BILLINGS — The road to the FCS semifinals has been smooth and stable for Montana State. After a first-round bye, the fourth-ranked Bobcats settled in the second round against Weber State, defeating William & Mary in the quarterfinals last Friday.
But it was far from painless for MSU gear truck driver Tom Reiner, who has encountered snowstorms, road closures and detours over the past two days as he delivers the Bobcats’ football gear for a highly anticipated and momentous trip upstate South Dakota transported playoff game in Brookings, SD
Without jerseys, pads, helmets, trainer headphones, food supplies and everything else, it’s quite difficult to play football. Reiner has that in tow and he has to make sure that everything survives the 800-mile stay without hiccups.
Reiner’s job is essential, no matter the conditions. There is no turning back.
“The roads, the weather, it was pretty… not great,” Reiner told MTN Sports on Thursday during a 30-minute break in Huron, SD. “I drove through so many snowdrifts. I had snow coming over the hood of the truck. It was pretty hairy; I had about 30 feet of visibility and you drive a 65 foot truck. They want a little bit more than that.”
Reiner is destined for Sioux Falls, where the team will stay 60 miles north in Brookings on Friday night before the game. His route was cumbersome to say the least.
He left Bozeman at around 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday. Interstate 90 was passable but was later found to have been closed from Rapid City to Mitchell, SD, and in Wyoming from Sheridan to Buffalo.
Impromptu, Reiner took I-94 to Miles City and then Hwy 12 through Plevna and Baker — “God’s country,” he said — and to Bowman, ND, where he rested Wednesday night.
“I didn’t see a car from Miles City to Bowman, so that was good,” he said. “I took my 10 hours off that you have to take and left at 6:30 (Thursday) in the morning. As the sun rose, visibility improved a little. And then when they closed the roads in North and South Dakota, I kept taking different paths.”
He drove east along the 12 to Mobridge and Ipswich on Thursday in South Dakota and matriculated south on Highway 45 to Miller and then east on the 14 to Huron, encountering a lot of nothing along the way. Reiner said his plan is to head south on I-37 to Mitchell from there, where he’ll pick up I-90 and hopefully pull into Sioux Falls unencumbered by Friday morning at the latest.
Valuable cargo aside, Reiner has remained unfazed by the danger of his journey.
“I drove through every imaginable weather,” he said. “It’s not the worst by a long shot. The difference here is that I drive a fairly large truck and there is very little weight on it. And when you’re in a big old light-weight truck at 45 to 50 mph crosswinds, it just blows all over the street. I’ve never been super anxious. I was really stressed out the whole time, but you speed up, you slow down, when the weather gets better you drive faster and when the roads get bad you slow down.”
The first time Reiner rode Montana State’s football gear was for the national championship game last January in Frisco, Texas. He has driven for every road trip this season. Nonetheless, it takes an entire village to successfully complete a journey, and Reiner thanked Morgan Gates, the Bobcats’ director of equipment operations, for her efforts in keeping the show running.
Reiner acknowledged that the job can be thankless in public and its importance is often overlooked from the outside. But there is also a certain pride in being part of a program that is in the running to win a national championship.
“Bobcat Saturdays are one of my favorite things to do,” he said. “My wife and I are season ticket holders and have been for many years. We just enjoy it. And when that opportunity came up, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
“It’s a well-established team. These kids are amazing at what they do. I am very impressed with each and every one of them.”
If all goes well, Reiner could be on his way back to Frisco in a few weeks, transporting MSU’s soccer gear to another national championship game.
Regardless of the conditions. There is no turning back.