An open letter to Coach Jerry Kill and other Gopher football coaches:

As an aging professor at the University of Minnesota, I feel a little foolish in writing this to you on the day of a big game. But please know that all I want for Christmas this year is for the football Gophers to beat those Wisconsin Badgers. Really!

For starters, I have a son who is a University of Wisconsin graduate and who reminds me year-round of the current status of the Gopher-Badger football series. Much as I love him, he is almost impossible to live with some days. It is just wrong that at his young age he has been to two Rose Bowls with his beloved Badgers, while after 38 years as a faithful Gophers fan I’m still waiting to reserve that New Year’s Eve hotel room in Pasadena.

It gets worse. He recently sent out a blast e-mail announcing where he and 17 other Badger fanatics would be sitting in TCF Bank Stadium today, wearing their red and white; where the tailgating “pregame victory” party would be held — and, adding insult to injury, a detailed review of each of the Badgers’ football wins against the Gophers since 2004.

He even related how he had to sit through the last Gophers win over the Badgers at the Dome in 2003 with his dad — but that he didn’t hold it against me.

Unfortunately, my son is just one of the many impossible Badger fans we Minnesotans have to deal with.

I realize I have been very un-Minnesotan in exposing my feelings this way and asking you for such a big favor. So let me add this: Coach Kill, you and your fellow coaches have made many of us in Minnesota and even around the country so very proud these past weeks. And that won’t change if we lose to those insufferable Badgers and even the Michigan State Spartans.

To all the coaches: The way you have handled Coach Kill’s health issue is a model for how loyal and dedicated colleagues should act in the workplace. You picked up the extra load, kept your noses to the grindstone, didn’t miss a beat, and taught all a lesson in what it means to be a class act. I don’t know of many courses at any institution of higher learning in this country that could teach a more important life lesson to our students.

As a professor on the Twin Cities campus and as a friend of parents of your players, I know firsthand how you have made Job One for your players to be outstanding men, sons, brothers, friends and citizens before they ever step on the football field. Thank you for never setting a spectacular touchdown pass or catch above accountability for living one’s life with responsibility. Academics do matter at our university, and the improvement in the players’ performance is simply remarkable. I would not want to be on the wrong end of skipping a player’s study hall if I had you looking for me.

And despite our student body’s longstanding reputation for not supporting Gophers football, it’s changing. Seats at TCF are filling in more each season and even each game. It is a badge of honor to be wearing a maroon-and-gold shirt proudly stating you are “one of Jerry’s kids.”

Maybe most of all, I want to thank you for making it possible for players and fans alike to believe in something special that occurs when a team is more than just a few standout celebrities and a lot of public relations. Watching your players describe in the media what it’s like to play for you reminds us all of what real leadership is all about. I think this team would walk through fire for you — a second time if needed. That kind of respect and loyalty doesn’t happen by chance. You’ve earned it.

Minnesotans know that you have the “train back on the tracks” and are building more steam with each year you have been here. We are all looking forward to where that momentum will take Minnesota Gophers football in the years ahead. “Thank you” seems inadequate to express our gratitude.

So, I meant it when I said we’d still be there for you if we don’t beat the Badgers. But remember, I still have to live with my son. And I would really appreciate anything you could do to make that even more enjoyable.


Michael Osterholm is a professor in the School of Public Health and Medical School at the University of Minnesota.