You run into people. They talk about sports. Mainly, they are concerned about the condition of the Vikings' receiving corps and Justin Morneau's ongoing absence from the Twins.

One topic that hasn't been raised in casual conversation all summer: Gophers football.

Seriously. The only Gopher mentioned by a local sports fan in weeks has been Trevor Mbakwe, finally a member in good standing with Tubby Smith's basketball team.

The few, the happy few, the band of brothers that sheds maroon-and-gold blood can't blame the Star Tribune for this, as stories on Gophers football have held a key position on page 1C seven times since practice started Aug. 6. This is generous treatment, if you're willing to use action at as a barometer: On Wednesday, a secondary Vikings story on receiver Javon Walker drew 34,000 reads and a feature on Gophers linebacker Mike Rallis from Edina was close to 8,000.

Gophers football is not alone in facing this historic competitive problem. You must go back four decades to find a time when the levels of interest in the Vikings and the Twins are as dominant in this sports market as they are today.

Do you want the exact date? On Sept. 20, 1969, the Gophers opened the season with a 48-26 loss at Arizona State that signaled a descent into purgatory. That was also the day that Billy Martin's Twins clinched at least a tie with 11 games to play for the first AL West title. And it was the eve of the opener for a Vikings team that Bud Grant would take to a first Super Bowl.

A month later, Calvin Griffith created a public relations disaster by firing Martin, and that cleared the way for the Twin Cities to become what has been called a "Vikings town.''

There have been interruptions, such as for two World Series titles, but the Purple largely has maintained that exalted status.

The Twins moved forward with five division titles in the previous nine years. Now, with the unveiling of Target Field and the public's reaction, they are hogging the spotlight as never before. And yet, the Vikings -- with the return of Brett Favre -- haven't budged, meaning there are two behemoths in that spotlight and barely an inch for the rest ... including, and perhaps in particular, Gophers football.

Those Gophers are one week away from the season opener, and their ability to have turned the public largely mute on the subject is amazing for this reason:

They were able to fulfill the outrageous dream of previous coach Glen Mason and open a new on-campus stadium last season. It's splendid to the eye, and the tickets all were sold a year ago, and still TCF Bank Stadium never captured people's imagination ... certainly not as Xcel Energy Center did in St. Paul a decade ago and Target Field has done in downtown Minneapolis.

"Nice place,'' someone would say of the Gophers' new home, and that would be it.

The Gophers say the tickets basically are gone again for this season. Fair enough, but the majority of those ticket holders aren't bragging to strangers about it. They want to know about Sidney Rice and Morneau.

The suffocation of Gophers football when it comes to general interest is self-induced to a sizable degree. They have not been better than fourth in the Big Ten since 1976.

Lou Holtz had the populace fired up and left after two seasons. Mason had a chance to put the Rose Bowl in view in 2003, and his team blew a 21-point lead and lost to Michigan.

Tim Brewster seemed to have it going at 7-1 in 2008, and then came a collapse that concluded with the worst Big Ten loss in Gophers history -- 55-0 to Iowa. Now, Coach Brew enters his fourth season in job-saving mode and with a trip to Middle Tennessee State.

There is a possibility quarterback Dwight Dasher will miss the game as punishment for failing to repay a $1,500 loan (for a high-stakes poker game) from an 80-year-old patient at a veterans home.

So, 41 years after the program-changing loss at ASU, it has come to this: needing the suspension of a key player to be optimistic about the Gophers' chances against the MTSU Blue Raiders.

It's no wonder there's no talk about them.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN •