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.

Boy, as a Gopher fan, that last sentence really resonates. As I’ve said before, Minnesotans are a mostly miserable people: we fixate on the negative, perpetually assume the worst, and then, when the worst happens, preen publicly to let the few optimists know how right we were. It’s a pathology of negative attention where the positive experiences can’t be fully enjoyed because, well, the piper, he must be paid treble damages for every moment of joy. It’s true in most facets of our lives – I’m guessing it’s a vitamin deficiency or Eeyore pooping copiously in the water – but it is particularly evident in the context of sports. And it’s particularly particularly evident for Gopher sports. And particularly particularly particularly evident for the football version of Gopher sports.

For many Gopher football fans of a certain age, October 10th, 2003 is the single most important day of their fandom. There may be games they recall more clearly. Stories of plays that they share more often at tailgates. Even losses that, today, feel more acute. But many, most, or all Gopher fans who were old enough to be aware of the significance of the game that day carry something with them. It changed their experience as sports fans and supporters of the program. Sometimes it affected their relationships and views on life. It gave some a new purpose. To others, it serves as a constant reminder of what can never be. I’m not sure any of us have ever watched a game the same way again.

(Link to the game if you just need to feel like the inside of an ass hole for three hours:

I’ve met a lot people through my affiliation with the Gophers during my 40-odd years of fandom, many of whom I consider to be among my best friends. Now that we’re past the 20-year anniversary of that game, a group of us thought it would be worthwhile to memorialize what we recall from the lead up to the 2003 Michigan contest, our varied experiences during the game, how we felt afterward, and how, if at all, it continues to affect us today.

Some of the participants, while die-hard Gopher fans today, were not fans in 2003. Their perspectives are an important contrast to those of us who lived every moment of the Michigan game, as it says something about the diverse experiences we have as supporters of the same program: we all may view the 2023 Northwestern game as a massive disappointment; but 4th quarters like that evoke a particular set of emotions for those of us who witnessed October 10th, 2003.

What's the first thought that comes to you when someone brings up Michigan 2003?

Wasn’t a fan at the time so the searing pain doesn’t resonate, but it feels like a missed opportunity. MH, 32 years old

Searing pain and the feeling of immense loss. It is the Gopher Sports equivalent to me of someone bringing up the loss of a close family member. @KEVINZINTHETC, 44

Horror. Frustration.  Watching a trainwreck that you can’t stop.  Having hopes and dreams snatched from the jaws of victory.  Grinning Glen bent over with his hands on his knees. Pain and suffering. In retrospect, probably one of the top 10 worst days outside of someone actually leaving the earth. It is the Gopher football equivalent of “where were you when <fill in a horrific world event> SN, 44

First thought that comes to mind is that game might be the biggest missed opportunity this program has had…which is saying something considering the plethora of missed opportunities this program has had through the years. @vits14, 45

Pain. And Glen Mason grimacing, bent at the waist with his hands on his knees; the burden of greatness being too heavy for him to bear. It was the first time I felt that signature Gopher Sports anger/shame cocktail where everyone else but the coaching staff did what we were supposed to do. The fans showed up, the band showed up, the team even showed up for the most part, and the coaching staff just couldn’t hold up their end, so none of our dreams came true. We were left to feel like idiots for daring to

believe.  Stepper, 40


Abject existential dread. It's a trauma stored in my body as a tinge of the liver, bowels tied in knots, and the type of nausea that usually arrives arm-in-arm with a fifteen-beer hangover.  Matt Humbert (@MVofBOT), 40


Just a massive missed opportunity. A true what could have been/sliding doors moment. There was a sadness about that game that stuck with me for a long time that has never been matched and it’s because of the build up and what was so close. Even though we were very close to the B1G West title and Rose Bowl in 2019, the impact to me wasn’t as great as 2003. Just a true gut punch - where you wake up day after day saying “It’s real and I can’t believe it happened.” SG, 46


Defend the screen pass. @biffthetick (, 41



Walk me through your recollection in the lead up to that game. How did you prepare, what were the vibes like, what do you remember most about the tailgate?

I was in my first senior year and 4th year in the Minnesota Marching Band. The non-academic part of my week was mostly taken up with rehearsals, 2 hours every Monday-Thursday, plus basketball/hockey band rehearsals. The previous two weeks were away games (W @ Penn State, W @ Northwestern) so we had three full rehearsal weeks to prepare, which meant that for nearly a month, the Michigan game was on my mind. I don’t remember much about the rehearsals but what I DO remember is how winnable the game looked, and how that feeling gradually transformed from wishful thinking to some level of reality. Michigan had lost the previous weekend in Iowa City, and they’d lost earlier in the season at Oregon. One of the people saying it was winnable was our director, Jerry Luckhardt, himself a Michigan Man. @biffthetick (, 41

