Tonight marks the beginning of the 132nd season of Minnesota Golden Gopher football at TCF Bank Stadium, and it looks to be one of the more interesting ones. In that time the team has gone 92-33-6 in it's opener, and 96-29-6 in it's home opener, facing opponents from all ends of the college football world in the early years: a 4-0 victory over local Hamline at the State Fair Grounds in 1882, a 107-0 dismantling of Twin Cities Central High School in 1904, the 19-13 loss to Iowa Pre-Flight in 1944. In the last 50 years, there have been
3 4 visits of distinction to start the year in Minneapolis for the Gophers. My father-in-law, a former high school and college wrestling coach from the Iron Range, speaks of the 1968 game between the Gophers and USC with reverence he usually saves for Bob Gibson, Muhammed Ali, Dan Gable, and Paul Wellstone. Supposedly Murray Warmath let the Memorial Stadium grass grow all summer to slow down USC's star running back, some O.J. Simpson. It worked: Simpson was held to 6 yards a carry by the Gophers defense. Unfortunately, USC gave him the ball 39 times. The 39-236-4 TD performance was one for the ages in USC's 29-20 win. My father's tales of Gopher games past aren't as flowery, as one would expect from someone who aged with Gopher football through the 70's and 80's. The dereliction of both the program and Memorial Stadium led to some dark times for Gopher fans. (EDIT: Holy hell I forgot Ohio State 1974. The Buckeyes, led by Archie Griffin, walloped the Gophers 34-19.) The 1983 home opener at the Metrodome against Nebraska will continue to be a low-point for the program, and should be a warning sign to everyone of what can happen. 84-13 was a rather kind result, and it wouldn't be a stretch to think that Irving Fryar is still open. The most recent visit from a top team led to a similar result. Penn State's 1994 team was arguably one of the best one's I've seen in my lifetime, and an argument between fans of two of the B1G new kids over who should have won the National Title that year would probably not end quickly. What did end quickly was any chance of the Gophers beating the Nittany Lions in the opener that year, as Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter led them to a 35-3 halftime lead on the way to a 56-3 loss.
That leads us to the game tonight. TCU has the potential to be a team listed with the elite ones above, and Trevone Boykin could end up as one of those players we talk about years and decades later. The likely result is that Minnesota will lose. Failure, disappointment, and frustration are what Minnesota have felt when playing elite teams through the years. But unlike the many teams that have been bludgeoned, the results of this game will only matter for tonight. Gopher fans have new, unfamiliar feelings that have been growing the past few years under Jerry Kill and his staff: Hope, optimism, and confidence, which are weird and different. But that's what's on the horizon. It's not unreasonable to think that this game and the game against Ohio State are islands of despair of what can be an ocean of positivity this fall. The steady development of a tenacious defense and the return to being able to maul opponents on the ground have given Gopher fans every reason to think that they've got a chance against nearly every opponent.
But not tonight. Tonight we celebrate the return of football, getting back together with friends, and the community of the University of Minnesota. And we'll watch TCU win. And then we'll get back together in the tailgating lots, and talk about next week and the rest of the year. And we'll do it with the belief that it's going to be fun.