Stadium opening a success despite minor snags

Some students almost missed the opening kickoff waiting in long lines into the stadium.

Ian Larson

The University of Minnesota will expand student access to gates at TCF Bank Stadium in reaction to bottlenecks that marred an otherwise successful debut for the stadium, according to officials. Fans queued for hours before the gates opened, but students were exasperated by slow lines at the student gate and no guarantee of premium seating for those who arrived earliest. Throngs of fans jockeyed for position near the general admission student section, and many were in danger of missing the opening kickoff until stadium officials eventually opened extra entryways near the gate, which they will continue to do in the future. âÄúThat really allowed for easier flow, and itâÄôs something that weâÄôll be able to change as we move into next week pretty easily,âÄù said Assistant Director of Athletics Phil Esten . Announced attendance at the game was 50,805. Mechanical engineering senior Steve Erickson began waiting in line at 9:30 a.m. Saturday to get a premium seat. The fifth-year senior said he enrolled for the semester specifically for the chance to watch Gopher football. Erickson sat by himself at the student gate before even the GoldyâÄôs Locker Room stand near the entrance had opened. But because other lines moved more quickly, Erickson wasnâÄôt among the first students to get into the student section. Other students claimed front row seats by racing up the stairs after getting through the gate. Civil engineering sophomore Ryan Melhouse said that getting a front row seat was easy âÄúas long as youâÄôre fast.âÄù âÄúYou have to earn these seats,âÄù said University alumnus Drew Draeger , whose front row seat, gold body paint and wig brought him lots of attention during the game. Tailgating lots designated for season ticket holders were crowded with maroon and gold tents, grills, yard games and beer. Bruce Egeness, 36, made the mandatory $1,000 donation to park in lot 37, three blocks from the stadium. âÄúItâÄôs totally worth it,âÄù Egeness said. âÄúIâÄôm having a blast. Just driving down University Avenue and seeing all of the frats, and seeing all of the students on campus, itâÄôs great. The Metrodome sucked.âÄù Before the game, several members of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity handed out Red Bull energy drinks and collected donations for the Feed My Starving Children charity. Businesses near the stadium were busy with pre-game partygoers. Several hundred people streamed in and out of SallyâÄôs Saloon and Eatery, even two hours before the game had started, and many more came by during and after the game. Josh Zavadil , one of the owners of Stub & Herbs Drinking and Dining Emporium, said the restaurant anticipated 1,800 people to join their tailgating festivities throughout the day. University Police Chief Greg Hestness said tailgating did not result in any serious problems. âÄúPeople seemed pretty happy and pleasant and seemed to enjoy the big opening,âÄù Hestness said. After the game, University President Robert Bruininks said the day was a success. âÄúIt was a great start to what I think will be a proud new tradition here at the University of Minnesota,âÄù Bruininks said. Bruininks lauded the fact that as many as 40,000 non-students came to the campus âÄúto learn about the work we do here.âÄù Despite the warnings of harsh alcohol and conduct policies, breathalyzer use at the gates was not an issue for most students. Others dismissed the conduct policy as irrelevant. âÄúWeâÄôre above that. WeâÄôre just here to cheer on a great football team,âÄù said Eric Eickhof , a business management junior. âÄúItâÄôs just something they have to do to cover themselves,âÄù Melhouse said. âÄúThey canâÄôt stop us all.âÄù University student Sam Glasenapp was turned away for having a backpack and said he wasnâÄôt aware of the policy banning large bags from the stadium. As the game dragged on, some studentsâÄô decisions to leave were affected by the strict alcohol policy. âÄúWe were all tailgating for a few hours before the game, but then you go inside and you canâÄôt drink and you get tired,âÄù said global studies senior Claire Harrison. At halftime, Whitney Meyer , a marketing senior, left with her friends. She said she would have stayed longer if she could have bought a beer. She and her friends said they intended to leave to go to a bar. Even Air Force Academy fans wandered the campus and enjoyed the festivities of the day. Visiting Air Force fans gathered in large numbers at the Armory where they were hosted by University ROTC cadets. âÄúThis is tremendous. I like it because itâÄôs impromptu [and students are] not going out of control,âÄù said Jim Winner, who came from Ohio to cheer for Air Force. -Staff reporters Briana Bierschbach, Robert Downs, Mike Mullen and Taryn Wobbema, Allison Hugill contributed to this report