BILLINGS — The road to the FCS semifinals has been smooth and steady for Montana State. Following a first-round bye, the fourth-seeded Bobcats took care of business against Weber State in the second round and shellacked William & Mary in the quarterfinals last Friday.
But it’s been anything but painless for MSU equipment truck driver Tom Reiner, who has encountered blizzards, road closures and detours over the course of the past two days while hauling the Bobcats’ football gear to South Dakota State for what is a highly anticipated and consequential playoff game in Brookings, S.D.
It’s pretty difficult to play football without uniforms, pads, helmets, coaches’ headphones, nutritional supplies and everything else. That’s what Reiner has in tow, and he has to make sure it all makes the 800-mile sojourn without a hiccup.
Reiner’s job is essential, regardless of the conditions. There is no turning back.
“The roads, the weather, it’s been pretty … not great,” Reiner told MTN Sports on Thursday during a 30-minute rest in Huron, S.D. “I’ve driven through so many snow drifts. I had snow coming over the hood of the truck. It was pretty hairy; I had about 30 feet of visibility and you’re driving a 65-foot truck. You want to have a little more than that.”
Reiner is destined for Sioux Falls, which is where the team will stay Friday night prior to the game 60 miles north in Brookings. His route has been circuitous to say the least.
He started out from Bozeman on Wednesday at about 12:45 p.m. Interstate 90 was passable but he later found out it had been closed from Rapid City to Mitchell, S.D., and shut down in Wyoming from Sheridan to Buffalo.
Reiner improvised, taking I-94 to Miles City and then Highway 12 through Plevna and Baker — “God’s country,” he said — and into Bowman, N.D., 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 hit the road at 6:30 (Thursday) morning. As the sun came up the visibility got a little bit better. And then as they closed roads across North and South Dakota I just kept detouring different ways.”
He drove east in South Dakota along 12 to Mobridge and Ipswich on Thursday and matriculated south on Highway 45 to Miller and then east on 14 to Huron, encountering a whole lot of nothing along the way. Reiner said his plan from there was to head south on 37 to Mitchell, where he will pick up I-90 and, hopefully, cruise into Sioux Falls unencumbered no later than Friday morning.
Precious cargo aside, Reiner has remained unfazed by the peril of his trek.
“I've driven through every kind of weather you could ever think of,” he said. “This is not anywhere near the worst. The difference here is that I'm driving a pretty big truck and there's very little weight on it. And when you're in 45 to 50 mph crosswinds in a big old truck with little weight, it just blows all over the road. I was never super fearful. I was totally stressed out the whole time, but you speed up, you slow down, when the weather gets better you go faster and when roads get worse you go slower.”
The first time Reiner drove 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. Nevertheless, it takes a village to complete a trip successfully, and Reiner gave credit to the Bobcats’ director of equipment operations Morgan Gates for her efforts in keeping the show on the road.
Reiner acknowledged that the job can be thankless in public circles and its importance can often be overlooked from the outside looking in. But there is a pride factor involved in being part of a program that is in the running to win a national championship.
“Bobcat Saturdays are one of my favorite things,” he said. “My wife and I are season ticket holders and have been for years and years. We just enjoy it. And when this opportunity came up I couldn't say yes fast enough.
“This is a well-coached team. These kids are amazing at what they do. I'm very impressed by each and every one of them.”
If all goes well Reiner could be on his way back to Frisco in a few weeks hauling MSU’s football equipment to another national championship game.
Regardless of the conditions. There is no turning back.