In my office I have a framed picture of TCF Bank Stadium the day it opened – September 12, 2009 vs. the Air Force Academy, a game the Gophers won 20-13.
In the picture I see a student section of gold t-shirts, people standing and cheering and not an empty seat in the stadium. The sky is majestic, blue with intermittent white clouds and in the open corner of the stadium that looks out onto Stadium Village, a faint yellow sky making it the perfect evening for a college football game. It was the high point of atmosphere at TCF Bank Stadium.
After the opener at the Bank the crowds began to shrink, the losses mounted, and the weather wasn’t as nice (or so it seemed). Losses to South Dakota, Northern Illinois, North Dakota State, and New Mexico State followed and the student section was only about half full. There was a brief return to glory at the stadium during the Syracuse game last year on a Saturday evening.
People were tailgating all day, the beer was flowing inside the stadium, and Gangnam Style never sounded as good as it did between the third and fourth quarters. However, the Gophers went 1-3 at home in the conference last year and the atmosphere from the Syracuse game was an aberration.
The argument can be made that TCF Bank Stadium, not just Jerry Kill, is searching for that first signature win. While these wins may come close, they’re certainly not the signature wins we’ve been seeking.
- Air Force 2009: It was a beautiful evening, it had all the nostalgia of being the first ever game at TCF Bank Stadium, and the Gophers won.
- Michigan State in 2009: It was a Saturday night on Halloween. I could probably stop there – not to mention the Gophers won a close game.
- Iowa in 2010: It was an unexpected victory for a select few hardcore fans in attendance on an otherwise cold dreary night in a lost season.
- Iowa in 2011: Jerry Kill’s first conference win at TCF Bank Stadium.
- Syracuse in 2012: It concluded a 4-0 start on a Saturday night and people were genuinely happy that night. The atmosphere and the Gophers play were superb.
While those were all uniquely nice victories, none of them come close to what I would call a program changing win. The Gophers are still chasing that at The Bank.
A signature win would be a win over a Top 20 team in which the Gophers are double digit underdogs. A game in which, the Gophers kick a game winning field goal and the fans storm the field and tear down the goalposts. Now, I guess the fans did that after the Iowa win in 2010, but come on – there were maybe 500 fans on the field. I’m talking about when the Gophers win a game in front of 50,000-plus and the entire student section is on the field. Kill is being mobbed with ESPN cameras and microphones in his face and the victory leads SportsCenter.
I laugh at the notion that Gopher football can’t be big in Minnesota or that going to TCF Bank Stadium will never be popular. That is absolute hogwash. We have seen the popularity in small doses, namely the Air Force game in 2009 and the Syracuse game in 2012.
Could you imagine what knocking off a Top 20 Nebraska team could do this year? By the time the Huskers roll into The Bank, they could be a Top 10 team. The problem is the Gophers haven’t had a program changing win at home in a long time. They came close against Michigan in October of 2003, when 60,000-plus fans packed the Metrodome on a Friday night.
After the Gophers blew a 21-point fourth quarter lead, they saw about 30,000 the next week against Michigan State at the Dome. That’s right. That game cost the Gophers home field advantage at the dome and they never recovered from that.
Most college football stadiums are famous because they seat a bunch of people and are home to successful football programs, not because they’re new and pretty. No one said two peeps about Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium and then the Badgers started going to Rose Bowls and playing “Jump Around” after the third quarter and it turned into one of the more popular and well know college stadiums in the country.
Great line from Bull Durham: Crash Davis to Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh – “Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. Win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it only means you are a slob.”
If the Gophers keep losing people will see TCF Bank Stadium as being a drab new stadium that lacks character. If they start winning big it will be looked at as one of the elite college stadiums in the country. The Gophers need to generate their own atmosphere at the bank and it starts by putting a quality product on the field. A great team could be the key to unlock the vault.