The Gophers football team’s 37-15 victory at Wisconsin on Saturday has all the makings of a program-defining win. At the very least, it changed the narrative of what P.J. Fleck is building.
Lose the game and the Gophers would have had an identical record to Fleck’s first year at 5-7. That would have meant no bowl game and more grumbles about what exactly he’s building here.
It’s funny how a leave-no-doubt victory over a big brother-esque rival can make everyone feel better about things. The win puts a punctuation mark on tangible improvement on multiple levels.
But Saturday wasn’t just about construction. It was also about catharsis. The Gophers hadn’t defeated the Badgers since 2003, and lest you think 15 years isn’t really all that long …
Glen Mason was in the midst of his seventh (and most successful) season coaching the Gophers when they beat Wisconsin 37-34 in 2003, the last Gophers victory in the series before Saturday. They wound up winning 10 games that season, and Mason coached three more years after that.
Four seasons of Tim Brewster followed (including a midseason firing after the Gophers had already lost to Wisconsin and Jeff Horton took over as interim coach) … and then Jerry Kill … and then Tracy Claeys. Entire coaching regimes didn’t get done what Fleck and his team did Saturday. Some of Fleck’s youngest players weren’t even in kindergarten the last time the Gophers took the Axe.
We were in the midst of what can be thought of as a golden age (or at least a silver age) of Minnesota sports back then. It was Mason’s best season. The Wolves were on the way to the Western Conference finals. The Wild had made an appearance in those conference finals only months earlier. The Twins had just won their second consecutive division title.
Nobody tweeted about the Gophers’ last victory over the Badgers because Twitter wasn’t created yet. That wouldn’t happen until 2006. If you were excited in 2003 about the win, you might have texted or called a friend via a flip phone — iPhones didn’t arrive until 2007 — or logged on to leave a comment on a message board using dial-up internet.
If you didn’t brag about Saturday’s game on social media, did it even happen? (OK, it did.) But 15 years is a long span. Times have definitely changed — and we’ll see if this victory can be a catalyst for change within the Gophers program as well.
• Speaking of defining victories, the Wild’s stirring comeback win Friday over Winnipeg was a head-turner. You never want to make too much out of one game on an 82-game schedule, but there’s a sense that this year’s squad might have more to offer in the postseason than other recent versions of the Wild.
April should bring answers. Maybe we can just fast-forward through all the snow, cold and 3-2 weeknight games to find out sooner?
• The Wolves are 9-11 this season, and they’ve now played exactly 10 games with Jimmy Butler in the lineup and 10 games without him. They’re 6-4 playing without him (including 5-2 since the trade) after going 3-7 when he played. The schedule has something to do with that, but so does addition by subtraction.
• Let’s take a moment, also, to note that Minnesota wouldn’t be pointing toward .500 without Derrick Rose. He scored a combined 47 points in back-to-back victories Friday and Saturday over the Nets and Bulls. He also gives a professional, steady effort every game — something that still can’t be said for all his teammates.
• Robert Covington (1-for-18) and Andrew Wiggins (0-for-12) combined to shoot 1-for-30 as starting wings for the Wolves on Saturday, and they still won by 15. Part of the reason? Covington played stifling defense, grabbed six rebounds, blocked three shots and nabbed three steals.
Wiggins, however, was not only held scoreless but grabbed only one rebound with one assist, no steals and no blocks in his 29 minutes.