Wednesday, November 22, 2023

20 years later - Michigan 2003

Sports aren’t important. Relative to family, friends, one’s community, religion, pets, and professional life, the performance of one’s sports teams really ought not to have a meaningful impact on one’s life. It’s just a bunch of people moving an object from one place to another using their hands, feet, or sticks against a bunch of other people trying to steal the object for themselves. It’s an absurdity that it garners any attention at all.

And yet, sports, in a lot of ways, are everything. They are a magnet that binds people of a certain affinity together while repelling groups with different value systems. They allow for the (mostly) healthy release of tribal energies, enable the resolution of regional rivalries that historically would have been solved with lots of fires and cannibalism, and create common experiences among people with widely disparate professions, faiths, and interests.

We dedicate meaningful percentages of our lives to our teams at games, watching them on TV, following recruiting, drafts, and trades/transfers. We vent our spleens on message boards, social media, at bars and tailgates, and in angry emails to GMs/athletic directors. They are deeply emotional. We share and treasure the moments of transcendence, when our teams do something we always wanted them to do - for years, every time we get together. And we commiserate with one another after particularly bad things, collectively sharing the trauma, comforted that we don’t have to experience that despair alone.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

The World Wonders

Reeled from the sabre stroke
   Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
   Not the six hundred.
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

November 3, 2018 Minnesota lost a shocker to 3-5 Illinois, 55-31. The high score made the game seem more respectable than it was. No Minnesota fan watching in real time could have considered it anything other than an embarrassment. The next day, P.J. Fleck announced the firing of his friend, Defensive Coordinator Robb Smith, and his replacement with Joe Rossi. The change paid immediate dividends the following week against Purdue, a respectable loss against 9-5 Northwestern, and a win in Madison redeemed the season.

November 11, 2023 Minnesota lost a shocker at 2-7 Purdue, 49-30. The high score made the game seem more respectable than it was. No Minnesota fan watching in real time could have considered it anything other than an embarrassment. The next day…well, we don’t know yet, but it probably won’t be much. Joe Rossi has earned far more rope than Robb Smith did thanks to the performance of his defensive unit over the past several years; he’s not going anywhere, nor do I think he should.

Monday, November 6, 2023

This too Shall Pass: A tale of two tattoos

This is a weird one in that I feel it most in my teeth. Not sure that’s ever happened before. Can’t say I’m a fan.

 I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping myself distracted after a particularly inconceivable loss by spending time outside, going to get a nice meal, getting unimaginably high, or trying to feel something again by dying hundreds of times in a Sisyphean quest to complete Dark Souls-styled video games. Sometimes all of the above.

But, residing inside of a piece of meat controlled by a brain that is predisposed to do its own thing on occasion, I do regularly get intrusive thoughts. Saturday was like Christmas for the secret Santa responsible for these nuggets of fun, and it has since gifted me with joyous visions of our WR dropping a TD that would have won us the game, a laser beam going through the hands of our TE where a catch would have won us the game, and Illinois’ best WR running right through the defense we thought was on the ascendancy to win them the game. On repeat. For days. Like finding a wet turd in your pocket every time you reach for some mints.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Pretzel Logic

It’s been a fun week in Gopher fandom. Every day the Michigan message boards creep towards clarity. Michigan State’s athletics department capped off an impressive run of incompetence that started in 2018 by putting an Austrian on their jumbotron. Rutgers is bowl eligible. Oh, and Minnesota beat Iowa.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

PJ Fleck and the Breaking of a Fan Base

I really hate Wisconsin. Like, an every-fiber-of-my being, diagnosable personality disorder level of hate. I get triggered when I see a Wisconsin license plate. I refuse to be anything more than minimally-friendly acquaintances with anyone who has ever supported that team. I won’t even accept a LinkedIn invite from a UWi grad, because fuck you. It’s pathological, really unhealthy, and mostly survived intact from what was otherwise a wholesale teardown of my thought patterns and coping mechanisms.