This is where my memory gives out. I was also a die hard Twins fan, and so I was jacked up about the Gophers amazing season, jacked up about the Twins in the playoffs, and just generally jacked up by having an amazing Marching Band season. My whole life as a Gopher fan (from Chris Darkins on) it was never a part of the deal that we would be good. Each time a new team went to the Rose Bowl we’d get to say “we’d still win the tie-breaker since we haven’t been in the longest!” but knowing full well that even tying for the Big Ten title wasn’t in the cards for us. The Rose Bowl became more a feature of the conversation now that bowl games were something I would travel to as a member of the band, which I never did as just a fan. This season we started the math for how many wins we need to get to that tie in the same joking manner as always, but it got really real during the week leading up to it. Talking about marching in the Rose Parade came up a lot. When the game got moved to Friday Night we were all thrown by the change to our schedule, but were mainly just excited we knew it would be a sellout. Stepper, 40


It’s what everybody was talking about all week. There was just a buzz. It was a palpable excitement. It was the top story for the media, the casual fans were into it, people were wanting tickets to go. Again, something that I haven’t seen matched - even the lead up to the 2019 PSU game. It truly felt like the whole state was invested in this game. I went to Hubert’s before the game and I just remember how packed it was in there and how excited everybody was. I don’t remember going to the tailgate lots, but I’m sure we went to the Plaza at some point to see the band march in before going into the game. SG, 46

There was an effervescence on campus building from whispers to a choral swell of belief I hadn’t experienced before. I can vividly recall two details. First, the Vice Provost of Students at the time also served as my faculty chaperone for a May session study abroad course in Argentina the prior year. So when he blasted on an email to the entire student body advising us to act responsibly, there was a palpable feeling of, “Oh shit — I know this guy, and he’s legitimately concerned we’re gonna torch the campus again, just like after hockey won the national championship.” The second thing I recall was Lloyd Carr whining about moving the game to Friday night. Michigan looked vulnerable after losing on the road to Oregon and Iowa in the three weeks prior. In my mind, Carr was afraid and knew we had the advantage. This irrational exuberance led to a huge pre-game party at my fraternity house, complete with catering from Steak Knife. It was the first big game atmosphere I had experienced. Matt Humbert (@MVofBOT), 40

3: I was two years out of college and living in Albert Lea, MN at the time. I just remember how excited everyone was, even down there. It felt like everyone around AL was talking about the game. I had friends and family from all over the state reaching out to talk about it. They all wanted to know my thoughts and if the Gophers had a legit chance at winning the game. When it came to football, it was the first time that I can recall people reaching out to me to specifically talk about the Gophers and not the Vikings. There was a buzz around the program that hadn’t been there in a very long time. @vits14, 45

The Gopher game was all anyone talked about that week—the media, people on the street, everyone.  And this was back at a time when it wasn’t that cool to be a Gopher fan.  I hated that I usually saw more of other teams’ gear on our own campus than maroon and gold.  People were typically apathetic at best during that time. There was usually very little on campus excitement that wasn’t sucked out by the dome, but that week was different.  People were buzzing, lots of maroon and gold, lots of excitement. On a personal level, my Gopher-loving grandparents had both fairly recently passed away--one in a car accident (along with my great aunt) and one from complications of that car accident.  I thought surely we would come out of the darkness, emerge from the desert, see the seas parted, and make it to the Rose Bowl at last.  It was a particularly emotional week for me because I kept thinking about how excited they would be. SN, 44

Walk me through your recollection in the lead up to that game. How did you prepare, what were the vibes like, what do you remember most about the tailgate? I was involved with the marching band all through college, so if anything, I was pissed the game was moved to a Friday night rather than Saturday as it meant our typical schedule was all messed up. I remember feeling optimistic about the game as it was becoming clear that our rushing attack could not be stopped by anyone. The typical Twin Cities bandwagon fan was just ready for a winner and it looked like the Gophers might finally have a team that people could get behind. @KEVINZINTHETC, 44




Provide what you remember about the first three quarters. How was the crowd, how were you feeling, what do you remember about your thoughts/attitude?

I’ve watched it on YouTube, so perspective was limited but you could tell the crowd was electric. MH, 32

I’ll never forget getting on the field for the band pregame and looking into the stands, seeing it 90-95% gold cheering for the Gophers blew my mind. Then as the first 3 quarters rolled on, I remember feeling greater euphoria than even after 2019 Penn State. In the band, we were ready to march back to campus, triumphant. This game really showed that people would get behind the team and were ready to show up in support. The pictures of the crowd support that night were not matched until the team returned to campus. @KEVINZINTHETC, 44

What I should have included in question 2, is that there are still positive memories about that game, and those memories are what made 2019 start to feel special even earlier than 2003 did. Coming out of the tunnel for pregame with a packed crowd for the first time ever was intense and thrilling. We marched with our horns down into the compressed M formation, at which point we would get our horns up again and play Pageant as we expanded the M, followed by the Rouser. When the PA voice yelled “Are! You! Ready?!” The crowd went NUTS. As we flanked to go start Pageant, many band kids missed their first Stepper, 40 and/or never started playing their horn again because our jaws were hanging open in awe of the majesty of that crowd. Football-wise, I have never watched a recording of that game, so memories are spotty from the good parts. I do remember the play near midfield when AAK pulled the ball in for a QB Keep and disappeared into a pile of linemen. From our endzone section we didn’t see him and all though he must have been down after a yard. He suddenly emerged from inside the middle of the pile and ran untouched to the endzone and we all went ballistic. I can still see him popping out on his feet and running. It was when some of the bleeeeding had already started, it was 28-21 and that TD got us back out to 35-21. I remember thinking “okay, we got our cushion back, we should be good now.” Stepper, 40


