As a fan, it’s easy to look at a game like Michigan State and be frustrated. We played three quarters of absolute shit football. We waited through a weather delay before the game even started. A cold rain fell the whole time, and the wind was sharp. It was enough to make even the most passionate of diehards leave early. But you know what? I had FUN. As I was sitting there at halftime shivering and looking out over the stadium, I took a few moments to reflect on how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. This post is not for the naysayers, the people who sullenly refuse to Row The Boat, or the negative nellies screaming about PJ Fleck’s salary. This post is for the fans who understand how progress works and believe we’re making it.
This one’s for every single fan that showed up and cheered on Saturday as the wind whipped and the rain fell. Every person who waited patiently in the concourse for the rain delay to be over and passed the time by grabbing a drink and settling in for some “Who hates Iowa?!” chants added to the atmosphere. It’s unfortunate our only conference night game at TCF this year came with such poor weather; but those who made the most of it are a testament to the fact that amidst the negativity from the media and seeming apathy within our fan base, there are a lot of people who care and like to have fun.
This one’s for the students showing up and chanting “Row. The. Boat!” as PJ leads the team onto the field. They stayed in their seats during the hardest of the rain, singing and dancing, the rest of us huddled in the concourse like penguins during the Antarctic winter, only leaving when told their tuition would not be refunded in the event of a lightning strike There’s no denying that the student section has been fuller and more alive this season, and watching the Fleck era of excitement surrounding the program starting with the students has been fun to see.
This one’s for the players, who were just as lit on the sideline whether we were up 3 points or down 14. Last year, everything was subdued. The fans were subdued, our coaching staff was subdued, and so were the players. Excitement starts with the players and having them be visibly enthusiastic, jumping, dancing, and waving towels on the sidelines has been one of the best parts of the season for me.
This one’s for the parents who are building the next generation of passionate fans by bringing their kids out to every single game at TCF Bank Stadium. With so many other events going on in the Twin Cities, those who consistently choose the Gophers with their families are creating life-long fans and experiences that will resonate with their children forever.
This one’s for the commuters—the fans whose lives have kept them from Minnesota but yet make the midnight drives and take the red eye flights to come back home and support our team every weekend. It takes money, time, and commitment to travel back for games, and I know of many people who do it on a regular basis because they believe in what can be. In what eventually will be.
This one’s for PJ Fleck. Regardless of the record on the field in this first experimental year, he’s working to build something we can all be proud of. Never after a loss like this have I felt so sure that we have the right guy and that in three years, we will be unstoppable. Just ask Graham Couch.
Lastly, this one’s for the people who can see the program taking shape. Those who understand that this is Year Zero, those that see we’re working with injuries and a coach who hasn’t had the opportunity to install the players he has recruited, those are the people who can enjoy this ride the most. Talking to opposing fans, reading non-Twin Cities media, the agreement we and Fleck are building something remarkable is consistent. The people who know how progress works and embrace the journey, understanding that it is not linear, will profit the most.
Though it was not always consistent, and certainly not always pretty, those people who braved the rain, wind, and lighting could see that progress on the field this past Saturday: our young defensive players stepping up, the blooming of Tyler Johnson and emergence of Mark Williams, and the athleticism of Demry Croft. This was the first glimmer of what the PJ Fleck era will look like, where one could begin to see our future taking shape. It won’t be a straight line to the end point – there will be twists, turns, and certainly some bumps. But through sheets of rain and with teeth chattering from the cold, the fans in the stands of TCF Bank Stadium two nights ago saw the progress, and with it, the knowledge that greatness will soon be here.