PJ Fleck stood on his stump weeks ago and gave a PJ Fleck speech about why ESPN College GameDay should come to the University of Minnesota. It was sure to be two top-15 teams clashing at TCF Bank Stadium that Saturday when Penn State rolled into town, the Governor’s Victory Bell was going to be on the line, and (his main argument) bringing GameDay to Minnesota was DIFFERENT, which is what GameDay claims to be about.
Fuck… SportsCenter has been to St. John’s vs St. Thomas and, just earlier this season, an NDSU matchup vs SDSU.. but they’ve never been to the U of M Campus or the Metrodome, when the Gophers played there. I mean, in all fairness, we haven’t given them very many opportunities.
Fleck’s presentation was impressive, per usual, but ultimately unsuccessful. Alabama and LSU were playing that same weekend and when the SEC and ESPN have the opportunity to get together and touch helmets… well, you can be damn sure that helmet-touching is going to take place. ESPN went to Tuscaloosa for the 74,879th time, while the Gophers pulled off the biggest victory in TCF Bank Stadium history 1,100 miles away, without ESPN and their SEC chaffed helmets.
Entire MD Postgame Press Conference — (Start of Pitch to GameDay: 13:30 Mark)
So, fast forward a couple of weeks, through a disappointing loss in Iowa City plus a victory over Northwestern yesterday, and the 10-1 Minnesota Golden Gopher Football team is now standing at the edge of untouched territory. Sure, University of Minnesota has gone to Rose Bowls and they have dominated the Big Ten (and all of college football) before… but that was back when the University was a safe haven for athletes of color, from all over the racist south. Players like Bobby Bell and Sandy Stephens walked off of a charter bus in Minnesota, to a different world… (as Bobby Bell explains here on an interview earlier this year with KFAN) one that allowed them to thrive as a humans and as athletes. No black/white bathrooms or water fountains… no segregation. And they did thrive, like countless others.
But this is a different age (thankfully), and the best athletes around the country get to play wherever they choose to play. So, you need a way to get them here. You need bright lights… you need a big stage…. you need a microphone. On Saturday afternoon, the Wisconsin Badgers will come into TCF Bank Stadium with The Axe, a Big Ten West title, a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game, a gimme Rose Bowl birth, and an outside chance at the College Football Playoffs, on the line…
And, you can be damn sure that College Gameday isn’t missing that chance at history… or, you can at least be sure there isn’t an SEC game of the same significance, going on next weekend.
Having College Gameday here is big time for so many things, but the biggest one is brand awareness. The more often you see the block “M” on national television and under the big time spotlight, the more likely we are to get better recruits, coaches, etc. And getting those recruits and coaches (and keeping PJ) are how you sustain your time at the top of college football. So, GameDay coming is huge. But, GameDay is only here because this is a massive game, as discussed in length earlier. This isn’t a massive game, if the Gophers don’t win the games leading up to this one.
Winning is the only thing that matters this weekend. Amid all of the distractions and hype that will be pumped into campus all week… none of it matters if you don’t win. No Big Ten West Title… No Indianapolis… no Axe… No Pasadena…. nothing.
This is a chance that Minnesota usually doesn’t get, and we need to take advantage, no matter how good our future looks. My heart breaks for those who heard all about those great Gopher teams of the 40’s-60’s, when they were kids and being engrained into the college football culture…. just to have the bottom fall out of the Gopher program, as they came of age in the 70’s and 80’s. Instead of making regular trips to Pasadena, like their parents, they’d go on to have their hearts stomped on for 5 straight decades, just hoping for a trip to Arizona for a “Sun Bowl”, or maybe some country music concerts in Nashville, before watching the Gophers represent the state of Minnesota in the “Music City Bowl”.
All of that can be history now, though. With GameDay on site and the entire nation watching this rivalry game on Saturday, we can bury all of that. The Gophers can beat Wisconsin for the 2nd straight year, see the TCF Bank Stadium field stormed again, and find themselves in a Big Ten Championship, with one of the youngest teams in college football…. Win this game, and the shovel will pretty much work itself, as it throws pile after pile of dirt on top of the Gophers’ last 50 years.
I’m glad GameDay got it right this time. Witnessing history is fun.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan
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