Earlier this week, I wrote a piece that featured a preview of the Border Battle, or the Big Ten West Championship. I was lucky enough to be a superfan for one of the biggest games of the season for both the Minnesota Gophers & the Wisconsin Badgers. Not only was it the Big Ten West Championship, but ESPN College GameDay came to Minneapolis for the first time ever. Being one of the few shows that ESPN does extremely well, and only living a half hour from the University of Minnesota campus, I had to take advantage of an opportunity that didn’t come so often. I hope to offer any advice to fans who are interested in going to a College GameDay experience themselves – by including a recap of what happened throughout the day down below. I hope you enjoy!
Once ESPN College GameDay was announced to the Twin Cities, I was more than pumped. The crew could’ve came up to Minneapolis a couple weeks earlier with the Penn State matchup, but in a game featuring LSU & Alabama and the hype that came with that game, it was an opportunity I’m sure most of the nation would’ve wanted instead.
Luckily, I found some poster board and went to work. Once I was at GameDay, I found I could’ve used two more things: a long stick of some sort and some plastic wrap to protect my sign from all elements of snow, rain, or sleet. I kept an eye on the forecast up until Saturday, the Twin Cities were expecting from 3-5 inches of snow throughout the day.
Here’s how the schedule of the day came to be:
4:37am: My alarm was set for 5:00am. I was too excited to sleep, and since I had everything out the night before and my car pretty much packed, I checked GoogleMaps to get directions to the closest parking ramp where GameDay would be hosted. All main roads across the Twin Cities metro were orange – meaning that normal driving speeds shouldn’t have been tested and that there would be some delay in getting to our destination. I shoveled my driveway to my townhome and we were eventually on the road.
5:17am: Kwik Trip for Coffee & Breakfast. Best place to stop for coffee, luckily I don’t live too far from one.
6:12am: We arrive at the Washington Avenue Parking Ramp – I couldn’t go faster than 55mph on Interstate 94/694 as roads were completely slippery with snow, sleet, and ice. I change into my Carhartt bibs, and Minnesota Gopher hoodie in the Parking Ramp – having wore sweatpants and a sweatshirt to the parking ramp.
6:28am: My sister and I finally get to Northrup Mall, but there has already been a crowd that has been there as early as 4:00am. It’s going to be difficult to see where we will be at, but all I care about at this point is being there with all of the fans. More people start showing up after wards – I have a clear view of the stage and can see the hosts doing a little bit here and there for SportsCenter on ESPN.
7:30am: Lee Corso (84 years young) comes out with two helmets – a Wisconsin Badgers helmet & a Minnesota Gopher helmet. This ensues:
8:00am: ESPN College GameDay begins – live from Northrup Mall on the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus. Fans are all jacked up. It is loud. I stay for the duration of the event – and I get texts from 6-8 people that I have been shown on TV. I am standing in the area of the North Dakota Fighting Sioux flag, and the guy tells me: “I could never fly the Fighting Hawk flag – it means nothing to me.
9:00am: Pat McAfee is maybe twenty yards from me. He loves Minnesota and the entire environment.
Both he and David Pollack make their picks: They are going with the Gophers. The crowd goes wild.
9:26am: @RedditCFB shows up right behind me with his flag, now next to the Fighting Sioux flag. It’s a Twitter account that I strongly encourage anyone who loves College Football to follow – they encompass everybody from Division I to NAIA and even teams internationally. I want him to see my sign, so I spin around. He notices, and wants to snag a photo. I make it onto social media, accomplishing the goal I had set the beginning of the day.
Apparently, I also made KFAN’s blog too. Check out #16
P.J. Fleck shows up and a “Row the Boat” chant goes on throughout the crowd.
10:55am: It’s just about time for the GameDay crew to make their picks for the Battle of the Axe. Guest picker is former Gophers & NFL wideout Eric Decker. I think at this point, most fans in attendance at GameDay are curious to see what kind of a head gear Lee Corso will sport.
11:01am: ESPN College GameDay concludes. Rece Davis and the crew thank the crowd one last time. There is free cans of Coke for fans to grab on their way out. Both my sister and I need to go back to my car to thaw out and change into dryer clothes before heading to tailgates. It’s a short walk to where we need to go.