The crowd was electric.  I kind of went in with somewhat tempered expectations but thought there was a chance.  At the half I was like man, this might be it! This might be it! We’re so close, how could we possibly NOT close this out! All of our demons of the 80s and 90s are being exercised and we are going to realize Gopher glory in the sun! SN, 44

The crowd was beyond electric. To have a whole Dome filled with maroon and gold was amazing. I personally had never seen an atmosphere like that. As much as the Dome sucked, it could get so loud. And to have it pretty much full as the band came out - just a moment you won’t forget. SG, 46

I watched the game at home, but I remember how you could feel the electricity of the crowd through the TV. There was definitely a buzz in the Dome that night. As for the game, I remember thinking that I wasn’t really all that surprised. I was probably surprised by the margin the Gophers jumped out to, but I wasn’t surprised they were winning. The team was that good that season. That said, I do vividly remember thinking for the first time in my Gopher fandom that the Rose Bowl was legitimately in play if not something even bigger. That feeling of watching something special unfold is one of the things I think about most when I look back on it. Then Lucy pulled the football out from Charlie Brown… @vits14, 45

The Dome was louder than ever, the sonic pressure quite literally pulsing as a current through the air. From games I’ve attended, the intensity of crowd noise that night has yet to be matched, rivaled only by Penn State in 2019. I had constructed so many narratives during the week, which were manifesting in the first half. The Wolverines had no answer for Maroney and Barber. We had Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston locked down, and our defense had Chris Perry largely contained. Even when Michigan scored on their first possession after the half, we roared back with two more touchdowns. Me, shitfaced off the pint of Jack Daniels I snuck into the Dome, felt like we had ‘em on the ropes at the end of the third quarter. The Jug was ours, we were going to the Rose Bowl, and I was ready for Dionysian excess that surely awaited us all back on campus. Matt Humbert (@MVofBOT), 40

This was the most nervous and excited I had been before a game, period. I can’t speak for what it’s like for the band now, but at the time for Friday nights and 11 AM games you didn’t really have time to think; too much practical stuff to do.  But this game I was nervous, in part because I had all day in class to stew about it, and that carried through all the way down the Metrodome tunnel. There are two major things I remember. First, in the tunnel even before you could see the crowd you could hear the stadium was packed; the decibel levels were high and it crackled with potential energy. Then you saw the crowd and it was different from any home crowd I’d seen before. It was already full before pregame started (highly unusual both then and now), it was almost all gold but from where we stood it was hard to tell how much of that was actually maize. Second, when we got to the part of pregame where we unfold the M from a narrow formation around the 50, the NOISE. The song used for Foldout is called “Fanfare ‘87” and the dynamic marking is fortissimo, “ff”, Italian for “blow as hard as you can”. The roar of the crowd hit with a physical force and the view of them standing looked like a giant, uncoordinated “wave”. I couldn’t hear myself play, I couldn’t hear the people near me play, I couldn’t hear the drumbeat. A few of people who could still hear the drums stopped playing and were shouting out the beat so we didn’t get off count. Never experienced anything like that before or since. @biffthetick (, 41




Then things turned. Talk about what you remember about that, how vividly you remember things, what did it feel like? Is it like other things you've experienced or imagine experiencing?

At the end of the 3rd Quarter I was confident but reserved; I knew my history. It seems quaint in retrospect but I remembered the Micron Bowl from my rookie year, 2000 when we gave up a 24-8 halftime lead. I knew Glen Mason’s predilection to Prevent Defense when he had the lead. But 28-7 seemed pretty so a few of us did some quick math on how many scoring chances Michigan would have and calculated that all we had to do was stop 1 of them, and score 1 time ourselves, to win. The first Michigan drive of the 4th sucked, something like 1 minute or less to score. When Asad Abdul-Khaliq threw a Pick-6 a few minutes later my stomach was churning, but my friend Courtney reminded me “Biff, we score once and stop them once, we still win.” A few minutes later came a play I can still see in my mind’s eye. Near the 50 yard line on 3rd and Short, Asad Abdul-Khaliq picked up a seam in the middle of the Michigan D-line and shot through on a 52 yard run where he seemed to be accelerating the whole way. We fell all over each other and the stadium was deafening. I told myself to remember this moment…this specific moment, because THIS was when it all turned around. You tell your grandkids about it, they replay it every time Michigan comes to town, they build statues based on the pose. It was the time we finally learned to hit back. That moment just made the ultimate result more bitter. I went from feeling like I’d just witnessed history to realizing I’d only seen the exception that proves the rule. It was an immensely helpless feeling; “deflating” doesn’t do it justice. The adrenaline of the day, the physical exertion of the marching, playing, cheering, yelling, all left my body with the suddenness of a John Navarre screen pass and was replaced with nothing but frustration and lactic acid. I had never experienced that type of disappointment before; emotionally, it felt more like a betrayal of our fanhood and effort by a coach who couldn’t be bothered to see what was happening in front of him and attain sufficient self-awareness to break his tendencies. I felt cheated, robbed, and physically ill. @biffthetick (, 41

