Let me take you way back to Oct. 23, 2020.
The Vikings, after a terribly disappointing 1-5 start, had just a day earlier traded defensive end Yannick Ngakoue roughly six weeks after acquiring him. On that same day, they had learned bookend defensive end Danielle Hunter would miss the entire season with a neck condition.
No white flags were officially waved, but those two events — preceded by a lopsided home loss to the previously winless Falcons — were ominous signals of a season going off the rails.
But on that Friday, local sports fans were buoyed by the optimism generated by a different football team.
The Gophers, coming off an 11-win season and suddenly granted a chance to build on that with a nine-game Big Ten fall season, were set to open on Oct. 24 against Michigan. Both teams were ranked at the time, and the matchup was good enough that College Gameday again visited campus (albeit with far less fanfare this time).
To preview that game and the entire Minnesota season, I hosted a video with Star Tribune columnist Chip Scoggins. We talked about question marks (defense), strong points (offense) and the uncertainty surrounding the entirety of this college football season.
But one observer was far more certain about what was to come. In response to a tweet promoting that video, a reader named Jeff replied: “Whenever Gopher football shows promise, they fall on their faces. It’s like Charlie Brown believing Lucy that, this time, she won’t move the ball when he kicks it. And every time she moves it and he falls on his (butt). It’s a sure thing, but Charlie believes her every time.”
This is not a new metaphor, nor is it going on a far-flung limb to suggest the Gophers might not live up to expectations in a given season.
But Jeff, at least so far, is not wrong. If the Gophers’ 49-24 loss to Michigan was both disappointing and somewhat understandable given the volatility of the season, their follow-up 45-44 loss to lowly Maryland was tinged with none of that grace.
Maybe it served as a reminder of just how fortunate the Gophers were to escape with wins against lesser nonconference opponents a year ago — a luxury they don’t have while jumping straight into Big Ten play in 2020 — before significantly improving as the year wen on. Even if that improvement happens again this season, climbing out of an 0-2 hole in an eight-game regular season will be difficult.
More than anything, the disappointing Gophers start is a reminder of what could have been. With the starts of the NBA and NHL seasons delayed for months after basically just ending, and with the Vikings floundering just days ago, the Gophers had a chance to grab hold of this market in a big way.
Instead, they have fumbled that opportunity and seen the Vikings scoop up the momentum with a win over Green Bay on Sunday.
There’s still time for that to change. But of now, the chatter is about Dalvin Cook and the Vikings — while the Gophers lie flat on their backs like Charlie Brown after failing to execute a simple kick.