I confess I'm not much of a fan of college or pro sports. I haven't been to an MSU football game since before a few of you were born, and when people mention the legendary Montana State-University of Montana sports rivalry I invariably just roll my eyes and snort, "It's only a game."
But despite all that, I went to a football game on Saturday.
Montana's still a heavily rural state, and close to half of Montana's high schools don't have enough students to field traditional football teams. Many of the smaller schools play in eight-man leagues, but the 28 littlest schools play something called six-man football, which is a very different sport. The field is only 80 yards long, it takes 15 yards to get a first down, and absolutely everyone is eligible to receive a pass. So the games are fast-moving, unpredictable, and a heck of a lot of fun.
To sample six-man football I drove up to Geraldine, where the Tigers were hosting a co-op team from Richey and Lambert. (The tiniest Montana schools will often bond together to field athletic teams -- otherwise they'd have no interscholastic sports at all.) It's 321 miles from Lambert to Geraldine, and the two schools sent a team of six starters and two reserves. Geraldine has a strong history of six-man football, and they had 13 players suited up ... not bad for a school with a total of only three dozen students. The weather was utterly frigid, and I think I was the only out-of-towner there.
And the game was a blast: constant motion and lots of excitement, the total opposite of the orchestrated military maneuvers you see in major-college ball. The ending was pure adrenaline, with a missed extra point, a successful onside kick, and a dropped pass reception that would have changed everything. When it was over, the favored Tigers had lost a 27-26 heartbreaker ... but the Richey/Lambert boys had something to celebrate on that long drive home.
I'm now a serious fan of six-man football, and I can't wait to go to another game. The playoffs start next weekend, and Geraldine is heading out to play the undefeated Hysham Pirates. It would be fun to watch, but I'm afraid the Tigers are going to get their butts kicked.