Jack Daniels, as an elixir of false bravado, has a depressing mechanism of slowly transmuting into anger juice under certain conditions, like when Chris Perry accumulated a million yards worth of screen passes. AAK’s pick-6 was a body blow, the kidney shot that had me writhing in agony with my head in my hands. AAK’s response with the long touchdown was supposed to be his atonement, demonstrating that year’s team was different. But it was not to be, because Braylon Edwards and Chris Perry kept happening. I convinced myself watching the replay of Edwards’ touchdown catch that he didn’t have possession, an irrational belief I still hold despite knowing I was an unreliable narrator then. I have no good reason for holding on to this false construct anymore. No — the Earth is flat; it’s 5,000 years old, and Braylon didn’t catch that touchdown pass I spent the rest of the game in stunned, spinning silence and disbelief. Matt Humbert (@MVofBOT), 40

My first thoughts when the comeback began was that Michigan was just going to score your typical late game garbage time touchdown/s. I wasn’t concerned at all. Then Michigan scored again, and I thought to myself “hmmm, maybe the Gophers should do something to not give Michigan life/hope”. I think at one point I even started to nervously laugh at how bad the defense was playing. That nervous laughter turned into total disbelief in what was happening. All I could think was “how could they go from playing so dominantly to looking like they’ve never played football before?”. Once the game ended and the comeback was complete, I wasn’t even mad about it all, I was just dumbfounded by what I had witnessed. I couldn’t wrap my head around any of it. Like, how can a team rush for over 400 yards and lose?!? I didn’t even know that was possible. All these later and I still can’t understand how a team can rush for that many yards and lose a game. It’s mind boggling. Unfortunately, in retrospect, blown leads were the norm for Mason’s teams and was ultimately his undoing at the U. @vits14, 45

The bad plays that stayed with me are the fumble on the drive that gave them the go ahead field goal, and the interceptions. I long said that if I ever had genie wishes or access to a time machine, the first thing I would ask for is for Justin Frahley to fall on the Michigan fumble at his feet to get us the ball back. Then I would tell AAK not to throw those INTs. The theme of Mason being obsessed with Prevent Defense was a regular part of our in-game critiques I think by this point, so I remember all of us just begging them to not give receivers such big cushions and get more aggressive on D again. By the end of the 4th none my little group of 4-5 trombones was even playing songs in between plays anymore, and it was the softest and saddest Rouser to end the game that we had played to that point in my career. We’d all been throwing around the plan to march back to campus, but as soon as the game was over we just wanted to get on the busses as fast as possible. Stepper, 40


Like my face was stuck in a permanent shock look.  Not understanding how it could happen and would someone just cover Chris Perry PLEASE! The ups and downs of that 4th quarter - after Asad scored, thinking we’ve got it. But we didn’t have it. I still don’t understand how. I don’t even remember how it ended or who had the ball last or anything about the final moments and that’s probably for the best. Just disbelief. And walking out of that game knowing that we blew it. That we were never getting that crowd back or the attention from the casuals back and that everybody the next day would be saying “Same old Gophers.” SG, 46


Sand started slipping through my fingers. Surely we will get it together and somebody will start tackling.  Somebody will hit someone. This isn’t working and surely we will get back to playing how we were in the first three quarters. Surely they understand what’s at stake and make a defensive stop.  Until there was no sand in my fingers whatsoever.  Just emptiness.  Disbelief. Despair. SN, 44

As the 4th quarter went on, I remember turning to one of my friends next to me and we looked dumbfounded that we played nothing but prevent defense and seemed to forget the screen pass is legal. I’ve never experienced anything like that hopelessness, but I imagine it is the feeling you have when you are in a plane heading towards the ground – hoping the pilots pull it out and wondering why us? @KEVINZINTHETC, 44

From watching on YouTube, it almost felt like I could will a different result into existence. How do you allow 38 second half points? How?! MH, 32


What did you do after the game? Why did you do that?

