MISSOULA — There was excitement about the potential of the 2020 Montana football team after the Griz were eliminated from the 2019 FCS playoff quarterfinals.
A global pandemic was nowhere on the radar after that loss to Weber State on Dec. 13, 2019, in Ogden, Utah. However, the world came to a halt in March, upending many things, including the momentum coach Bobby Hauck had built going into this third season of his second stint at Montana.
The Griz will return to the football field for their first game in 485 days this Saturday when they host Central Washington.
"I really admire this group for their attitude and going through kind of a hard period and coming out here and playing hard every day and being motivated to do that. I really admire them for that. I think that’s tremendously positive," Hauck said during spring camp.
He later added: "It’s such a weird deal. It’s uncharted. So, just watching how individuals as well as the group responded, I think having a good attitude through a fairly trying time, at least from an athletics standpoint, it’s been good. The attitude has been tremendous. I couldn’t ask for any more out of this group. I really couldn’t expect more, and I couldn’t ask more."
Here are 37 things that have happened in the longest of offseasons:
Dec. 18, 2019: Montana navigates its first playoff run in four years to sign its 2020 recruiting class, a group that the NCAA will still consider true freshmen in fall 2021.
Dec. 21, 2019: Montana State loses to North Dakota State in its first FCS playoff semifinals appearance since 1984.
Jan. 11, 2020: North Dakota State, led by quarterback Trey Lance, wins its eighth FCS national championship in nine years by beating James Madison, although Lance later declares early for the 2021 NFL Draft.
March 2, 2020: Montana hires Bryce Erickson as its tight ends coach to replace Jace Schillinger, the first change to Hauck's staff since he returned to the Griz, who would later have to replace cornerbacks coach C.J. Cox this spring.
March 12, 2020: The Big Sky Conference calls off the league basketball tournament in Boise, Idaho, because of the pandemic, starting an unthinkable run of canceled sports in the Big Sky.
March 18, 2020: The Big Sky cancels spring competition six days after suspending spring sports, and with athletes sent home, Griz football players do makeshift workouts like pushing and pulling cars.
April 1, 2020: Montana Lady Griz coach Shannon Schweyen doesn’t have her contract renewed after four underwhelming seasons and gets replaced by assistant coach Mike Petrino on an interim basis while her husband, Brian Schweyen, later steps down as UM’s track and field coach.
April 25, 2020: Montana record-breaking linebacker Dante Olson goes undrafted and signs a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles but never plays in the NFL, and he eventually lands in the CFL, as do former Grizzlies Jerry Louie-McGee and Dalton Sneed.
June 1, 2020: The Griz football team returns to campus for the first time since March for voluntary workouts.
June 17, 2020: Big Sky offensive MVP Kevin Thomson transfers to Washington for his seventh season of college eligibility, but he ends up not starting at quarterback and later decides to skip an eighth year in fall 2021.
Aug. 7, 2020: The Big Sky postpones the fall football season to the spring, pushing the percent of FCS team opting out to over 50%, meaning the NCAA automatically didn’t sponsor a national championship in the fall.
Aug. 21, 2020: The NCAA gives all fall sports athletes an extra year of eligibility through a blanket waiver because of the pandemic, creating recruiting and roster management issues.
Aug. 29, 2020: FCS teams Austin Peay and Central Arkansas play the first college football game at any level during the pandemic.
Sept. 9, 2020: Montana schedules a home-and-home series with Indiana State in 2022 and 2025, and UM later adds a single game against Northwestern State to complete its 2022 non-conference schedule.
Sept. 12, 2020: Montana’s Champions Center is shut down for four days as a precautionary measure because athletes "in a variety of sports" were put in isolation and quarantine.
Oct. 7, 2020: The Griz start fall football practice, getting 15 of them because the NCAA allows teams planning to play in the spring a chance to get in practice time.
Oct. 15, 2020: Sacramento State becomes the first Big Sky team to opt out of the conference’s spring football season.
Nov. 4, 2020: The Big Sky announces its spring football schedule, with 12 teams playing six games apiece.
Dec. 4, 2020: UM strength coach Matt Nicholson leaves for the same position at Illinois State after he came to Montana with former coach Bob Stitt in 2015.
Dec. 7, 2020: UM holds its first on-campus sports game since March 7, 2020, when the Lady Griz basketball team hosts and beats North Dakota.
Dec. 16, 2020: Montana navigates the pandemic to sign its 2021 recruiting class, the same day that Montana’s 1995 national championship team celebrates its 25-year anniversary of the school’s first FCS title.
Jan. 7, 2021: UM hires grad Dan Ryan as the football strength coach by plucking him away from Big Sky Conference foe Idaho State.
Jan. 11, 2021: Montana All-American wide receiver Samori Toure grad transfers to Nebraska to play his final season in the Big Ten this coming fall.
Jan. 14, 2021: Southern Utah accepts an invite to join the WAC starting with the 2022 fall season, dropping the Big Sky down to 12 football-playing schools.
Jan. 15, 2021: Montana, Montana State and Portland State opt out of the conference’s spring football season, and Northern Colorado makes it five of 13 not playing six days later.
Jan. 22, 2021: Montana State coach Jeff Choate flirts with Boise State before bolting Bozeman for Texas to be a linebackers coach at the FBS level after going 4-0 against rival Montana.
Feb. 5, 2021: The Griz schedule their first spring football game, against Central Washington, a team they were supposed to play in the fall 2020, and they later add a second spring game against Big Sky foe Portland State.
Feb. 13, 2021: The FCS spring football season begins with a double OT game between McNeese and Tarleton State.
Feb. 17, 2021: The Big Sky approves moving the 2020 fall football schedule, which didn't get played, to the fall of 2021, meaning the 120th Brawl of the Wild will be in Missoula in November 2021.
Feb. 27, 2021: The Big Sky starts its spring football games with only eight of 13 teams playing, the same day that North Dakota State has its FCS-record 39-game win streak snapped with a loss to Southern Illinois.
March 8, 2021: The Big Sky basketball tournament begins nearly a year to the day after it was canceled, with the Eastern Washington men and Idaho State women winning the tourney crowns but both falling in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
March 12, 2021: The Griz football team begins spring camp with a stretch of 21 practices and two games over a 37-day stretch.
March 18, 2021: UM holds its first on-campus game with fans, other than just family members, since March 2020 when Griz softball drops a doubleheader against Seattle.
March 21, 2021: Illinois State becomes the first FCS to opt out of spring football midway through the season and is soon after joined by Cal Poly, Albany and Western Illinois.
March 29, 2021: Former Montana men’s basketball player and coach Wayne Tinkle has his surprising run in the NCAA tournament come to an end as Oregon State loses in the Elite Eight to Houston, which is led by former Montana Tech coach Kelvin Sampson.
April 5, 2021: The Texas Rangers host the first US sporting event since the pandemic began with a full-capacity crowd, which Montana is intending to do for Griz football games this fall after going with about 20% capacity this spring.
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at email@example.com.