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Ears Up beer leads to rival fans friendship before Griz play Jackrabbits for FCS title

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Posted at 9:02 PM, Jan 06, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-07 01:25:49-05

It’s Montana versus South Dakota State on Sunday.

The excitement of college football brings out the passion, rivalries and sometimes celebrations with beer.

That has led to a new friendship between two opposing fans before the FCS Championship game between the University of Montana and South Dakota State University.

Two fans one for the Griz, one for the Jackrabbits, plan on meeting in Frisco, Texas before the game.

They didn't know each other until just recently when they met because of a special beer.

Football and beer both have a way of bringing people together.

"You never know, you might make a connection with somebody down the road, become lifelong friends" said Tad Brenden, a Griz fan.

Brenden of Billings and Brett VanGilder of Helena now know that firsthand.

"Or maybe you'll never see him again but it doesn't hurt to be nice to him," Brenden said.

For these two rivals, their perhaps unexpected friendship all began with Fernson Brewing Company in Sioux Falls and a beer called “Ears Up.”

"It's just the ears up because you know your jackrabbits, its ears up,” VanGilder said holding up two fingers. “And you know that other team from North Dakota that we don't like to talk about, we also include horns down."

VanGilder had run low on his supply of the school's beer, with his team playing in the postseason.

"It's the official beer of the Jackrabbits," VanGilder said. “The checkerboard on the bottom of it means something because that's how our end zones are painted.”

He knew he had to have it.

So hopping on to Facebook, VanGilder notice that Brenden was headed to Sioux Falls, so he reached out.

"He said it sounds kind of crazy,” Brenden said about the message he received from VanGilder. “I'm an SDSU Alum and former football player. He said I see you travel back and forth to the Midwest. He says can you do me a favor? Can you pick me up some beer? And when I first got the message request because, we weren't friends, I was like who is this guy and what did you want?"

After looking at posts on FCS Fans Nation, Brenden figured VanGilder was alright, picked up the beer and brought it to Billings.

He offered to drop off the beer on his way to a second round Griz playoff night game in Missoula.

But VanGilder knew the beer would not arrive in time for him to watch the Jackrabbits' second round game in the afternoon.

 So he left Helena at 3 a.m. to head to Billings.

"Got him the beer, hung out for a little bit,” Brenden said. “And he took off and made sure he got home in time to get to kickoff for his game."

VanGilder isn't just a fan. He's a former player, a wide receiver who wore number 27 from 1990 to 1992.

John Stiegelmeier retired as head coach after South Dakota State won the title last season and was an assistant coach when VanGilder was on the team.

"He was the one that recruited me so I've had some really close ties with him," VanGilder said. "Coach Stiegelmeyer didn't ever forget anyone. He remembered me the first time I came back to South Dakota 20 years after I'd played."

As a plahyer and a fan, VanGilder knows rivalries also come with mutual respect.

And in this case, a surprise friendship with a Griz fan that he never knew until now.

"We're both passionate fans for our respective teams,” VanGilder said. “And I think that's where that respect and that mutuality comes from, is that we understand."

"It's just fun to meet other passionate fans," Brenden said.