Ohio State Buckeyes (#5) vs Minnesota Gophers, Thurs, 9/2/2021, Time: 7:05pm
Final Score: Ohio State 45 – Minnesota 31, Attendance: 50,805
Weather: Light rain, 67; Ticket: $69 via Seat Geek, Face: $135 Parking: $0
Review: “Yeah, you betcha” by Tree
University of Minnesota resides in Saint Paul, Minnesota. As one might guess, an early season visit is advised, given the propensity for cold weather and snow later in the year. The timing of the State Fair makes an opening weekend visit extremely appealing, which is what I went with. Logistically, getting to Minneapolis / Saint Paul area is easy enough with a reasonably large airport. You may not be able to get there on a direct flight, but it is possible. I didn’t rent a car as the prices were nuts, $350 a day. Instead, we relied on Ubers and public transportation to get around. With a reasonable approach to avoiding peak pricing, it was affordable. One thing to note is the amount of public walking and biking trails. I stayed at an AirBNB on the edge of the Como area, which was beautiful. In fact, I was able to walk from the state fair back to the AirBNB with no trouble at all. In general, a very pleasant place to visit in early fall. I would not necessarily want to be dragging snow boots, parkas and wool hats for the later season games, but to each his own.
The Gophers play at the relatively new (2009) Huntington Bank Stadium. With a capacity of 50,805 with an ability to expand to 80,000, the stadium is exactly the right size for Minnesota. Our game was a sell-out and the environment inside was electric. We had bench seats on the lower level in the corner of the end zone. With a great view of the larger video scoreboard, we had no complaints, particularly at $69. We bought them about an hour before kickoff as tickets were starting to get scarce. There were some scalpers selling tickets. Earlier in the week, there was reasonable ticket availability both via the University and 3rd party sites. Given that #5 Ohio State was in town, I doubt that there would be a situation where the tickets are harder to get, except for when the hated Badgers come to town. The stadium has all the bells and whistles of a new stadium: seat backs on many of the seats, two video scoreboards, video ribbons and a good sound system. They do a particularly nice job on keeping the stats up to date throughout the game. The concessions were fairly standard, and the souvenir cup was slightly above average. The food was regional for the most part and they did serve beer (I mean, you are in Minnesota). The band is good, but I would say Wisconsin later in the weekend was better.
A little bit on tailgating: We found the tailgating to be a little slow to be honest. The lots were about 65% full so it took a while to get into a tailgate mood. We did experience some midwestern hospitality and some insight into those “mother f*cking Wisconsin fans”. There are some strong emotions when it comes to the Badgers. Things really got rolling when we got to the Gopher firetruck. Before I knew it, I was doing fireball shots off a sled. That was a first, drinking off a sled, not the shots of fireball. As we made our way to the stadium, a local university representative convinced us to move down to another gate as the line was extensive. It seemed like reasonable advice, but it turned out that all the gates were backed up. The one positive was that as we walked around the stadium with our stomachs grumbling, we stumbled upon a group looking to give away their last couple of brats. It was just what the doctor ordered.
Once in the stadium, we eventually found our seats – the delay causing us to miss Coach Fleck’s stirring entrance. We quickly made friends with the Gophers around us, but the Buckeye fans were a little more suspicious. The Gophers can claim seven national titles, but the most recent one was in 1960 so you wouldn’t exactly categorize them as a power. However, their recent 9-0 start in 2019, has created new hope in the fan base. With a storied history, there are several traditions to help stoke the fire. “Ski-U-Mah” is the Minnesota slogan that was created in 1884 by the football coach in a misinterpretation of a local Dakota tribe saying. It doesn’t seem to be quite as prominent given the sensitivity to cultural appropriation these days. Honestly, a bit ironic given that it was actually a botched cheer from the start. Other traditions include Goldy the Gopher doing pushups after a score and fans shaking their keys during kickoffs. Neither of these are particularly original. The student body chanting to Goldy to spin his head was amusing as was the third quarter tie in to the Caddyshack gopher on the big board. However, my favorite was the long cheer by the fans after Minnesota scored. It starts with a slow winding down clap, then goes to the spelling of “M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A” while pumping fists, to “go Gophers”. Or at least, that’s a close approximation. Regardless, it was a great cheer that we heard multiple times as the Gophers scored often. I know that “Row the Boat” is their current slogan, but we’ll wait to see if it stands the test of time. I give the entire fan base high marks for intensity and crowd noise throughout the game. It was a great environment despite a consistent light rain.
Of course, the overall quality of the game had something to do with exciting vibe as well. Ohio State jumped ahead with a big touchdown run. It was early and it may have caused the Gophers defensive backs to focus more on the run because they certainly didn’t focus on the pass. The Buckeyes torched the Gophers for four touchdowns in the air with the three passes over 50 yards. Minnesota must have been thankful for the rain, otherwise half their secondary would have been in the St. Paul burn unit. Early on it looked like Ohio State would run away with the game. However, coach Flick made a gutsy 4th and one call from the Minnesota 29. Their stud running back, Mohamed Ibrahim, rewarded the call with a 56 yard run. In fact, Minnesota ended up leading at halftime 14-10. Alas, turnovers and a season ending injury to Ibrahim, who gave the Buckeyes fits all night, ultimately doomed the Gophers. Nonetheless, the game was tight until about the last five minutes. It was noted, more so by Buckeye fans, that the few critical penalties seemed to consistently go the Gophers way. Still, it was inspired play by Minnesota.
This was my first game in the post Covid world, and it was a bit disconcerting. I will admit that outside, I didn’t wear a mask, thinking the breeze and rain would limit the risk of transmission despite the close quarters. Only time will tell if this was a bad idea or not. I do know what is a bad idea – those striped overalls you see the kids wearing at Big Ten games. Despite the gift of youthful appearance, no one looks good in those things, no one.
Overall, I would rank the Minnesota experience as a must see with the following caveat, it needs to be early season, particularly state fair season. The state fair is a lot of fun with plenty of beer and food to enjoy. I spent about four hours there and that was about the right amount of time for a game day. However, you could easily spend a whole day without getting bored. The only drawback to the Minnesota experience would be either cold weather and a potentially bad team/game. Otherwise, the fans are fun, the beer is cold and seats are good.
Minnesota Football – Yeah, you betcha.