Mr. Fleck goes to “GameDay.”
At least, he’s trying. Really trying.
The Gophers coach delivered an impassioned 3 ½ -minute filibuster after the Gophers beat Maryland 52-10 on Saturday to improve to 8-0 and remain one of nine unbeaten teams left in the FBS. But that wasn’t the only campaign Fleck wanted to win. The other platform he’s running on: The No. 13 Gophers — with their highest ranking since 2004 — deserve to host their first ESPN “College GameDay.”
“We’re in a very political state, aren’t we? All right, this one’s for the House. This one’s for the Congress,” Fleck began. “… This one’s for the Democrats and the Republicans.”
Fleck waved his arms, raised his voice and dropped names, all in an effort to persuade the popular Saturday morning TV show to feature the Gophers’ next game, a matchup with similarly undefeated No. 5 Penn State on Nov. 9.
On any other weekend, the Gophers would probably be a shoo-in. But Week 11 also boasts No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama in an SEC showdown with College Football Playoff implications.
“You can go to them any year. Pick a year, pick a game, you can go to them every game of the season, if you would like,” Fleck said. “ ‘College GameDay’ is about unique stories, about unique places, about unique moments. That’s what they say they’re about.”
Unlike the Gophers, Fleck has experienced “GameDay” three times, as a Northern Illinois player in 2003, on Ohio State’s coaching staff in 2006 and as Western Michigan’s head coach in 2016. So he knows how a city can rally behind it.
Fleck said he spoke at an ESPN conference a couple of years ago and met “GameDay” host Rece Davis when he got off the stage. (It’s at this point that Fleck had a moment of clarity and said, “I’m really lobbying here,” before taking a deep breath to launch into the rest of his story.) Davis told him, Fleck said, “I do know one thing: In the next few years, the Golden Gophers are going to be on the map.”
Well, Davis, Fleck has come to collect on that vote of confidence. The coach even implored his wife, Heather Fleck, to come up on stage and say “please” as a way to sway the ESPN producers.
“I think it’ll be a wonderful experience and moment for all of our players,” Fleck closed. “… Let’s do this.”
The Gophers will have to wait a long bye week before Davis announces the Nov. 9 location on Twitter. But Fleck has certainly given the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” his best pitch. Now the Gophers have to manage their anticipation not only for their biggest game in more than a decade but also for whether Lee Corso will don a Goldy Gopher mascot head.
Even if ESPN spurns the Gophers for the top-two faceoff, there is still a chance the Gophers could host “GameDay” on Nov. 30, when rival Wisconsin comes to town.
But should that not pan out, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. might have the best perspective on the topic that dominated the locker room talk Saturday night.
“It doesn’t affect how we play the game,” he said. “So we’re just going to go out there and do our thing.”
And, well, going 9-0 — whether “GameDay” is there to witness it or not — is probably what matters most.
Megan Ryan covers the Gophers and college football for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @theothermegryan E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org