The Gophers season opener attracted Olympians, a wedding party, and fans from across the state eager for another college football season.
Tailgating lots around TCF Bank Stadium were packed three hours before game time and devoted fans were passing drinks, hotdogs and hamburgers for the next several hours in anticipation of a Gophers' victory.
Gophers alumni David Plummer, the U.S. swimmer who won a gold and bronze medal and the Rio Olympics last month, was in attendance for the opener against Oregon State and showed off his medals to fans before the game.
Joel Hauck and Leigh Kirschner, also alumni, celebrated the season opener by getting hitched, kind of, in the Victory Lot outside of the stadium. The couple’s official wedding is Saturday in Minneapolis, but their friends had the idea to marry the couple during the pregame tailgating party and Goldy showed up in a gold tux for the playful ceremony.
Alumni Bill Burns wore his maroon and gold checkered shorts to show his school spirit and proclaimed the Gophers would win eight regular-season games and land in “brand name” bowl game.
Devoted season-ticket holder Kirk and Louanne S. drove two hours from outstate Minnesota for the game.
Terry Koryell and friends from Portland, Ore., wandered through the tailgate lots before the game and mingled with the “terrific” Gophers fans that continued to offer food and drinks to the visiting fans.
The Hauck-Krischner wedding was the pregame highlight of the night, though. After Goldy tried to steal the bride, he helped officiate the wedding in front of about 40-plus friends, family and strangers that gathered in the parking lot.
“It was the best day ever,” Kirschner said. “We just felt like it was the perfect kickoff to our wedding weekend. We love the Gophers and are season-ticket holders.”
Hauck said "When Goldy was here, [our friends] all came running, a crowd circled around us, and a wedding happen. It was awesome. ... We got married today. Gopher tailgate. … It was chaotic, but then it was amazing."
Lucas Riesgraf and Eric Brown were among the friends that helped organize the ceremony and together worked up a special message.
"Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called Gopher Football. But I’m here to tell you, there’s something else to celebrate, Joel and Leigh.
"Today we are surrounded not only by the love Joel and Leigh share, but also by the aroma of burgers, brats….. And maybe even Roses. We join together with our closest friends and family and all of Gopher Nation to celebrate not only the start of a new football season, but for the start of a new marriage. This new chapter in Joel and Leigh’s life, much like this new chapter in Gopher football, is full of hope, dreams, and promise…… But In true Gopher fashion, it is also for better or worse, and in sickness and in health. With the conviction of a Jerry Kill halftime speech, the beauty of the Student Lot and TCF Bank Stadium, and the courage of Miller Lite, let us embark on both of these journeys together."
Other friends found a University of Minnesota garter at the book store, quite possibly the first one ever purchased, one friend said, for the bride, and a Gophers headband for the groom to wear as a bow tie.
Kirschner's friend Mackenzie Kelley even made the bride a Gophers-themed veil and nearly got university president Eric Kaler to officiate the wedding after making the request via Twitter. Instead, Goldy got the honor.
“We knew [our friends] would plan a classy event, which obviously they did,” Kirschner said. “It happened pretty fast. It was kind of a whirlwind. It was really fun. … It was perfect.”
Hauck admitted to tearing up during the ceremony.
“I’m a pretty emotional guy," he said. "Gophers football, Goldy, getting married. Why wouldn’t you cry?"