty. Others fall back on alphabetical order. Others say whatever rolls off the tongue. Maybe it's an extension of the rivalry on the field. Or maybe some feel whatever school secures the most wins should get the honor of its team leading in the name of the game.

No matter why fans say what they do, is it possible for Montanans to agree on what to call the state's biggest sporting event?

Not before Saturday.

The issue may be unique to Montana. No one, for example, ever says the Navy-Army game.

"It doesn't sound right," said Scott Strasemeier, Navy sports information director.

The annual college football game between the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., is one of the nation's oldest, most intense rivalries. Yet it's always referred to as the Army-Navy game.

Strasemeier doesn't know why. Nothing is written down. Maybe it's alphabetical, he said.

One thing is for sure, though. No one has ever tried to put "Navy" first. Army-Navy is tradition, and no one messes with that.

"It's what it's called," Strasemeier said. "At this point, it just sounds right. As long as we win the game, you can call it anything you want."

So, what's the big deal in Montana?

It shows your allegiance, said UM sports information director Dave Guffey, who has worked 31 years at UM and called it the Griz-Cat game the entire time.

"I'm a Grizzly and the Grizzlies go first," he said. Calling it anything else "doesn't seem natural to me." Guffey assumes anyone who puts Griz at the tail end of the term is a Bobcat fan.

Not so, said 25-year-old Ryan Lucas, a UM student from Missoula.

"I never really thought about it," said Lucas, who grew up attending Griz games. He roots for the Grizzlies but has always referred to the matchup as the Cat-Griz game. "That's the more familiar term."

"Cat-Griz sounds better," Lamberty said. "People say it sounds better."

Warren Rogers worked as The Billings Gazette sports editor between 1972 and 2000. Until Tuesday, the veteran editor had never heard the term "Griz-Cat."

"It never dawned on me," said Rogers. Back then, "Cat" always went first. Maybe it's because the Gazette sold newspapers in Bozeman or maybe it was just alphabetical. Whatever the reason, when Rogers arrived in Montana in 1972, "that's what they called it. There was no explanation, really."

Roy Pace, retired sports editor of the Independent Record in Helena, used the phrase "Cat-Griz" nearly all the time, he said. Pace, who worked as sports editor at the newspaper between 1970 and 1996, said at that time, people in the Capital City were predominantly Bobcat fans, so no one ever complained. That's not true anymore, he said.

Joe Sanders, a 21-year-old UM student, waited five hours in line this week to nab a highly coveted ticket to the cross-state rivalry. Even though Sanders hails from Missoula, he said this is his first "Griz-Cat game." That's how he said it, and that's how he'll insist all others within earshot refer to the matchup.

"Because the Griz are better," he said. "It's not the soundest logic, but it should be the Griz-Cat game."

No matter the reason, when it comes to the Brawl of the Wild (a neutral term, one hopes), the competition begins long before the athletes ever take the field.

Now, let the game begin.

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