Gophers football will always have its acolytes, those who believe in the current coach whether his name is Wacker, Brewster or Fleck.
Until the program breaks through with a major bowl appearance, Gophers football will always have skeptics and even cynics, those who saw even good coaches bump their heads against a glass ceiling adorned with rose thorns.
For those of us who require evidence to be persuaded of impending greatness, it’s hard to get excited about a program that, no matter how many patsies it schedules, has won 10 games once since 1905 — in 2003, when Glen Mason reached an unsustainable peak.
If you’re not a true believer, why should you watch Gophers football, which begins another season amid lukewarm interest on Thursday night?
The answer to that question may be embedded in what for most of the country was a minor bit of NFL news this week — the retirement of veteran wide receiver Eric Decker.
Decker starred at the University of Minnesota, then with the Denver Broncos. He turned spectacular seasons with the Broncos into a big contract with the Jets, then signed with Tennessee. He was in camp with the New England Patriots when he announced his retirement on his Instagram page this week.
Even in retirement, and even nine years after he left campus, Decker matters to his alma mater for a couple of important reasons.
Decker is proof that a Minnesota kid unheralded by national recruiting services can stay in Minnesota and use the Gophers program as a trampoline to the big time.
His career also provides a reminder that for a few talented players, the risks of football may prove worthwhile.
Matt Birk, among others, has argued that sport’s risks are offset by the values that it teaches. Teamwork. Toughness.
Dr. Uzma Samadani, the renowned neurosurgeon from Minneapolis, agrees, and has encouraged her son to play football because she believes the risks of a sedentary lifestyle are dire.
For the record: I’m not sure I agree. The risks of brain damage and disease linked to brain trauma make me feel guilty for even watching football players take hits to the head. But this is an opportunity to explore dissenting views, and those like Birk and Samadani could offer Decker as Example A of the benefits of tackle football.
Football helped Decker earn a scholarship. Had he not excelled as a player, he still would have received a free education and the experience of playing major college football, and there probably aren’t many life experiences like lining up in a packed stadium on a fall afternoon.
Football made Decker rich. He earned roughly $30 million as an NFL player. Not bad for a three-sport athlete from Cold Spring Rocori.
Football made Decker a celebrity.
I’m guessing most three-sport athletes from Cold Spring don’t wind up married to recording and reality TV stars, like Jessie James. At 31, Decker has starred in three seasons of “Eric & Jessie: Game On.’’
He may find a use for the business and marketing degree he earned at Minnesota ... or he and his wife may just buy an island or two and sail off into reality-TV-worthy sunset.
The Gophers’ record during Decker’s four-year career was 20-31. He did not play on a team that won a bowl game. He spent three seasons playing for Tim Brewster. He was injured during his senior season.
As is the case with most Gophers football players, things could have gone better for him.
Should his college career be considered wanting? Hardly. He was a brilliant and tough college receiver. Regardless of the score of any given game, he was a thrill to watch.
Starting at Minnesota, Eric Decker used football to build a remarkable life.
A cynic could compare him to a lottery winner and caution others from drawing conclusions from another’s good fortune, except that he succeeded in a meritocracy, albeit a lucrative one.
Was football worth the risks for Decker?
What do you think?
Jim Souhan’s podcasts can be found at TalkNorth.com.