Now that Tubby Smith and the Gopher basketball team have wrapped up a season that can best be described as a roller coaster, focus can shift to getting ready for another season of Golden Gopher football.
The majority of Gopher fans aren't expecting big things from the team this year. The schedule is brutal, and one can't help but wonder if this season will indeed be Tim Brewster's last.
No matter what happens on the field, fans are going to continue to show up at TCF Bank Stadium, just to get inside the one-year old facility.
Win or lose, the stadium is quite the experience in itself. Of course if the team continues to disappoint on the field, those numbers in the stands are going to dwindle.
No matter how bad the team is, there's nothing I'd rather do on a fall day than sit in the shadow of that giant scoreboard and watch some college football.
College football is about so much more than the game itself, and that's one area where a lot of Gopher fans are really missing out.
Granted, it's not totally our fault. Most collegiate programs don't play smack dab in the middle of a major city, where the parking around the stadium is limited to a few small lots and parking ramps. You can't tailgate in a ramp.
You also can't tailgate in the parking lot of an office building. It's tough to throw a football or toss some beanbags when you're limited to a tiny patch of space situated next to a busy city street.
At most schools around the country, tailgating is just as important as the game itself. You get there early, you stay late, you eat, drink, and have a good time.
I was certain when the Gopher football team returned to campus, the tailgating scene would explode. I was wrong.
There are logistical problems that certainly prevent people from fully enjoying the tailgating experience.
Sure, there are some excellent spaces that sit right in the shadow of the stadium, but those require pretty hefty donations, and everyone simply can't afford that.
The "best" lot for tailgating is located all the way over on the St. Paul campus, near the State Fairgrounds. It's big, it's roomy, but it's definitely not in walking distance.
Having to take a shuttle over to the stadium was a big deterrent for me. If I'm late for kickoff, I want it to be on my terms, not because a bus got stuck in traffic.
My group settled on a parking lot on the West Bank last season. We felt fortunate to snare a space in that lot. It wasn't exactly close to the stadium, but it's a nice 20-minute walk through campus to get there and it's really easy to get in and out of.
I figured we'd be surrounded by other fans who were just as excited as we were to finally be able to tailgate for real.
More often than not, the lot was half-full until 30 minutes before gametime, when most of the "fans" would pull into the lot, share a six-pack of Schlitz out of the trunk of their Buick Century or Subaru Outback and hastily scurry to catch the bus to the stadium.
If that's what you want to do, more power to you. I'm telling you, you're missing out on a lot of fun.
Get there early. It might be chilly, but it wakes you up. Make some food. Grab some beverages and talk about the game. Talk about last game. Talk about that heartbreaking game from 15 years ago. It doesn't matter.
Take a roadtrip if you need to and take note of how our "friends" in Iowa City or Madison do things. Those people know what they are doing.
Granted, a lot of Gopher fans do too, but far too many just have no idea what real tailgating is. We've run into too many obstacles from our Metrodome tailgating past to convince ourselves that's it's worth the effort. It's worth it and then some.
Give it a shot at the spring game in April. Plan a menu, pack a grill and a cooler, and enjoy being outdoors. That's why so many of us pined for the return of outdoor football. We've gotten a second chance, Gopher fans. Make it worth your while.