I’m mature enough to admit they broke me. Absolutely and totally. I simply couldn’t tolerate losing to our most-hated rival for over a decade, watching them win* the B1G, go to Rose Bowls, and get talked about as playoff contenders. Replace the running backs, quarterbacks, defensive coordinators, head coaches, walk-on linebackers from Minnesota, and our damned stadium and the results were still the same. We lose and I sink further into psychosis.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Overcoming the Seethe: A Helpful Guide for Iwoa Fans


Hello All,


I’m Douglas Fir.  Like many of you I watched the University of Minnesota defeat the University of Iowa in a football game on Saturday by the score of 12-10.  It was an exciting, extremely B1G West game that came down to the second-to-last possession. Before that fateful possession (in which the Iowa offense, needing just 20 yads to win the game went sack/throw to nobody/throw to somebody in a pretty gold helmet), there was a punt.  And on that punt, there was an infraction.


Despite the B1G and NCAA taking time out of their busy day (looking at you, Michigan) to patiently explain to the people that the call on said infraction was correct, there seem to be a lot of objections.  I am no great football mind, but I do have the ability to listen and learn, and in my real life, I am essentially a paid researcher and explainer. So, I am taking time out of my busy day (playing Civ VI while listening to Spoon) to put together a Frequently Asked Questions style explainer. Except you aren’t “just asking questions” (unless it’s about a certain ref, see below), you are shouting objections. So, please enjoy my Frequently Shouted Objections (FSOs), with explanations. Or don’t. I don’t care, my team won Floyd.




1)      Cooper DeJean (CDJ) didn’t signal fair catch!!!

a.      Correct, that’s why it wasn’t called a fair catch.

2)      So what was called then?!

a.      Invalid Signal.  It’s a rule put in place to protect the ball carrier and to not allow punt returners to bait the kicking team into giving up on the play.  There’s a whole rulebook entry and everything, you can look it up or you can look up the Des Moines Register article I took this info from. I googled “Des Moines Punt”.

       Basically you can’t wave your arm, even below your shoulder.

3)      That’s not even a penalty!

a.      Correct again! That’s why Iowa wasn’t assessed penalty yardage. But, it does kill the play.

4)      But he was just waving his arm for balance!!!

a.      CDJ is one of the most athletically gifted players to ever set foot on the turf at Kinnick. I’ve watched that young man play for several years, he is a marvel. He does not run like a toddler trying to escape from a grasshopper that landed near him.

5)      If it IS a penalty, why weren’t the Gophers called for a late hit!?

a.      As an often-frustrated viewer of Gopher Football, I wish to god our special teams was capable of hitting him. But they weren’t. That’s how he scored the touchdown, you see.

6)      So why didn't the Gophers stop? They tried to tackle CDJ!!

a.      As mentioned above, they failed. And, as all of us who played 2 minutes of any sport know, you play through the whistle. The Gophers tried to tackle CDJ because the refs didn’t tell them to stop. Iowa did the same thing, a mark of a well-coached team.

7)      Well, if it is an infraction, its arbitrary!!

a.      It’s actually not! It’s a call designed to take the arbitrary away, and it did! We would be arguing for (more) years if the immediate “you wave your arm, its dead” call didn’t exist. The review would have taken hours, as referees called in mathematicians from Pittsburgh to determine the angle of CDJ’s shoulder. We would have had sports psychiatrists examining the complex emotions of 18-22 year olds, trying to determine if any of the 11 Gophers gave up on the play. What even is “giving up”?

8)      So why is it never called?

a.      It is, you just forgot cause we all watch a lot of football. It was called in 2015 against Wisconsin, you were probably watching and laughing. I bet you even tried to explain to your bored partner why they called it. It was called against the Gophers THIS YEAR against EMU. If you think CDJ’s hand wave is minor, wait till you see that one! And our guy might even be able to make the toddler-running argument (he is very small)!

9)      Well, it violates the “Spirit of the Rule”!!

a.      OK, first of all, that sounds like a boat a dictator would own. Like if someone told you that Peron ordered the Dirty War from a superyacht called “the Spirit of Rule”, you wouldn’t even question it. Hell, I’d believe it if you told me that Chris Doyle owned a Sea-Doo named that. Basically, I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, the rule is the rule, and that’s also its spirit.

