There are many Minnesotans who don't go back more than a quarter-century with their Gophers fandom and thus believe that Wisconsin stands as our state university's greatest rival.

"The Border Battle" … oh, those are so special, they will tell you.

These newbies — not even 50 years of age, most of them — are spewing hogwash.

The fiercest rivals for the Gophers for a larger share of the seven decades-plus since I became aware there was a Big Ten have been the Iowa Hawkeyes.

This is true in football, and it is especially true in men's basketball, and now in women's basketball, where our rodents have been lapped in both beyond belief.

I must repeat this moment of personal history:

Kneeling behind the end zone in the closed end of Memorial Stadium, a 9-year-old in an overflow crowd of 65,000 on Nov. 13, 1954, and seeing Iowa's Earl Smith bring back a kick for a touchdown that would have doomed our Gophers, only to hear the happy roar over a penalty flag (clipping) at the other end of the field, and then have an unhappy Smith — right above me — drop upon young ears for the first time the grandest of all profanities.

Gophers 22, Iowa 20. The Bob McNamara game.

You will never convince me that Wisconsin is a greater rival than Iowa.

For I will remember Mr. Smith forever, and I will remember when Lute Olson brought his Hawkeyes to Williams Arena for the Big Ten seasons from 1975 to 1983, to face Bill Musselman's team for one season and then Jim Dutcher's.

Up at the top of the second deck, all the way to the roof, those gold tops and the incessant cheer, "Let's go Hawks."

Lute had played his college basketball at Augsburg, which did not prevent him for being a smug gent and easy for an objective Twin Cities sports writer to root against.

Which makes the 1981-82 season remembered fondly.

The Hawkeyes seemed to have a lock on the Big Ten title for much of that winter, even though the Gophers had won at Williams in mid-January.

The Gophers visited the old Iowa Field House on Feb. 27, 1982. The university and Iowans were so in love with Lute that they were building him a new arena — Carver-Hawkeye, which would open in January 1983.

A victory was close to compulsory for the Gophers to win the Big Ten's four-team struggle at the top (with Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State). It was a grueling battle.

Darryl Mitchell went to the free-throw line and made two free throws with no time on the clock to force overtime. The Gophers won 57-55 in three OTs — and a conference title was soon clinched.

Loyal Lute coached one Big Ten season in his new arena and then left for Arizona, where he had some success.

The Hawkeyes, folks. Those are the rivals.

Those are the teams to envy, both for winning often and the incredible loyalty of the faithful that follow them everywhere — and especially here.

That was the case on Friday evening at Target Center, where the Hawkeyes were playing their first game of the Big Ten women's tournament, opposed by Purdue in the quarterfinals.

There had been a smattering of customers for the two afternoon games, including Michigan vs. Ohio State. There was a break and then Purdue-Iowa started the night session at 5:30 p.m.

You walked back into the arena a few minutes before tipoff, and there it was: a crowded lower deck that was all gold and ready to cheer their Hawkeyes, and complain about the officials.

Caitlin Clark, the junior who played at Dowling Catholic in a Des Moines suburb, opened with a long three. Then she drove and missed a layup — which obviously annoyed her, which is not an unusual state for her on the court.

Next time, she blew through the lane and made a layup.

Vintage Clark, it appeared. But it wasn't.

Clark couldn't make shots. Her teammates' open threes were mostly off the mark. Purdue was staying close. Clark went to the floor on a drive and barked at an official late in the half. When the same official then called a foul on her, Clark got herself a technical.

Purdue threw in three quick threes in the third quarter and actually took a 34-33 lead. It wasn't until the fourth quarter that Clark resumed hitting shots, Iowa started handling passes, and wound with a 69-58 victory.

Clark finished with 22 points. You might want to check out Saturday's second semifinal because she isn't going to have two semi-clunkers in a row.

This is one dynamic player to appreciate, even if she does play for the Gophers' main rival.

And don't argue with me on that.

The Badgers loyalists, to my knowledge, never tore down the goal posts at a Gophers home game, as did the Hawkeyes' amazing throng in the Metrodome on Nov. 16, 2002.