11:48am: The rest of our crew has taken an Uber from Saint Paul and has arrived at the tailgates. My sister and I join them. I have brought a tall boy of Bud Light along with a bottle of Boones Farm. We meet the other party at one of the tailgates. Being in a fraternity and having some connections to the chapter on campus, we decide to hang out at the tailgate until the gates open up for the stadium. The crew brought an old guitar case that had a bunch of random alcohol in there – from Busch Light, to Peppermint Schnapps, to Fireball, to Naturdays. The bottle of Boone’s Farm is gone within minutes. We catch up with old friends.
1:30pm: The gates have been open to TCF Stadium for a half hour or so. My sister and I decide to go in, grab something warm to eat, and find our seats. Concession prices aren’t too terrible at TCF Bank Stadium. Beer can actually be sold inside of the stadium, just as long as you have a wristband indicating that you’re obviously of age. I’ve seen Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy sold at TCF Stadium as late as November – didn’t see any yesterday, however.
I’ve gone to three games prior to this point at TCF Bank Stadium when it’s been a Border Battle, and this has to be the first game where I’ve seen more Gopher fans than Badger fans inside of the stadium. Our seats are in the east end zone, not too far from the student section.
2:30pm: GameTime. Gophers grab the early lead on this throw:
After this, there really isn’t a ton to cheer about if you’re a Gopher fan. Wisconsin made adjustments and stepped up big on defense. Minnesota also shot themselves in the foot, and couldn’t catch in on some passes from QB Tanner Morgan. The weather didn’t seem to help either, as the game went on, the snow fell even harder. A football team that grinds it out handoff after handoff, and exploiting mismatches, Wisconsin went into halftime with a 10-7 lead, and didn’t look back.
Before too long, Wisconsin had a 24-10 lead.
Minnesota was able to get the ball down to their own 6-yard line, but couldn’t get into the end zone after two consecutive incompletions on corner routes to senior wideout Tyler Johnson. Badger fans started to get loud. They knew that the Axe was within their sights.
Then this play broke the game open and broke many hearts inside TCF Bank Stadium.
By this time, most of the Gopher fans head for the exits, which was depressing. Shows how much fans truly care about the team – even in times of adversity. The snow during the second half was pretty. And I’ll add – football is meant to be played outside and not in a dome. How else can you appreciate this?
Our party stayed for the whole game. I was reminded by social media – the reason why I’m not a Badger fan or will ever be a Badger fan – but that’s what makes rivalry games like this so great. The winner of the Big Ten West now goes up against the three-headed monster they call Ohio State. Wisconsin has a good team – but I’m not holding anything back by saying I hope that the game is a lot like my 21st Birthday, where Ohio State put a 59-0 whooping on a Badgers team that at the time was favored going into the matchup. A reminder:
The roads sucked all the way home. I think with the game getting done a little before 6pm, I wasn’t home until 7:30pm. I couldn’t even make it up my driveway for how slick and how much snow and ice had accumulated throughout the day. After some Casey’s Pizza – I shoveled quick and was able to get my car into the garage.
To anybody out there – if you have an opportunity to go to College GameDay – I advise that you go. It’s a fun atmosphere for any fans of College Football out there. I am proud of the success that the Gophers have had up to this point, where it’s likely that the Gophers may be heading to the state of Florida and facing a good, quality SEC opponent in the Outback Bowl or the Citrus Bowl. PJ Fleck may have claimed that the Gophers were Co-Big Ten West Champions with Wisconsin, but considering where the program has been to where they are now, they have every right to be proud and to showcase their successes if they so choose.
To every critic of P.J. Fleck, the #RowTheBoat mantra, or anything that has to do with Minnesota Gopher football – I think any program out there should be their eyes on what has happened to the University of Minnesota and the excitement of college football that has been brought to the state where the Minnesota Vikings cast their shadows over anything now and often. I’d rather be a fan of a man who is bringing bigger and brighter things to a campus. Fans join teams that are winning – have success, and bring in the recruits to show it. That day will come for the Minnesota – it’s not too far away.
Until next year – it’ll hopefully bring more motivation for the Golden Gopher Football Program for next season, bringing back the same pieces (for the most part) and retooling.
P.J. Fleck is doing it right – he is the definition of how you lead. #RowTheBoat