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Montana adds No. 37 flag-raising ceremony for home games
Up with Montana, boys.
That’s exactly what the University of Montana has decided to do with its new No. 37 flag-raising ceremony.
Beginning this season, before the coin toss during the pre-game show leading up to kickoff of each Grizzly home football game, a maroon and silver No. 37 flag is hoisted into the air. At the top of the north end zone, the flag waves several feet above the other flags, which represent the Big Sky Conference schools.
The 37 flag, however, symbolizes more than just a football player - it symbolizes a Montana tradition.
The No. 37 stands for the beloved Griz jersey worn by a Montana recruit and a leading defensive player. Since 1987, the No. 37 jersey has been handed down to an up-and-coming Montana player.
“It’s something unique to the University of Montana football team,” said Christie Anderson, the marketing director for Grizzly Athletics. “We’re always looking for fun ways to celebrate Montana tradition and adding new components to game day, as well.”
Alum Randy Rupert, regional director of marketing at CTA Architecture, Engineering and Design, approached UM with the idea.
It’s a play on the No. 12 flag-raising ceremonies at Seattle Seahawks’ home games. An Olympian, a former Seahawks player or another world-class athlete raises a gigantic No. 12 flag to honor the so-called 12th man - the fans.
Carson Bender, a defensive tackle out of Deer Lodge, sported the No. 37 jersey for the 2008-2009 seasons before a career-ending injury had him sidelined his senior year. Fans last year, Rupert said, missed cheering for No. 37 on the field.
“I think (the tradition) started to die a little bit,” Rupert said. “You feel like something’s missing.”
Rupert also happened to notice a big white pole sticking up at the top of the north end zone seating area. Turns out that pole was actually a heating vent pipe for the bathroom. Now a flag pole masks the white PVC pipe, allowing the No. 37 - “one of the strongest traditions among the Griz,” Rupert said - to stand out.
The idea is to have former Griz football players who wore the No. 37 jersey come back to hoist the flag into the air.
At the first Griz home game, parents of East Helena’s Ryan Featherston, who currently wears No. 37, hoisted the flag into the air. At the game against Eastern Washington, it was Griz legend Tim Hauck, who went on to play in the NFL.
“The tradition has taken on a life of its own and become a big deal for Griz football,” Hauck said. “You take a lot of pride in it, to tell you the truth. The fact that it’s stuck around for this long is kind of special.”
Anaconda’s Ciche Pitcher, who was presented the No. 37 jersey in 2001, will hoist the flag at Saturday’s homecoming game against Northern Colorado.
There’re less than 10 athletes who have worn the No. 37 jersey as part of Montana’s tradition, which was started by former Griz player and coach Kraig Paulson. That’s why UM plans to ask other former Griz football athletes to participate in the new flag raising tradition, too. Keeping former athletes involved in the program is important, Anderson said, because it brings a sense of community to the program.
Look for the No. 37 flag raising ceremony shortly after Monte’s entrance to the stadium.
By CHELSI MOY, The Missoulian