Quietest and quickest post-game band show ever and bus ride back from the dome, just pure depression from everyone wanting to get out of there. I think I went home and just went to bed feeling shell shocked. @KEVINZINTHETC, 44

I remember the aftermath much more clearly than the game itself.  I was with a largish group of friends-only 2 of which understood or cared what this game meant.  The three of us sat there for a long time.  One of my friends-M-left the dome and some other friends caught up with him. They weren’t going to wait for those godforsaken buses so they started walking back to campus.  I found out later that one of the non-knowing friends started asking M for relationship advice and became the historical champion of terrible timing. M couldn’t even speak or look at the question asker.  That is probably the only part I look back on and laugh now. SN, 44

I remember driving down S. 7th Street talking on the phone to my sister and we were both pretty distraught/upset and not understanding how it happened. I can’t remember how long I talked to her or what I did when I got home, but I’m sure it was a sleepless night. SG, 46

First thing I did after the game was go for a walk. I needed to decompress and take it all in. Once I got back from my walk, I poured myself a strong drink and found a movie to watch. I didn’t want to think about the game whatsoever. I think I watched a comedy. Needed something to laugh at and feel good about. @vits14, 45

I was not a shining exemplar of maturity as a 20-year-old. As I was walking home with fraternity brothers across the 10th Ave bridge, I still had the empty pint of JD in my pocket. I took the bottle and chucked it as hard and far as possible into the river, hoping anything would alleviate my impotent rage. It did nothing. I could discard a bottle, but I couldn’t get rid of the emptiness I felt in my soul. Matt Humbert (@MVofBOT), 40

The band had no choice, we had to play. We had to form up into a parade block in the tunnel and march out to do a postgame show. As a section leader I was supposed to encourage my group and act as an example, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to try and tell my best friends in the world not to feel their feelings. I performed well enough to satisfy my personal pride but I didn’t judge anyone who couldn’t bring themselves to do it. There were some people who vocally said they were quitting. The bus ride back to campus was silent. I went to the basement of Northrop and changed out of my uniform by which time I had developed a screaming headache. I was sweaty and I stank but there weren’t any showers so I just changed into dry clothes and left. A friend had been so confident in our victory that he had stocked the tub in his apartment with ice and beers and invited everyone over for a postgame party. I biked my emotional husk there on auto-pilot and found a handful of friends sitting with thousand-yard stares and half-drank beers. I grabbed a beer from the tub, drank it as fast as I could but the coldness made my headache so bad that my vision started to narrow. I was exhausted and embarrassed; I felt like a fool to have believed. My friend was trying to cheer people up, but someone there (I don’t remember who) wouldn’t stop talking about how dumb we had all been and how THEY never thought we could do it. I just left, I didn’t have the emotional energy to argue and I was starting to get worried about my headache. I biked back to University Village, drank a glass of lukewarm water, took some ibuprofen and went to bed. I slept for at least 12 hours. @biffthetick (, 41

In what circumstances do you think about the game now? How does it feel? Why do you suppose you still think about it?

I don’t retain details, dates, scores very well. Years get put into general buckets, and when I am around others with better memories I can be jogged into finer points coming back. 2003 was a great year for me in the band. I was given responsibility, I was living in a house with friends instead of the dorms, my buddies were seniors and going out with a bang, we won The Axe in glorious fashion. It was the best I’d ever had it as a Gopher fan in my whole life. I think back on it so happily. The MIchigan game sits there, staring at us from the shadows of an otherwise good year, reminding us that we dare not dream of anything more than that. It was the first time I’d ever realistically envisioned the Rose Bowl, and it lit a flame of unrequited devotion that would slowly build inside me like a frog boiling in a pot. Glen Mason made a bad team good. It was a lot of fun. He couldn’t make a good team great, but he’d already planted that seed in our minds that maybe we could dream bigger. The clock began to tick. Stepper, 40

The game completely jaded my view of Gopher football for 15 years. I’ve got the kind of borderline-obsessive personality where, if I’m into something and decide to support it, I’m ALL in. I hadn’t grown up in a college football house, neither of my parents went to college, and they were from Iowa. So once I decided to go to the U, I was 100% in and I immersed myself in everything I could find about the program history because I hadn’t been raised with it. I had what I thought was a good feeling of the ebbs and flows of the program, as well as what it was potentially capable of. I truly thought going into the 4th Quarter that I was witnessing “It”, the fabled turnaround that would restore our program. I went the other way after 2003; I don’t think I ever believed we really truly had a shot. 8-4, 9-3 if the schedule was easy. It wasn’t that I thought the deck was stacked against us, it was that I had no faith in our leadership to be able to deliver. Beating Wisconsin and Oregon later that year was great but it was like a skin graft…the scar tissue was still down there. Subsequent events mostly confirmed my bias. It took until November 9, 2019 for that to change. While many of you allowed yourselves to hope leading up to that Penn State game, I didn’t. I resolved to enjoy the game and the crowd and not be a downer for others. But at no point did I believe we would win until we actually did. Jordan Howden’s interception in the end zone right in front of my seats became another snapshot moment like the Khaliq TD run; as soon as I knew he caught it I sat in my seat and sobbed. Those tears carried the baggage of 15 seasons and the weightlessness I felt afterwards was the delayed dividend for what I had hoped that Michigan post-game was going to be. Now I think I’m able to think about it in a more healthy way. It doesn’t become a dark tunnel I go down that brings others down with me. It happened; it was the crown jewel of Missed Opportunities. But it doesn’t define the future. @biffthetick (, 41

