I’m a relatively casual college football fan. I get into it at the beginning of the year but there’s so much of it that I tend to get burned out by midseason. The fact that there isn’t a competent team in the vicinity to follow probably plays into it too.
I’m talking DI here specifically. Naturally I pay attention to the two-time NCAA DII champion UMD Bulldogs, but that’s tough to do from the Twin Cities.Contrary to what many of my friends think, I want the U of M to be good, in everything except hockey. My allegiance for UMD trumps where I live. But in all the other sports, I consider myself a Gopher fan.
So on Saturday I finally got to my first game at TCF Bank stadium for Gophers v. Miami (Ohio) Redhawks. I don’t own any Gopher fare, so I sported a maroon UMD t-shirt and hat. Hey, at least the color matches. I was excited to experience big-school college football, but wasn’t expecting the kind of atmosphere we saw last weekend for Notre Dame v. Michigan (obviously).
What I found was very comfortable stadium, even without the fancy cushioned seat backs everyone else around us had. We were in the upper level, section 236. The metal bench seating was a bit tough on the back, but there is plenty of legroom between rows. The Bank is aesthetically pretty. We had a nice view of downtown Minneapolis, Williams Arena, and Mariucci (Engelstadt East as my wife calls it). Gopher pride is represented well, with M logos everywhere and acknowledgement of Minnesota’s aging football glory days.
So what of the atmosphere? Best way I can describe it is potential. Again, I’m a guy who hasn’t been to Madison, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, or even Iowa State. But I got a piece of the college football vibe yesterday. You had a good student section. You had the band. You had a handful of “regular people” in the rest of the crowd that got into the game. There was a guy and a gal in their early 30s who would do the band moves along with them, including the run in place bit – so clearly they were in the band at the U. There was an older couple next to us that got into some of the traditional student cheers, including the “First Down” hand coordination. Luckily, the guy was willing to share the insight from the radio broadcast he was listening to…with everyone.
The missing link was the entire stadium getting into it. Besides the students, there would only be a handful of people getting up for third down plays or getting loud when the Gophers really needed it. So it got loud, but not deafening. I’ll give Gopher fans a bit of a pass given how bad the team has been for so long. But there’s a good vibe around the program with Coach Kill. He appears dedicated to building a program that the people of Minnesota will be proud of. If that happens, I think the Bank could rival a place like Madison. And I have a feeling that’s all it would take for me to become a real college football fan.