In lieu of an organized Commenter Of the Week this week, we just went ahead and commissioned a guest post from Marthaler about the first game at TCF Bank Stadium. We think he would be honored to have his post share space with that picture you see, sent to Patrick Reusse by a reader named Denny (not Green nor Hecker) along with a rather unflattering commentary about his writing abilities, and then forwarded to us by Reusse. The print might be a little small from here, but it is said to be portable toilets near the stadium Saturday that have signs that say "Pat Reusse Memorial" on them. When reached for comment, Reusse said, "The only thing that offends me is the 'memorial' part. That's just wishful thinking on the part of Gophers fans."
Ah, it's good to have football back on campus. Jon?
You might be an experienced Gopher fan, like me. You might have spent years going to the Metrodome on Saturdays. You might have been to the Barn for big basketball nights, might have climbed the steps at Mariucci for #1 vs. #2 hockey battles, might have seen everything maroon and gold there was to see. And if you were not at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday evening, you have no idea, because it was entirely different than what you've seen before.
For fans in other Big Ten and college football cities, I'm sure the whole experience is old hat by now. But to see it all on a place as homey and familiar as the Minnesota campus, it was enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck over and over, all evening. Hundreds of maroon-and-gold-clad students piled into - and atop - a party house on 15th Avenue. Swarms of similarly-outfitted Gopher fans rushing down University Avenue to see the team walk into the stadium. Campus alive with college spirit, from old alumni trudging slowly down Fourth Street, to scores of fans tailgating away on campus for the first time in three decades, to dads far and wide playing quarterback with maroon mini-footballs, hitting scurrying, beaming kids in stride on fly patterns and post routes in parking lots and ramps all over the East Bank.
By the time the band had come flying onto the field for the very first time, by the time the Air Force F-16s had roared overhead as the Gophers rushed out of the tunnel, by the time the scoreboard showed Murray Warmath waving happily and Bud Grant weeping at the enormity of the long-awaited, long-desired return to campus of Golden Gopher football, forget goosebumps, plural. Try goosebump, singular, one large. Troy Stoudemire's opening kickoff return to midfield nearly lifted the stadium off of the foundations. You could have forgiven the ten thousand students in the east end zone for rushing the field to tear down the goalpost.
Of course, after all of that, there had to be a football game, and for three quarters it looked like it might be the one part of the evening that didn't live up to the hype. Air Force executed its decades-old offense, piling forward for five yards a play, fullback Tew banging between the tackles or quarterback Jefferson dashing around end, keeping the ball himself or pitching to a wingback. The Gophers, meanwhile, couldn't quite get unstuck on offense. When Jefferson, having successfully lulled the Minnesota defense to sleep with run after run, faded back to hit a lonely wideout for the stadium's first touchdown, it was 10-3 to the Falcons with less than twenty minutes to play.
I said things were entirely different. The whole night represented an incredible paradigm shift; it's almost impossible how much the move back to campus immediately changed the culture, the entire feeling of Gopher football. Given this, it's hardly surprising that the shift seemed to be transmitted to both players and fans. In the past, both might have slumped their shoulders. This time, just over four minutes later, Gopher tailback DeLeon Eskridge banged his way into the end zone to tie the score, the crowd threw its collective hands to the sky, and the roars cascaded down from the upper tiers. Four Air Force plays later, Jefferson again rushed around right end, losing the football along the way. The ball bounced sweetly - entirely different, no? - right to Nate Triplett, who turned to the west end zone with no other Falcon in sight.
It ignores much of the fourth quarter, but that'll be my memory of the Gophers' win over Air Force, of the first night back on campus in TCF Bank Stadium: Nate Triplett, all alone, sprinting towards a thousand joyous Gopher fans, towards Williams Arena, towards the Minneapolis skyline. I've been a part of many things, but nothing even remotely approaching that. It's all different now. It's all goosebumps. It's all wonderful.