When I look back on the game, I have a lot of mixed feelings. I don’t necessarily just think about that game, I think of the season as a whole. As I mentioned above, the Michigan game was possibly the largest #MissedOpportunity this program has had, but the same thing could be said about the entire season. It was legitimately a program changing loss. I know some people scoff at that idea, but it really was. That said, it wasn’t just that game. As bad of a loss as Michigan was, I would say the loss to Michigan State the following week was the real dagger. The Rose Bowl was still on the table with some help, but the hangover effect was in play against MSU. They came out completely flat and dug themselves a major hole in the first quarter. By time they woke up and started playing it was too late. Then they got Kinnicked in Iowa to end the season, and if memory serves me correct on that game, it felt like the players had checked out since the #SpecialSeason had gone down the tank. The bubble burst on Mason after that season and he was fired three short years later. @vits14, 45

To steal a quote, “It hurts more but bothers me less.” I am trying to decide between ’03 Michigan and ’19 Iowa over what feels like the more significant missed opportunity. Both games are distillable to the outcome of a single play between sending us to the Rose Bowl versus what happened. Recency bias aside, at least with 2019, the shit sandwich was more palatable because of the delicious bread layers of Penn State and Auburn. And in the subsequent years, we keep beating Wisconsin and Nebraska. It feels different now, so I say it bothers me less. The program is healthier, supported more, and in a better spot 2003 requires a twirling bit of mental acrobatics constructing a counterfactual of the possible. Maybe we don’t piss ourselves against Sparty the following week. Maybe we go 7-1 and win the conference outright. Perhaps the U experiences a surge in interest from prospective students and alums, elevating the incoming student body test scores and class ranks, increasing donations, and other positive externalities associated with athletic success serving as the front door for the University. Maybe Glen Mason can hire better assistants who can coach and recruit. He wouldn’t acquiesce to defeat on the recruiting trail, and he’d get to build towards opening up TCF Bank Stadium. What if we had momentum and didn’t lose 15 in a row to the Badgers. We may be much further along as a program than we are now. Or not. That’s the part that hurts: we’ll never know Matt Humbert (@MVofBOT), 40

I look at the game still as one that absolutely impacts the program and the view of the program today. Win the game and it’s Roses and we maybe have the success as a University and a football program and athletic department that Wisconsin had due to their Rose Bowl. I think time has helped heal that loss (and winning more than losing and having seasons like 2019 helps), but it sucks that it was this massive opportunity to win the B1G and go to the Rose Bowl and really build something. It took away something that I think all Gophers fans have wanted so badly and is no longer a possibility. But I think greater than that, it was just another example of why this state never has fully embraced this program like our neighbors as I just remember being so mad at the time that they would all get to say again “Same old Gophers.” It sucks. SG, 46

It is so much worse now than it was at the time.  Because we never made it to the Granddaddy and now we never will. At the time, I was 23 and it really hurt but there was always next year.  Now at 44, it is a broken bone that was set wrong, grew back incorrectly, has no hope of healing, and cripples you over time. It is the sharpness of acute pain vs. the weight and demoralization of chronic pain. The Gophers in the Rose Bowl is the one thing on my bucket list that I can’t control and will never achieve. SN, 44

This game above all others lingers in my thought process towards Gopher Football. I’ve seen every collapse since the inexplicable 2000 jNU homecoming loss and the Michigan game hurts more because of what that victory would have meant to the entire program. @KEVINZINTHETC, 44

It feels like a missed opportunity but I also realize it was only game 7. It’s possible we stumble elsewhere. I think 2014 Wisconsin, 2019 Iowa, 2019 Wisconsin hurt me more. If any of those 3 turn the other way the West is guaranteed won. MH, 32

In retrospect, would you choose to experience that again if you were able to go back to the day before the game?

Yes. The buildup to Gameday in 2019 was similar based off what’s been described . Being that relevant in the sport is what we live for. Imagine having the opportunity for a 2019 Penn State moment more often. MH, 32

I would, nothing in Gopher Football has matched those feelings from the first 3 quarters since. That team still caught the attention of everyone, it just didn’t turn out how we hoped it would. @KEVINZINTHETC, 44

Yes, because I am a Gopher fan.  It is inside me and there is good that has come with all of the bad.  Good in the form of friends, travel, experiences, and family time that I would have missed out on if not for Gopher fandom.  But if I could elect to take a Mike Tyson punch to change the outcome, I absolutely would.  I would choose physical pain every time if it could change the fourth quarter. SN, 44

Absolutely. The euphoria and the build up to that game was unmatched. This time I would leave after the 3rd quarter though. Or tell Asad to just fall down at the 2 yard line instead of score too quickly. SG, 46

Absolutely. I grafted the outcome of that game onto my DNA, the biometric key granting access to the intersubjective consciousness of Gopher fans. It is a torment and pain I cannot escape, but I don’t have to face it alone because many of my closest friends experienced the exact moment. There is catharsis and healing from sharing stories. Matt Humbert (@MVofBOT), 40