10)  They can’t even review that!

a.      They can (and should) if the guy almost runs out of bounds. (see point 18)

11)  It’s not even what the review was for!

a.      Doesn’t matter. Has never mattered. If you think that sucks, welcome to the party, the guest list is every sports fan.

12)  OK, let’s say CDJ does the same thing, but he fumbles and the Gophers recover, I bet it’s not reviewed then!

a.      I think it is? Would be a turnover play and I’m pretty sure those are always reviewed.  Also, historical fiction is best left to Robert Harris.

13)  OK, let’s say that CDJ is tackled on the 2, I bet it’s not reviewed then!!

a.      If he almost ran out of bounds in this fake play you made up, it would be. Seriously, Fatherland is a pretty interesting read. And he has more!

14)  Well I’ll wait until I hear from the league office!

a.      See I actually thought this was in play, like I said I am no great football mind and I’ve been wrong before. Boy, was I wrong about being wrong (and I am a big enough man to own that accidental correctness). Actually, they issued a…non apology? Reassertment? A Doubling-down? I’m not sure what you’d call it but they came out today (Monday) and said “not only did we get it right, here’s why” (see Point 2).

15)  But they told Kirk Ferentz it was a fair catch on the field!!

a.      I think a couple things are possible here. One is he misheard. Another, he chose to mishear (I cannot tell you how many people I’ve interacted with that still think point 1 is true). Third, it’s better to accuse the ref of lying (no penalty for him at all) than to accept that it was a mistake, a dead play, and his son’s offense moved the ball 12 YARDS (36 feet, 10.973 meters) in the second half of a rivalry game.

16)  I watched the clip, and it doesn’t even seem like PJ Fleck thought it was a penalty!!!

a.      Oh, if PJ Fleck thought it was a penalty you’d be good with it? Yeah? That’s how we decide penalties in Iowa City now, a man in capris you call “Phillip” gets to decide?

17)  The ref blew a call in a MAC/Big 12 game seven years ago, and we are supposed to trust this guy?!

a.      You got fired from a job in your 20s, how can I trust you?

18)  The ref blew a call in the Iowa-Minnesota game last year and we are supposed to trust this guy!?!? And he is from NEBRASKA!?! A little FISHY?!?! JUST ASKING QUESTIONS HERE!!!!!

a.      This is actually one of my favorites, because I am lazy and you already answered this one yourself! He DID mess up a call in the biggest play in the IA-MN game last year. For those that don’t remember, Iowa LB Jack Campbell picked off a tipped pass, raced to his right, hugged the sideline, cut back across to his left and scored what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown (I remember because I will never forget). Except he didn’t, because the ref said he stepped out AND BLEW THE PLAY DEAD! That’s a really big mistake, and one that made the result of the rest of the play non-reviewable! You (Iowa fans) were really upset that he blew the play dead from the moment that play happened until Saturday at like 6:30 pm when you suddenly became big “blow the play dead or it’s cheating” advocates. This time he didn’t blow the play dead, the review got the call right (See point 14). Also, lots of people are FROM Nebraska. Nebraska isn’t a place you end up in, it’s a place you leave.

19)  They told Kirk in a meeting before a game that CDJ could do that!

a.      They told him he could do what, exactly? They told him he could ran naturally like a toddler? They told him he could make an invalid fair catch signal? Or they spoke briefly about how he likes to signal fair catch and they moved on. Latter seems likely.

20)  They stole this moment from the fans!

a.      Nobody stole anything from anyone. You paid your money for 60 minutes of football, they played them. If it makes you feel better, the play never even happened. It was always dead, they just didn’t realize it yet.   

21)  They stole this moment from CDJ!!!

a.      I feel bad for CDJ, I do. I have a ton of respect for him, and I wish NBC would have shown us anything other than his sad face for 20 minutes. But he did the thing. He rolled through the stop sign, and even though he’s done it before he got caught this time. And it happened at the worst time. He wasn’t going to Kum and Go (Iowa reference), he was going to his wedding. And maybe the cop right there missed it and his boss behind him caught it so it feels even more unfair. And it made him late, and it was embarrassing, and you feel for the guy because maybe he didn’t even do it on purpose. But he did the thing, he broke the rule. It’s on tape and everything (IDK some sort of stop sign camera, stick with the analogy).

