College Football season is less than one week away, and the fanatics are already crawling out of the woodwork.
"Wood? Did you say WOOOOOD?!?!"
Yes Goldy, I said 'wood.' Even our good friend 'Goldy,' the mascot of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, is ready—and for a very good reason.
For the first time in nearly 30 years, the University of Minnesota will be playing football. Real football. Outdoor Football. Big Ten Football.
With the completion of TCF Stadium, located a mere four miles from the University, in the heart of beloved 'Dinkytown,' the Gophers are making their final preparations for the 2009 season. Slated for a Sept. 12 opener against Air Force, the contest is already a sellout. There is a certain buzz in the air that only the local Minnesota fans can explain. (See Article)
Marking a new year in which Minnesota (7-6 in 2008) returns nearly all of it's offensive starters, (10 players) and nine on defense; the timing could not be more perfect. A new home, a solid team, and relentless support from students and fans alike.
The Gophers new home - TCF Stadium, is situated just North of beautiful Downtown Minneapolis, (an extra mile or so from their old home in the HHH Metrodome,) surrounded by the likes of the 'Dinky Dome' (a large food court) the Loring Pasta Bar (the building Bob Dylan lived in while living in Minneapolis), and Al's Breakfast (the city's smallest restaurant).
The stadium itself is a beautiful cathedral of a park, made out of everything but, well—wood.' (Much like the old Memorial Stadium used from 1924-1981, which was made up almost entirely of brick.) Boasting an impressive external structure, (unlike Goldy's favorite delicatessen,) TCF Stadium is supported almost entirely by a recycled steel beam skeleton, and can currently seat just over 50,000 comfortably (with capabilities to expand to 80,000 seats in the future).
Aside from the benefits it brings to fans—the new stadium will have a tremendous impact on something else hard to come by in the Land of 10,000 lakes.
Many of us know the impact recruiting has on football success. That and Coaching can be the difference between a packed house, and an empty one. For the better part of the last half-century, the Gophers haven't been the benefactor of either, with the exception of a few years with Glen Mason and Lou Holtz.
The University of Minnesota can only be as successful as it's parts, and over the past 28 years—that success has been shared, financially, with the other two Minnesota teams—the Twins and Vikings.
Imagine being a recruit considering Minnesota. Why would you want to go to the U of M?
You take a visit to Minneapolis. You view the beautiful scenery in and around the campus. You get a great taste of the best restaurants, the fishing, the outdoors, the culture of Minnesota.
The people, the places, and the atmosphere are all so wonderfully perfect. All of it—It's all just so golly-gosh...perfect! You imagine yourself as a student there. You can see the picture of life with the "Minnesota nice" people, and life is as grand as a piano.
Then, it all unravels—The Metrodome...A big, clumsy, FieldTurf monstrosity.
If you're lucky, you might get to take a peek inside, but don't make any noise. Odds are, it's being used, for one of it's hundreds of "all-purpose stadium" patrons, and likely, it isn't being occupied by your teammmates, unless you were drafted in Baseball too, and the Twins happen to be warming up.
Or...you might plan your visit on a day when the Vikings are working out in shells, or maybe Brett Favre wants to use the field because he wants to bathe his sore arm in jell-o with his new friend Prince at midfield. WHO KNOWS!?!?
Point being—two is one too many, and three's a crowd.
As a recruit, you'd want to imagine that empty stadium filled with fans. Real fans. Loud obnoxious fans. Fans who are cheering for a contender. A somebody. You. All those Gopher heads cheering for you, and only you: the new star recruit.
Not in Minnesota. Not for the last 28 years.
Chances are, the blue chips wanting that dream—ended up at Wisconsin, or Michigan State, or some other school that promised that dream. Someone who knew the importance of a stadium's profits, undivided. The U of M suffered from being the little brother who sat in the middle-backseat.
Well, not any more.
Now, Minnesota can go back to being a Big Ten team, after years of frustration. They can go back to playing in rugged, rainy, tundra-like cold weather. Down and dirty. In the mud. Black-and-blue conference games echoing the greats of Bud Grant, Carl Eller, and Tony Dungy.
"If you build it they will come."
Minnesota is building a program inside as well as out.
Recruits will see this. They will come.
Building the program didn't just start at breaking ground for a new field. It also started by bringing in new blood at Head Coach. Glen Mason may have arguably been the most successful coach at Minnesota in the last 30 years, but much like the success of the nearly 30 year old stadium (two World Series, a Final Four, and a Super Bowl) sometimes demolition is required. In steps Tim Brewster.
Coach Brewster in only his second year, has taken strides to develop a winner, by completely revamping the coordinators on offense and defense, Tim has gone from a 1-11 season in 2007 to a 7-6 season in 2008. While I'm reluctant to call that success, my gut tells me that Brewster will turn Minnesota into a winner, and the expansion capabilities aren't just coincidental.
Minnesota looks like a budding, but capable program worth keeping an eye on over the next few years; and perhaps, this Gopher team may even turn some heads as early as this year.
It shouldn't be long now—before Floyd of Rosedale, Paul Bunyan's Axe, and the Little Brown Jug finally have a place to hang their hat.
Especially if this year's Minnesota squad decides to Gopher-Gold.
Look out Big Ten.