I’d absolutely go through that experience again, which we did in 2019. That was big time football. You want to feel the stakes rise with each passing week. That’s what makes college football so great. The atmosphere, the pageantry, the drama, the emotional highs, and lows, etc. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it all.  It’s difficult at times being a fan of a program like Minnesota…and the power brokers keep moving the proverbial goal posts to ensure the power programs remain the power programs. We don’t get to experience too many seasons like that where we are mentioned with the power programs. So, when they do happen, it makes it that much more special when they rise up and have a season like that. Minnesota sports teams have historically invented ways to come up short on the big stage. We all know the history. The 2003 Michigan game and the entire season was the Gophers version of the Vikings 98 and Brett Favre seasons. It was all there for the taking, yet they somehow managed to choke it all away. The season didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but wow, there was some fun football played that season. @vits14, 45

I’m legitimately not sure. It depends a lot on if I knew it was coming or not. I think there are moments in your life where you really know you’re alive, above and beyond the default mode of existence. Intensity of emotion and thought which has a literal physical effect and shocks you into “the moment”. Those can be good or bad, but when they happen there is absolutely no doubt that you’re a thinking, feeling human being experiencing fucking LIFE. You don’t forget those moments: when I saw my wife in her wedding dress for the first time, when I held my baby for the first time, when my dad stopped breathing. I don’t mean to equate a sporting event with those life moments, it’s not at the same level it’s nowhere near important. But if there is an analogous fanhood version of that kind of life-shaking impact, the 2003 Michigan game is it. @biffthetick (, 41

Hell yes. I was young, happy, and hopeful. Surrounded by friends in the prime of our lives, yelling cadences and making up songs that most of the fans at games would never notice. People CHEERED for us when we came out of the tunnel. They went nuts and yelled when we played the Rouser. They spelled MINNESOTA in a deafening roar. I think about that feeling all the time. I ask people all the time how folks who don’t like sports ever get to feel euphoria. How do you ever get to feel total joy, communal rejoicing, and complete devastation (and still get to go home to mostly just move on with your life unchanged) without sports? I am an emotionally reactive person. It has lots of consequences for me in my real life. But I don’t want to put a lid on it and risk losing those highs and lows. I don’t ever want to go to a game with that much at stake and not feel the total extremes of every feeling I can have. It’s the whole point. Stepper, 40

How, if at all, has the outcome of that game affected your life outside of Gopher sports?

I think that game gave me a certain jaded-ness towards the program. It’s hard to walk into most “big” games thinking that it’s going to end well. It’s that always waiting for the other shoe to drop feeling. And some point it’s almost comical that it is never us and believing that it never will be us. I feel a win that night has everybody looking at Minnesota different and so maybe I’m different today as an alum. As I’ve gotten older and things have happened in my life, I’ve been able to downgrade the importance and impact the wins and losses have on my life and I know 2003 me would have been devastated knowing the Rose Bowl was no longer an option and that we never made it in my lifetime. Today, as the playoffs and conferences change, it’s more thinking about what does this mean for me as a fan when there isn’t that big Pasadena dream out there anymore and the chances of winning the B1G are slim. So again, it feels like that October night in 2003 was just THE most massive missed opportunity of many missed opportunities that this program has had. SG, 46

The positive side: I have read many studies that have shown that resilience is one of the key defining characteristics of successful people.  I feel that Gopher fans have that in spades, so there’s that. The negative side: Something was lost inside of me that day. I don’t get too hopeful about things out of my control. I try to control everything that I can, probably to extremes. Who knows to what extent that stems from other events in my life or this one.  I have no question that I am a different person now than if we would have held on.  For better or worse, who knows I guess. SN, 44

Not much outside of getting tired of folks who aren’t Gopher fans saying “Same old Gophers” every time something doesn’t go our way. The Vikings haven’t been as relevant in nearly as long as the Gophers, yet that ineptitude on the pro level hasn’t lessened the ability for the fans to cheer them on every year. Why not the Gophers too then? @KEVINZINTHETC, 44

No tangible change to my life, but Gopher football in general has impacted my life. I’ve met lifelong friends and my future wife because of Gopher football. MH, 32

It left me with an unachievable dream to feel victory and vindication, watching the sun set on the San Gabriel mountains from the Rose Bowl. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the first time I would really take to heart that no matter how much I want something to happen, do my part, pay my price, make my investment, the thing that means the most to me in the world is determined by 18-22 year old young men and egotistical men who may never be ready to accomplish that dream. And now it’s too late and that dream can’t ever come true. Our chances in 2015, 2019, 2021, and 2022 are gone. We missed the boat. While a lifelong Gopher fan, I have really dug in even further now than I was when I was in band, due to this group of friends and my band alum friends building this team and these traditions up to be a big part of our lives and our futures. I have invested my time and emotions in a more purposeful way. I have chosen to make this a year round part of my life because of the community and family I get to feel from all of you. From the Fan Advisory Board, to the Broken Chair, to using my season ticket holder discount to buy 20% off tickets for strangers to help sellout games, to making public outcries to ensure everyone knows their stripe color for the first Stripe-Out, to making sure everyone is drinking Duck Duck Beer. I am doing everything I can do as a fan without Booster Money to make my experience as full, fun, successful, and memorable as possible. And when we do all of that, break the records, show up with heretofore unmatched energy and passion… but the team still loses, it really sucks. I have learned from all of those heart breaks that the only question I need to ask myself is “would I do anything differently?” The answer to that has always been “No.” I don’t want to be a casual fan. I like being devoted to this and sharing it with my friends. I like how the hope feels as it shows up sneakily and then overtakes me without me realizing it. I like being able to say “us” and “we” when I talk about the team. When the good is good, it’s the best. And every time I do everything they ask, wear the right color, pump up the casual fans and draw them back in, yell on defense, stay through Hail! Minnesota, but the coaches and the team fall short of holding up their end I’ll get that shame/anger cocktail again. I did my part. Why can’t they ever do theirs? Why do I keep letting them make a fool out of me? And I need to heed the lessons I’ve learned since 2003. Would I do anything differently? No. The Good is worth waiting for. 2015, 2019, 2022. I am going to keep doing my part, hoping eventually they’ll do theirs too and we’ll discover what the new dream is then. Stepper, 40

