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MINNEAPOLIS… I have had a longtime and entrenched interest that “kicked off” in the fall of 1959. I was a shy kindergartner living on the tailend of West 7th in St. Paul and on most Saturday’s my father was usually locked on to some college football, either on TV or radio, and of course the local Golden Gophers team was of great interest. Boosting that interest was that one of our neighbors was a recent graduate and starting offensive linemen from the program. At that time the Gopher team was one of the most prolific in the country. It receives little mention these days, and even less hype when it does get talked about, but there was a time when this was one of the most storied teams in the land. A great many collegiate football fans here and around the country do not know that the program has been National Champions 7 times. Oddly enough, the subsequent decline and regression can be traced back to the emergence of the NFL Vikings in Minnesota. I’m not laying a direct correlation to that, but the timing is odd.
I even read an in-depth article years ago that did tie the two together, not only here, but in other locations where an NFL team came in and knocked down a once prominent college program. The theory has some plausibility, especially here, where the Gophers team has basically sucked wind since the emergence of the Purple, but there are many factors involved so I have to take the theory under advisement. It’s quite factual though that the win-loss performance of the program has been in the tank over the time span I allude to, the lows much more consistent then any highs we have witnessed, and by and large it has been a test of loyalty to remain a fan and supporter these decades later.
But a fan I am. Maybe I don’t know any better or I had the values of loyalty and tradition ingrained within my psyche to an extent greater than most humans have. But over 60 years I have missed few games. No matter the medium, TV, radio or stadium, my autumn Saturdays have always included Gophers football. No one close to me has ever suggested giving it up or seeking therapy, they all know better. One of the two biggest thrills I’ve ever had from watching the team came way back in 1977. In early October I had the terrible misfortune of receiving a life threatening medical diagnosis. One day I was at the doctor, the next I was in surgery. After 4 days I was released but sent in for subsequent tests that showed more surgery would be needed.
With that and current treatments available at the time, the survival rate was one in ten. My doctor though knew of an experimental program that offered some hope. No guarantees, but hope. It was at the U of M hospital just 15 miles down the Mighty Mississippi from where we lived then. The next procedure was scheduled and I would check in on Sunday the 23rd. The day before, the Gophers would be taking on the Number One team in the country at that moment, the Michigan Wolverines. My attendance at this tilt would be based on the way my recovery was going from the first go-round of surgery. But if I thought I could walk the 2 blocks from where I parked to the stadium, I was going. That was that.
My brother was my guest that day and we made it in. I was weak and aching, and without regard for either. Many of the games at the old Memorial Stadium had good attendance, some didn’t, but today the building was packed. It was clear and comfortable. The Gophers came out and popped Michigan right away, taking a ten point lead into the quarter change and never looked back on the way to a 16-0 shutout! I will absolutely never forget the team racing across the field at the final horn to go retrieve the Little Brown Jug! To this day I can’t quite explain the feeling from that afternoon. It would be the last game I’d attend for awhile. The next two and a half years were physical and mental hell, especially the first one. But I made it through.
I knew 29 male patients in that program. I was number 23. There were 6 survivors in that group. I can say that I owe my life to the University of Minnesota and I wouldn’t be lying. These days I watch a lot of Gopher events, and when the Rouser is played, sometimes there might be a tear rolling down my cheek. It’s emotional. It’s raw. It means just a little bit more to me than the average fan. I’ll never apologize for that…
SATURDAY AFTERNOON was one of those times. The Gophers had just beaten #4 Penn State in a 31-26 gridiron thriller that had the eyes of most of the college football nation on it. I can’t adequately describe it, but assuredly you already know about it, so I’m not even going to try. The Maroon and Gold led all the way through setting off an epic, total nirvana-like celebration post game. The sheer release of decades of pent-up frustration could likely have been measured on seismographic equipment outside of the Metro. The team stands at 9-0 for the first time in over a hundred years. The effort from the players has been beyond expectations, but at the end of the day there is one individual behind the Golden resurgence.
Phillip John Fleck was hired to the program on the backside of another disaster complete with scandals attached. He came in singing the mantra of we all have to “row the boat”. Many dismissed the rising young coaching star. And I’ll admit to some indifference myself. I’ve seen this show too many times before, I’d been to the circus. But talent started to come in, games were getting won. The team was trending upward. They were 8-0 before Saturday’s tilt. Skepticism remained due to strength of schedule. But then they punched one of the strongest, most consistent teams in the land right in the mouth. And then they kept punching them. Post game was another of those teary occasions. This team is for real and they aren’t done yet. Hand me a paddle…. PEACE
THE MINNESOTA WILD are 2-1 so far on a 4 game roadie out West. They beat ANH, lost to SJ, and won versus ARI. Here’s the current data; THE ATHLETIC; 25th, trending for 85 pts with a 22% chance at the playoffs, 1% for a Cup. THE SAGARIN; 24th on a 6-11 record, 1-4 vs top ten, 3-8 vs top 16 with the 2nd rank in schedule difficulty. NHL; 7 of 7 in the Central, 6 -10-1 for 13 pts, 46GF, 60GA, -14 diff. 3-1-1 @ H, 3-9 @A. 5-4-1 in L10, 1W streak. 24th/GF, 26th/GA, 17th/PP @ 18.9%, 14th/PK @ 81.5%, 16th in PIM’s with 149. This week, vs LAK, ARI & CAR. OVER & OUT!