Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The TCF Bank Stadium Slip

It's the 4th quarter. Two minutes and three seconds on the clock. Fourth-ranked Penn State has the ball on their own 40, down 31 to 26 to the 17th ranked Minnesota Gophers. The Gophers have been in control for most of the day, but Penn State is making a run to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and leave Gophers fans wanting in their bid for a Rose Bowl.

On first down, quarterback Sean Clifford drops back and finds Jahan Dotson wide open at the Gophers' 45. The defensive back guarding him, Benjamin St. Juste, loses his footing and falls over. A collective moan emanates from TCF Bank Stadium.

Dotson looks to have a clear path to the end zone and the go-ahead touchdown. Safety Jordan Howden takes a line, but looks like he'll fall just short as Antoine Winfield also gives chase. Dotson continues to the 30. There's still seven yards between him and Howden at the 25. Three yards at the 20. Howden is closing on him, but it's going to be close. Dotson turns to the corner to outrun him at the 15 and then


No contact. He just planted, took another step and was down at the 10. No touchdown. Hope: still got it.

A lot of horseplay and silliness took place over the next two minutes. It looked like Penn State was going to score and I aged a thousand years. But you all know now that we won. Huzzah.

But I want to talk about Dotson slipping. In a season full of extremely improbable events - see Morgan's 20-yard TD pass to Autman-Bell on 4th and 13 in the last minute against Fresno State or converting a freaking 3rd and 30 from our own five yard line to snag a dubious win from Georgia Southern - this one may be the most improbable. 

Four-star, elite athletes at top-five programs running down the field free and majestic as goddamned elk don't just tumble down without contact like an Argentine soccer player. Like, what the hell happened? Look at this!

He just, like, goes down. No sniper. Believe me, I looked.

Some Penn State fans thought perhaps he was instructed to go down so the Loins from Nittany could milk more time and keep our offense off the field, but that feels a little too conspiratorial. And strategically stupid; given their relative red-zone ineptitude throughout the day. Get ya points.

No, I think it was fate. I think it was 50 years worth of bad coaching hires, washed-out 4-star recruits, missed holding calls against Wisconsin and Joe Salem. I think it was Michigan 2003 and Wisconsin 2005 and 2014 and 2016 and all those seasons where we never had a prayer of being competitive. I think what happened at the 1:56 mark of the 4th quarter against The Pennsylvania State University was one cosmic-level reversion to the mean of luck.

I'm not sure this slip will become part of the lore of Gopher history. But it should be. Improbable plays or moments that transcend a team's normal trajectory - particularly for downtrodden also-rans - often get a name. John Elway led 'The Drive.' The Vikings and Stefon Diggs had 'The Minneapolis Miracle.' 

This lacks the heroics of those; I mean, a guy basically just fell over. But without that moment, without the 15-yard line snaring Dotson like Bigwig outside of Sandleford, he scores and the Gophers probably lose. I maintain we shouldn't forget that moment. In ten years, we'll all look back and remember Howden's interception, Bateman's performance and the final score. But without that slip, do those even matter?

Our Rose Bowl - and perhaps National Championship - dreams are still alive today, November 13, 2019, because of the TCF Bank Stadium Slip.

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