Mostly it’s become a benchmark of disappointment to score other things against. Not many qualify. For a long time, my extreme level of disappointment that lingered after this game colored my reaction to other disappointments, which the Gophers have provided generously. That affected my life outside of Gopher sports in the sense that I had days and weeks that negatively affected my mood and in extreme cases led to some behaviors that were unhealthy and even hurtful to others. I don’t think it was *only* the Michigan game that did that, but I think it started there. I’m pleased to say I’ve put that behind me, or at least I think I have. Only took 15 years. @biffthetick (, 41

The impact it has had on my life is just wondering what could have been. What experiences did I potentially miss out on because they couldn’t finish the deal? Where would the program have gone from there? Would recruiting have had an uptick? Would it have taken another three years to get approval for the stadium? The Texas Tech debacle probably doesn’t cost Mason his job. The 10-year mistake of hiring Brewster definitely doesn’t happen. Adam Weber doesn’t get royally effed over. So, so, so many dominoes ultimately fell as a result of that game and season that it is really hard to comprehend it all. @vits14, 45

The misery I suffered fueled a passion for writing about this cursed team, and without that drive, I don’t know where I’d be today. FBT allowed me to cover the team as a media member, but more personally, it was my creative escape and outlet from a dark chapter. I can joke now that “maybe the real Rose Bowl was the friends I met along the way,” but it’s true. Fellow bloggers and readers are the core of a friend group dating back a decade. I travel with them. I’m watching two of them get married next year as a groomsman. When my marriage was crumbling, full of doubt, and I didn’t think I had anyone to turn to, they were a soft landing. A reader reached out and offered me an interview when I was facing unemployment: my enthusiasm for Gopher football and data-driven storytelling landed me two consecutive jobs, propelling my career for the following decade. I cannot understate how much influence and intertwined the trajectory of my life is with Gopher football — and so much of it comes right back to a single game. That incandescent pain forged resilience and gratitude to not take moments of collective glory for granted. And it's the membership dues for a club I never applied for, but I am thankful I was accepted nonetheless. Matt Humbert (@MVofBOT), 40

Sometimes things are real, sometimes things are raw, and sometimes things are real raw. This content definitely falls into the third category.

I think a lot of Gopher fans feel like they’re staring into the abyss now. The B1G West and its relatively straightforward path to the B1G championship game is going away. Four new teams that, by just about any measure, are better positioned for success than our Gophers, are joining the conference. We’re facing financial hurdles in coaching salaries and NIL that are not competitive with the top teams in Power 5 conferences, a separation that will become all the more acute as the sport evolves into a Power 2 structure. And we are experiencing the program’s worst performance under Fleck immediately before a season where the difficulty is switched up a few notches. The future looks pretty bleak.

Part of the purpose of this work was cathartic. Sometimes sharing how you feel about a bad thing can help resolve how badly you feel about it. The pernicious and intrusive memories of that game can be mitigated by knowing we’re not alone in how we feel. It doesn’t necessarily make it better; but it helps to know others carry the same burden, that we’re not defective in some way for feeling the way we do.

I think the main catalyst for doing it, though, is it’s a perfect metaphor for the human experience. You can look at the purpose of life as climbing a mountain, where anything other than reaching the peak is failure. Or you can look at life’s purpose as a dance, where you adapt and adjust based on the music and the actions of your partner without a specific goal or objective. Yeah, maybe that’s loser cope talking, and I’ll accept that; but the broader point is adversity and failure are inherent parts of all of our lives. That something as unimportant as a college football game can evoke such emotional depth 20 years later says a lot about how that adversity defines who we are. That we still choose to be passionate about the team responsible for that adversity says a lot more about resilience and hope.

Gopher football hasn’t won anything of real significance in my life. They’ve never reached the mountain’s peak. It’s entirely possible they never will. But the people who comprise the Gopher football fan base, their belief to persevere despite hardship, to support the team financially and through community building, to show up year after year regardless of the burden of past failures – that’s a hell of a tribe. And the tribespeople who contributed to this piece and others like them – they make great partners for the dance of life.


  1. Resilence, it's all we have. Abandon all hope ye who enter Gopher fandom.