22)  Well, I still don’t feel like this was fair!

a.      Hey, been there boss. It gets better. Go beat Nebraska in a few weeks, that will get you through the long summer. Always works for me. Also, now you can tell yourself that it wasn’t fair, which is a super easy and fun way to cope.


Hope this helped.




Friday, September 29, 2023

NIL and the Minnesota Psyche

Darius Taylor is pretty good, yeah? Hoo wee, watching him mash the [REDACTED] player at the line of scrimmage, then taking it outside to break that long tuddy in [REDACTED] was about as close as it gets to meeting god in this plane of existence. I love Mo like he is my only son, but he was never able to break those big touchdown runs. Destroy your soul at the point of contact and charge 20 yards downfield on 3rd and 14, absolutely; but he just never had the speed to outrun the defensive backfield. Darius, as a true freshman, looks like the sort of dude who will not only steal your lunch money, he’ll also swing over and burn down your house after school. Absolute effing killer. The best parts of MBIII and Maroney.

Naturally, the proud representatives of the Gopher innernetz are ecstatic, crowing about how we’ve got a future Heisman contender, lording our successful recruitment of him over other suitors such as Michigan and Wisconsin, and generally throwing deuces to the rest of the college football world in recognition we might have the best running back in the nation in maroon and gold. A little over the top? Maybe. But we’re savvy enough to know when we’ve got something special and are not afraid to let other people know in the most condescending possible ways.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Same Old Gophers

 Same old Gophers, right?

I don’t know how long I’ve been on the Gopher boards – probably 15 years or so – but this week has been one of the most depressing. It may be the most depressing, recognizing there’s a lot of recency bias at play. Fleck has peaked, our OC/QB coach is an unmitigated disaster, our QB can’t pass gas, our superstar true-freshman running back is alternatively/both having the treads worn off of his tires and likely to leave for USC for one billion dollars in the offseason, and we’re never going to be able to compete in the new CFB world so we may as well accept our fate and start cheering for our MIAC schools of choice.

Such are message board narratives in the world of Gopher sports. What strikes me is how comfortably everyone slides back into old thought patters of “ah, shit, here we go again.” That we’re in the midst of the best Gopher football run in the last 60 years is immediately cast aside when we experience an event that reminds us of our collective trauma on October 10th, 2003. The despair sets in, shields go up, we burn any optimism with hellfire, and begin the rites of eating our young.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Not very bright guys and things got out of hand

Yo. Been awhile. Let’s get weird.

So, you’re all certainly aware of the Jason Stahl AJ Perez piece(s) in Front Office Sports on the culture of Minnesota’s football program under Fleck. Just to get this out of the way: I don’t want bad shit happening in the program. Bad shit should be investigated. I don’t know what the threshold for investigation should be; but I’ve seen nothing in Stahl’s Perez’s reporting to suggest there’s a need for a broader, third-party investigation. If more details come to light, then I reserve the right to change my mind.

The whole thing is just extremely odd to me. Of all the programs to go after, why Minnesota? Fleck is an oddball, sure, but that’s not new. He was an oddball at Western Michigan and his unconventional approach was covered widely both nationally and locally when he was hired here. And while we’ve been on something of an upswing for the last five years, it’s not as if we’ve burst onto the national scene and are vying for national championships. We’re a slightly-above-average Power-5 program looking for a special season every few years. Much better than where we were 15 years ago, but not exactly the status that brings investigative journalists based in northern Virginia sniffing around to figure out how we achieved so much so fast.

The other odd element here is that a few Nebraska fans were, apparently, aware of this story before it was published. Now, yeah, it’s possible some Nubbers are super well connected to Perez and he was leaking some of the details; but we’re not talking about those sorts of Husker fans. The ones that knew are the type that live in the dank, sweaty, scrotal folds of the internet and have no room for independent thought in what can generously be referred to as their minds: PJ Fleck is a greedy slumlord in the blighted neighborhood that is Nebraska brains.