Tim Brewster was in his second year as Gophers football coach in 2008. His first was a 1-11 flop that did not deter Coach Brew and his aggressive staff from recruiting a group rated in the top 20 nationally.
The kickoff of Year 2 was on Aug. 30 against Northern Illinois in the Metrodome. The visiting Huskies had a new coach in Jerry Kill, hired after a successful Division I-AA run at Southern Illinois.
There were 35 seconds left and the Gophers trailed 27-24. It was fourth-and-1 at the NIU 3. Brewster ordered his offense to go for it, as the announced crowd of 44,059 cheered in approval.
Duane Bennett made the first down. And then he barged for a touchdown to give the Gophers a 31-27 victory.
"I wanted the kids to win the game," said Brewster, explaining the decision to go on fourth down rather than take a chance in overtime.
Brewster had a cupcake nonconference schedule that was mostly inherited from Glen Mason. The Gophers followed the NIU escape with victories at Bowling Green (42-17) and in the Dome vs. Montana State (35-23) and Florida Atlantic (37-3).
Selected media critics had decided early that Brewster was full of beans. These grumps looked at the 4-0 record and said: "Wait until Brew takes his team to Ohio State and loses by 50."
The score was Buckeyes 34, Gophers 21 in the Big Ten opener in Columbus. The critics' reaction was, "Hmmm."
Brewster came back with his first conference victory, 16-7 over Indiana, and took the Gophers to Illinois. A year earlier, it was 44-17 for Illinois in the Dome, and the critics expected more of the same.
Coach Brew had a motivational trick up his sleeve, though. He told his team and the public of the disrespect the Gophers had received by being selected as Illinois' homecoming opponent.
Final: Minnesota 27, Illinois 20.
"We've got kind of a philosophy: 'Why not us? Why not now?' " Brewster said. "The state of Minnesota stands proud this afternoon. The Minnesota Gophers had a program-changing victory today, on the road, against a very good football team, in an extremely hostile environment."
The celebration back home by staunch Gophers fans was equally exuberant. Fan sites such as gopherhole.com were filled with praise for Brewster -- and claims that this validated the decision to drop Mason and bring in a coach with a vision for the program that stretched to Pasadena, Calif.
A week later, the Gophers put together a dominant defensive effort to win at Purdue 17-6, improving to 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten. Sid Hartman, the venerable columnist, could not resist in the next day's Star Tribune:
"... After the Gophers beat Purdue 17-6 on Saturday for their first victory in West Lafayette since 1990, Brewster's tough critics should start to forget about what they said last year.
"The Gophers close the season with three of their final four games at the Metrodome, and the only road game at Wisconsin, which began conference play 0-4 before beating Illinois on Saturday."
And those critics? We whimpered modest praise for Brewster, before going to a corner, covering our heads and taking the punches.
The emboldened zealots and the nervous critics did have mutual approval on this when it came to Brewster:
The new on-campus stadium would open in 2009, and Coach Brew pledged to reward the ticket buyers with occasional nonconference games against prestigious BCS opponents.
There would be a two-game series with Southern Cal, starting in 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium, with similar series planned against Brigham Young, North Carolina and Texas. North Carolina was the chump on that list, but Brewster had been an assistant there and allegedly was the main recruiter of Julius Peppers, so it made sense.
Yes, on the morning of Oct. 26, 2008, as the zealots celebrated and the critics cowered, there were hints two-thirds of the way through his second season that Coach Brew was the man to lead the Gophers from their endless wilderness all the way to the splendor of the Arroyo Seco on a sun-splashed New Year's Day.
Four years later, the lone remaining item from Brewster's best moments was the two-game series with North Carolina, and now halfway through Jerry Kill's second season here, that's gone, too -- bought out for $800,000 at the behest of a coach who wants nonconference schedules that would make Glen Mason blush.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. firstname.lastname@example.org