Rockin' Cat-Griz: UM superfan celebrates half-century worth of memories

Posted at 5:35 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 19:35:58-05

MISSOULA — What's your longest anniversary?

Is it 10 years? Or is it just six months? Is it a wedding anniversary? Or is it something else?

For Jim Salisbury, his milestone is Cat-Griz football games. And Saturday's contest will be the 120th meeting between Montana and Montana State's football programs, and for Salisbury, it will be his 50th straight game in attendance.

"It all started in 1970 when I entered UM after being in the Marines for two years and came back from Vietnam and started school at the U of M in 1970," Salisbury recalled.

Fast forward to now, and 2019 marked year No. 49 for Salisbury, and after a prolonged wait, No. 50 will happen on Saturday.

"So it's just a family, crazy thing and just have not stopped for 50 years," he said.

But how did it start? Salisbury returned to his hometown of Helena after his time in the Marines and eventually moved to Missoula in 1983. He graduated from Helena High in 1968 and at age 17 enlisted in the Marines during the Vietnam War.

Now a retired banker who also spent time as a certified public accountant, the 71-year-old has seen the good, the bad, and ugly from both sides in initially going with his brothers, and now his family.

He said Kris Heppner's game-winning kick for the Grizzlies in 1997 against the Bobcats is one of his favorite memories, but an even earlier memory stands out from his first days attending Griz games.

"And I came to Missoula and I went to that first game and I was hooked," Salisbury said. "One of my good memories is back then in Dornblaser, 10,000 people I think was a sellout, 8,000 or 10,000, and one game students somehow got a five-gallon jug of wine in. The sheriffs tried to take it from them and we were passing it all throughout the crowd and everything like that and it's a vivid memory and I'm going, 'This is nuts.'

"It's just exciting. It's just bonding time for us."

But the tradition has grown from just him and continued with his kids.

And it's a house divided as his son Ryan went to MSU while son Greg and daughter Kathy went to UM. He also has grandchildren who have attended both schools.

But through the fun banter and smack talk, their tailgate has grown over the years and been an inclusive outlet for all fans during the annual rivalry game.

"I have friends that are Bobcats, I have friends that are Griz, and the best part about our group is the Griz fans welcome us into their tailgate when it's here in Missoula and then we do the same when it's down in Bozeman," Ryan Salisbury said. "And it's kind of neutral territory at the tailgate. You scream your heads off when the game is going on and then you're all friends when it's over."

Jim's kids also do everything they can to build on a legacy their dad started with them as they grew up. And there's plenty of memories to choose from.

"He dedicates his whole life to this," Kathy Salisbury said. "Every schedule is planned around Griz football. One of my favorite memories (growing up) is every week after church, we'd go to church and then he would haul us all in the van down to Washington-Grizzly Stadium, it was in construction, and every week we would look at the progress and I'm sure he was picking out his seats. He's had the same seats ever since the stadium opened.

"It's a multi-generational thing for sure. Dad started it and us kids have really been involved with it and our kids are involved with it so it's multi-generational. Fans come from all different cities to come to our tailgate. Just a lot of camaraderie."

The tailgates are their pride and joy throughout the season, but with Cat-Griz they pair up with fans from all over the state to create a big party in both Bozeman or Missoula, including one specific tradition that started in 2012 with a flag that is given to the victors with each season's outcome embroidered on the flag. "Rockin' Cat-Griz" is displayed on the flag as well which is what the tailgate has been dubbed by friends.

"The tradition there is the winners take the flag home," Greg Salisbury said. "We raise the flag before the game on an engineering survey post so it's like 30 feet in the air and then the ceremony at the end is the winners take it with the losers on their knees and it's bittersweet. It's bitter because the last four years I've been on my knee and before that I got to take it home.

"We're just super proud. To celebrate his 50th is something special. Not many people get 50 in a row, let alone 50 at all, so it just speaks to his dedication."

The No. 50 is a special one to Jim, who celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife Michel in August.

On Saturday, after a two-year wait, that number will finally be checked off his milestone list.

"So looking forward to a good game," Jim said. "I just want to see a win on No. 50."