The Gophers have played in 15 bowl games. The first two were Rose Bowls and captured the soul of this state as thoroughly as did any trip to a World Series, a Super Bowl, a Stanley Cup Finals or a Final Four.
There was the first one on Jan. 2, 1961, when our national champions were upset 17-7 by Washington, and the game on Jan. 1, 1962, where that disappointment was put aside with a 21-3 victory over UCLA.
The third bowl game came in 1977: a 17-7 loss to Maryland in the first Hall of Fame Classic in Birmingham, Ala., which put the number of bowls for major colleges at 13.
That number is now 35. Here is how the other dozen games (4-8) rate in this time of wild-eyed bowl proliferation, based on opposition, performance and intrigue for the Gophers.
1-2002 Music City Bowl (Nashville): Gophers 29, Arkansas 14.
Arkansas went on a six-game winning streak to win the SEC West. The Razorbacks were thumped by Georgia in the title game. They showed little fight as 8½-point favorites. The Gophers held the ball for 38 minutes, had a 434-288 advantage in yards and got five field goals from Dan Nystrom.
2-2003 Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas): Gophers 31, Oregon 30.
Rhys Lloyd kicked a 42-yard field goal with 23 seconds left for the winning points. The Gophers rushed for 241 yards, 131 from Laurence Maroney on 15 carries. Quarterback Kellen Clemens went 32-for-43 for the Ducks, with the game’s MVP, Sami Parker, catching 16 passes for 200 yards.
The Gophers finished 10-3 and rated No. 20 by the Associated Press and No. 17 by the coaches.
3-1985 Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.): Gophers 20, Clemson 13.
It was a cold night with a small crowd, but the significance of the victory was that it came three weeks after Lou Holtz had left for Notre Dame. Minnesota named defensive coordinator John Gutekunst as Holtz’s replacement. Being 1-0 and giving the Gophers a bowl victory for the first time in 24 seasons was helpful to Gutey’s cause.
4-2004 Music City Bowl: Gophers 20, Alabama 16.
OK, it was a victory in the only game Minnesota ever has played against Alabama, but it was against a Tide team coming off two years of probation and a 6-5 season. The Gophers won a third consecutive bowl game, getting 187 yards rushing from Marion Barber III.
5-2006 Insight Bowl (Phoenix): Texas Tech 44, Gophers 41 (OT).
The Gophers blew a 31-point lead, the largest in the history of bowl games, but look at it this way: Minnesota had a 38-7 lead midway in the third quarter against a team on which Danny Amendola was the No. 4 receiver.
Tech’s Alex Trlica made a 52-yard field goal to force overtime, the Raiders won it on Shannon Woods’ 3-yard rush and the Gophers fired coach Glen Mason.
6-1999 Sun Bowl: Oregon 24, Gophers 20.
This was Mason’s first bowl game and it was a battle that finally went to Oregon when Joey Harrington threw a 10-yard scoring pass to Keenan Howry with 1:32 left. The Gophers (8-4) finished 18th in the final Associated Press poll.