As I intimated in the post announcing my glorious return, I almost quit Gopher football last year. Fandom of this team is a wearying experience at the best of times; but when you’ve got players running trains, boycotting the bowl game, coaches – at least – tacitly supporting the boycott, a half-empty, spiritless stadium and three hours of being blasted with advertisements during games, the fun was just gone. If Claeys had been back, I’d have given up my season tickets and probably traveled to a few of the premier college games around the country during the season. My thoughts were that if Claeys were retained, the athletic department more or less would have accepted our fate as a low-to-middling program, destined for a slow death not unlike the Gutekunst era. If they didn’t care, why should I?
That, of course, changed with the hiring of Fleck. We went all in, snagged our guy and are at least taking a chance. Giving up would have been easier – debt service on the new facilities could easily be covered by the general fund – but Coyle and Kaler eschewed the safe path for one with stratospheric upside. Again, Fleck’s not exactly my slice of pork, but you can’t knock the hustle and I like a lot of what I’ve seen on the field.
But reminiscing on the time I thought I was done gave me pause to think about why I’ve stuck with this team through the years. It would have been so easy to quit, to find a new team or a hobby. To forgo the disappointment that seems to be a hallmark of every season – that game that could have made the difference, gotten us over the hump, made us relevant. That one Sunday morning every year when you wake up and know with certainty the Rose Bowl won’t happen this year. That pit in your stomach.
It would have been easy, but I didn’t do it. Right, wrong or indifferent, I have an undefinable bond with this team. In some way they represent the part of me that is good – the belief despite all odds, the elation when something good happens, the recovery and commiseration with friends when the hopes are dashed.
I am still a Gopher because, at long last, it looks like we’re doing the things necessary to be successful. I’ve spent many practices at Gibson-Nagurski with its leaky roof and insulation falling onto the field with every punt, watched many coaches come through here with big talk and little results. Now we’ve invested in the program, with new facilities and a coach that, while he brings a lot of big talk, has very credible results.
I am still a Gopher because Minnesota is my state and that means something. Provincialism in the US is not as strong as it is in other parts of the world, but seeing ‘MINNESOTA’ spelled out on the seats of the stadium, in the end zones and chanting it at the end of the Rouser evokes feelings of pride in me. We’re a great state: highly educated, industrious, generous. The team may not have always been good, but when they’re on the field, they are our proxy, fighting for our state. Our pride.
I am still a Gopher because I’ve met some of the kindest, most genuine and fun people in my life through my fandom. These aren’t people I talk to seven times a year. They are among my best and deepest friends and we speak almost daily. We have come to support each other not just through the slings and arrows of a Gopher season, but through the real hardships of life. But for my love for this team, they never would have been part of my life and I would be a poorer man because of it.
And finally, I am still a Gopher because it WILL happen. We will beat Wisconsin, we will win the B1G West and we will go to the Rose Bowl. It might take a Tychean run of good luck – a bounce here, a broken play there, a well-timed torrential downpour or blizzard – but we will get to where we’ve waited to go all these years. The destination we could see, but never visit. Everything is in place right now. It might not happen this year, next or maybe even the year after; but it will happen. We’ll be driving in a convertible on our way to the Rose Bowl, top down, smiling broadly, looking in wonder at the sun shining off the San Gabriel Mountains.
I’m glad I stuck around and did my part. I’m glad I’m still a Gopher.