TCF Bank Stadium Offers Real College Football Potential

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pontificating on Minnesota’s Winter Classic

New year’s day was the NHL Winter Classic in Boston’s Fenway Park. Hockey in an outdoor baseball stadium. It was the NHL’s 3rd New Year’s Day outdoor hockey game, and 4th outdoor game overall. At one time I thought every year would be too much, but it has proven to be one of the most exciting days of the year in the NHL. I’d much rather watch this game than a nondescript college football bowl game. It has truly carved out a niche in New Year’s Day tradition. This year’s game was again full of spectacle, history, and really turned out to be an exciting game. Just another great event.

Each year I get to thinking about the event in Minnesota, and how much fun it would be to go to that game. Now that the Gophers new football stadium TCF Bank Stadium is open and the Twins new ballpark Target Field is less than 100 days away from opening, we finally have 2 great venues that could host the game. The latest I have read is that the Wild is pitching TCF Bank Stadium to the NHL. Not much is known about that proposal and I have to believe that the Wild would be interested in holding the event at Target Field as well. Assuming that the Wild get the Winter Classic in the next couple years, and assuming that both the U of MN and the Twins are interesting in hosting the event in their respective buildings, here’s a breakdown of how I see where the game should be played…

Sightlines
In all of these outdoor games, the sightlines for hockey definitely seem to be of secondary importance. Of the 4 outdoor games, 2 of them have been in football stadiums, 2 in baseball stadiums. If the game were at Target Field, seats would be great behind home plate because the rink is laid out from 1st base to 3rd base, but in the outfield not so much. It would seem that a football stadium, being of rectangular or oval uniformity, would lend itself better to being able to see the action on a hockey rink.
Advantage: TCF Bank

Theme
The Wild have spoke of this event to include college and possibly high school games as well. Makes sense, because this year Boston College and Boston University will be playing at Fenway (Friday Jan 8th 6:30PM NHL Network). Obviously Minnesota’s event would include the University of Minnesota Gophers, probably both Men’s and Women’s teams. That being said, it would make sense to have the Winter Classic at TCF Bank, because it’s on the U of MN campus and they could continue the college vibe. The NHL could focus it’s tradition theme on college players in the NHL. And maybe it could be some sort of MN college showcase. Bring in MN Duluth, MSU Mankato, St. Cloud State, and Bemidji State to join with the Gophers and you’ve got a tremendous event. Actually, the more I think about that the more I like it. Hope Wild PR Guy Billy Robertson reads this!
Advantage: TCF Bank

Secondary Money
This one is the most controversial, because it is about alcohol. Current policies at TCF Bank Stadium do not allow alcohol to be sold anywhere in the building. It’s a weird state legislature thing where the U of MN wanted to sell it only in the club areas, the state got involved and said either everywhere or nowhere, and the U went with nowhere to avoid sending a bad message about college kids drinking. It’s noble, but it also comes at a price. Revenue. When a glass of beer is $7 you’re giving up quite a bit of potential profits when you decide not to offer it in a stadium. Profits of which the NHL would get a piece. Do you think they’d want to give it up?

Across town at Target Field, there’s plenty to go around. Budweiser is a major sponsor, there are I think 4 different bars/restaurants, there are specialized concession stands dedicated to beers from the state of Minnesota, and then there’s the Budweiser Rooftop Party Deck, complete with a gas firepit . Add to this the fact that NHL fans enjoy a beer or two as part of the experience, and that a little libation may help to keep the body warm at an outdoor hockey game.

Many may not believe this is something that should matter, but I think it will be the deciding factor in where the game is played.
Advantage: Target Field 

Me?
My personal opinion here. Sightlines are secondary in this event. It’s about the pomp and circumstance, the vibe, and just the awesomeness of an outdoor game. The beer thing plays into the party vibe. I’m not a Gopher hockey fan, but I am a huge Twins fan, so I guess Target Field wins my bid. For the history perspective the NHL is looking for, the teams should be Wild v. Dallas Stars. The college game(s) should include UMD at the very least, and preferably all the D1 teams in MN since I just thought of that great idea.

So how bout it Commissioner Bettman? Who’s next?

What do you all think about Minnesota’s Winter Classic? Post in the comments!