Patrick Reusse: Want atmosphere at TCF Stadium? It’s your job to bring it

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 18, 2012 - 10:26 PM

 Sure, winning will help make the U facility rock. But so will hordes of Gophers fans who turn out to root hard and party hard -- not kvetch.

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TCF Bank Stadium

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You won't find anyone in the Twin Cities sporting public to say a bad word about Jerry Kill. And you will only find a small percentage in that group willing to pay to watch his football team.

Beyond losing, we are hearing a couple of reasons for the empty rows of seats the Gophers will be facing in their fourth season at TCF Bank Stadium:

One, 27 years in the Metrodome drained the enthusiasm from the student body that was alleged to have flocked to Memorial Stadium in previous generations; and two, there isn't a gameday "atmosphere" surrounding this stadium that you find elsewhere in the Big Ten.

My fellow senior citizens who take the romantic view of what Gophers football was like before the move to the Dome are harkening back to the 1960s, when the Gophers were competing for Rose Bowls.

The reality is that ticket buyers -- including students -- avoided Memorial Stadium with more enthusiasm in its final decade than they did the Metrodome in its final decade.

The Gophers had winning records in the Big Ten in eight of the 10 seasons from 1960 through 1969. They spent another 12 seasons in Memorial Stadium after that and the best team was 1977 -- a 7-4 regular season that included home victories over UCLA, Washington and Michigan.

Attendance that season in the old Brickhouse that was such a magical draw?

The average for seven home games was less than 36,000. This included crowds of 30,600 for Michigan State and 30,742 for Wisconsin, in the two remaining home games after the 16-0 shutout of No. 1-rated Michigan.

How about 2008, the final season in a Metrodome that some claim suffocated Gophers football? Tim Brewster's Gophers started 7-1 before hitting the skids, and they averaged 49,000 for a seven-game home schedule that included Northern Illinois, Montana State, Florida Atlantic, Indiana and Northwestern.

The Metrodome was not the problem in attracting students or the general public to Gophers football. This has been demonstrated by the fact the honeymoon for the shiny on-campus stadium lasted exactly one season with students and full-priced ticket buyers.

The most hilarious excuse we've been offered in this sports market in quite a while is the idea that there isn't a proper atmosphere surrounding the new football yard.

Glen Mason started talking about the need to put football back on campus more than a decade ago. He was in the midst of a decent run from 1999 through 2004 and a few people started listening.

The Legislature approved stadiums for the Twins and the Gophers in 2006, which turned out to be a 6-7 season that got Mason fired. The stadium opened in 2009. There was throwback brick work, a comfortable 50,000 capacity, a beautiful view of the Minneapolis skyline ... dang, it was going to be something special.

And now it's 2012. Brewster the Bull Slinger is long gone, and Country Jer the Straight Shooter is in charge, and if there was only more of a gameday atmosphere around the stadium, the students and rest of us would be flocking to see games with Western Michigan, New Hampshire, Syracuse, Northwestern and Purdue for sure.

Hey, dummies: You create the atmosphere.

You get there early and party hardy, and soon, some corporation will be putting up a mini-blimp over your village of fans, and then the small tents will be bigger tents, and the hooting will turn to hollering, just as it did in Madison in the '90s, and there it is: Atmosphere.

OK, space is limited within walking distance of the stadium. The big brains at the university knew that when they built the place.

Guess what? Space is limited around Camp Randall, too, and the Badgers are trying to get twice as many fans and three times as many students into the stadium.

You can wind up 2 miles away with official parking, and on the entire walk through campus, fans have found places to gather.

Go to Madison. Go to South Bend. Heck, show a little support for Penn State's classy new coach, Bill O'Brien, and go to State College.

It's hard work getting to all of them. Traffic's a mess. Parking costs. Tailgating takes creativity. But the students and the rest of the fans show up there -- they show up all over the country -- and they create the atmosphere.

You got your new stadium. You got a coach you like. Stop making ridiculous excuses. Get up early, meet your friends, slurp down a couple of beers and a brat, go inside and watch the Killsters kick the stuffing out of Western Michigan.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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