Sometimes in the heat of our competitive endeavors in this cutthroat Big Ten conference, we lose sight of what really matters. The red mist of combat pushes aside such noble practices as compassion for our fellow man and giving of one’s self for the enrichment of the downtrodden.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers, however, are not your average Big Ten program.
While the Ohio State Buckeyes postured for College Football Playoff positioning, Minnesota went above and beyond on an outreach trip to help at-risk fans in Champaign. P.J. Fleck’s values synthesized with the traditional culture of Minnesota to produce the perfect guests. A Fighting Illini offense that had produced only 7 points against Purdue was enriched by the generosity of Robb Smith of Minneapolis-St. Paul, first of his name, defensive coordinator of the Gophers and the Boat Rowers. Their charity drive raised 55 points for a destitute Illini team desperate to show improvement over an awful 2017.
They didn’t stop there, however, as their relief effort included a scoreless third quarter against an Illini defense that had been devastated by a turtle stampede the week prior to essentially seal the fourth win of the year for Lovie Smith. It was about more than being a polite guest to the Gophers, it was about reaching out to help the most vulnerable members of society.
Most schools would have been satisfied with one heartwarming weekend spent rebuilding a dilapidated football team, but not Minnesota. Their duty to help those less fortunate compelled them to do more goodwill when Fighting Illini women’s basketball came to town having lost 29 straight Big Ten regular season games. The #12 Golden Gophers could have selfishly focused on competing for the conference title, but they found a higher purpose in giving up an 11-2 run late in the game to allow Illinois to come from behind and win. There had been no buzz about the women’s basketball program until this supreme gesture of hospitality. Minnesota gave a voice to the forgotten women whom society tried to silence, and I don’t think they get the credit they deserve for it.
They could have stopped there and still been recognized as true humanitarians, They’re not in this for fame and accolades. though, and they proved that again last night with another charity drive that raised an astonishing 51 first-half points to an Illini basketball team with a pitiful 4-12 record and a head coach that nobody likes (nor should they). They were considerate enough to avoid drawing fouls and allowed four players to score in double figures. Minnesota could have stood idly by and watched as their fellow Big Ten member drowned in a historically unprecedented record, but instead they organized a disaster relief effort on a scale not seen in Champaign since Farm Aid.
Illinois and Minnesota meet again tomorrow, this time to wrestle. Illini heavyweight Deuce Rachal could really use some support for his 23-26 career record.
Maybe the mainstream media won’t cover a story this pure and heartwarming, but I want you to know, Minnesota, that from the very bottom of my soul I thank you for being a great neighbor.