The expectation is the Minnesota Gophers will be in a frenzied state when they come out of the tunnel before the kickoff to Saturday night's home football game against Michigan.

Presumably, the Gophers would be worked up anyway, at the opportunity to defeat the Wolverines and maintain the Little Brown Jug in a second consecutive season for the first time since 1963.

The added incentive for leaping and bouncing and helmet-whacking before this kickoff is that Jerry Kill stepped away as the Gophers' coach this week because of ongoing problems with his epilepsy.

The motivation for the players to go forth with extra intensity against the Wolverines will be to give a highly visible sign to everyone — including an ESPN audience — the degree of admiration that the fellows possess for their former coach.

This will be the culmination of an amazing week in Minnesota sports, and we will have covered the full spectrum of motivational angles, from the cheesiest to the rawest emotion that a group of athletes can feel.

That's a reference to the Timberwolves, of course, and Sunday's stunning news that Flip Saunders had died at age 60 from complications of treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Saunders stands with Kevin Garnett as the two most important figures in franchise history. He coached from December 1995 to February 2005, and returned after the 2012-13 season as part owner, president for basketball and, eventually, as coach.

The ongoing tributes to Flip are sincere, and undoubtedly the players wanted Wednesday's victory even more than a team wants an opening night victory in any season. The Wolves received the game of Ricky Rubio's NBA career, came back from 16 points down in the second half and defeated the Lakers 112-111 in Staples Center.

Would it have changed anything if Lou Williams' 4-foot floater had fallen at the buzzer to give the Lakers a one-point victory?

It would have given the media and the public less to write and talk about, but as far as motivation seized and effort expended …


The Wolves gave all the determination they had to offer on that night — as one would hope is the case most every night — and Williams' miss allowed them to sneak out of L.A. at 1-0.

Same deal on Saturday night.

If the Gophers turn it into a battle to the end, and if they escape with the upset when a Wolverine drops a fourth-down pass in the end zone with 20 seconds left, the players will tell us that they won it for Coach Kill, and we will devour those quotes as if they were manna from the football gods.

And if a Wolverine catches that pass, and it turns to heartbreaking defeat, will it mean they should have tried harder to honor Coach Kill?


Once a game starts, I don't know how a Gopher could get himself more fired up than playing to keep the jug — whether it's with Kill on the sideline or watching on TV with his family.

There's a limit, right … you get to 100 percent effort and anything after that is a cliché.

In the midst of the Saunders tragedy and Kill's farewell to coaching, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer offered the most trite of motivational angles. The Vikings went to 4-2 with a victory in Detroit on Sunday and at his Monday media session, Zimmer said:

"I like proving people wrong. People have doubted me for a long, long time. I hope they keep doubting our football team, because that's the mentality I'm trying to get them …"

Everson Griffen, the pass rusher, confirmed that's what Zimmer is selling to players. "We're here to prove people wrong each and every day," he said. "That's our job here as a team … go out and prove the naysayers wrong."

The no-respect motivation is rivaled only by revenge for familiarity. We had that one going Friday night in St. Paul, where the Wild was trying to make up for last spring's playoff sweep vs. Chicago with a victory over the Blackhawks in the 10th game of the regular season.

That's been a popular angle around here since the Vikings lost as 12½-point favorites to Kansas City in the Super Bowl after the 1969 season, then whipped the Chiefs in the 1970 season opener at Met Stadium.

The local newspapers declared retribution for the Vikings, although I'm not sure that holds up historically.

It has been quite a week for motivational angles in Minnesota sports, from heartfelt to almost comical. It makes for fine newspaper paragraphs and endless conversation, but most outcomes will continue to be based on the substance of the athletes.