Patrick Reusse from Oct. 10, 2003: For a while, we actually believed

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 2, 2013 - 8:50 PM

The following is Patrick Reusse's account from the Metrodome press box after the Gophers lost to Michigan on Oct. 10, 2003:

It was a Friday night and there was nothing else significant taking place in college football. The Gophers were the toast of that world for three quarters.

Certainly, the folks on ESPN had to be throwing constant praise in the direction of the Gophers' amazing running game - led by the amazing Marion Barber III.

This second-generation Gophers star was so sensational that you figured, come Monday, he would start appearing on those Heisman Trophy watch lists that have become so popular.

There were also generous observations to be aimed at the Gophers' defense. These hard-hitting fellows had held Michigan scoreless in the first half.

Michigan? Scoreless against Minnesota? It had to be a cruel joke.

It was . . . the cruelest for those 20,000 longtime Gophers loyalists who were joined by 40,000 front-runners at the Metrodome.

The Gophers were leading 28-7 entering the fourth quarter. They had not scored as many as 28 points against a Michigan team since 1937.

This was a romp. This was a celebration.

This was the national showcase event that could vault the Gophers into the top 10. This was the victory that would start serious Rose Bowl conversation in these parts for the first time in four decades.

The students and the other young folks in the yellow T-shirts were in the Dome just having a good time. The rest of us – the older generations - could not believe what we were watching. The Gophers having their way against Michigan . . . what could be next? Rush Limbaugh asking for forgiveness?

The Gophers last had a piece of a Big Ten title in 1967. Since then, Michigan was 31-2 against their Little Brown Jug rivals. The Gophers beat Michigan once in '70s (1977), once in the '80s (1986) and then skipped the '90s.

The losing streak was 14. The Gophers rarely beat Michigan, and never pummeled it. But there it was:

Gophers 28, Wolverines 7, and "That's the end of the third quarter!"

This was the most impressive football game the Gophers had played since . . . well, the guess here is that Bobby Bell was on the field at the time.

Michigan was so helpless in trying to stop the Barber-fueled offense that even we old-timers could not see anything traumatic coming around the corner.

Which means all baby boomers who were in attendance should be asking ourselves a question this morning: How could we be so naive?

We have been watching this for 35 years. We know that more often than not the Gophers are going to be buried in the Big Ten's second division. Even more clearly, we know when the Gophers do escape to the first division and an opportunity to fully turn around the program is being served up on a tee, the Gophers are going to slice it into oblivion.

Wolverines 38, Gophers 35.

I'm not sure I should believe my lyin' eyes.

Yes, Michigan came back to within 28-21 in that fourth quarter, when Asad Abdul-Khaliq threw the most ill-advised aerial since the forward pass was legalized early in the last century.

The flip went to Michigan's Jacob Stewart, and he cruised intothe end zone, accompanied by 60,000 groans.

But so what? Abdul-Khaliq came back to prove he is an athlete capable of reaching inside for a new rush of composure. On third-and-a-foot near midfield, he paused an instant, stepped through a gap in Michigan's compacted defense and went 52 yards for a touchdown to make it 35-21.
There were 11 minutes left. The quarterback had rallied, and now his team was back in charge.

It was a night when the magnificent Barber had 198 yards on 21 carries, and the Gophers totaled 424 yards on the ground.

You can't rush for 424 yards and lose . . . can't happen.

Unless it's the Gophers playing Michigan. Unless it's the Gophers with a giant opportunity staring at them through their facemasks.

"This isn't a one-shot thing," a fully drained Mason said later. "Our kids have had a lot of setbacks in their careers."

Never one like this. Never one where 53 carries for 8.0 yards a pop turned into a 38-35 loss.

If Mason's kids come back from this one and get themselves into a New Year's Day bowl, both the coach and the athletes will deserve more cheers than they heard for three quarters Friday.

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