It’s the beginning of the end for the TCF Bank Stadium’s construction planning stages.
The ceremonial groundbreaking of the University’s new football facility was at the site of the stadium Saturday afternoon, marking the initial return of football to campus.
A crowd of about 1,000 included students, alumni, past athletes and coaches, benefactors, legislators, community members and even Michigan’s athletics director, all eager to see the stadium built and swapping stories about Gophers football.
Athletics Director Joel Maturi said in his speech that Michigan’s athletics director, William Martin, was among the first donors for the stadium.
After a Minnesota-Michigan game was rescheduled in 2003, the two athletics directors were discussing the inconvenience when Martin presented Maturi with a $100 personal check, Maturi said.
Preparation for the groundbreaking started in early June, shortly after the Legislature agreed to stadium plans.
Assistant Athletics Director Phil Esten, one of the ceremony’s coordinators who was involved in the stadium push for three years, said it was meant to be a celebration for everyone who has been involved in the stadium enterprise so far.
“What this was all about was everyone coming together and that’s what happened (Saturday),” he said, adding that the idea was to create a game-day atmosphere, with stadium-inspired food, the marching band and enthusiasm.
“All (we missed) there is the football game itself,” he said.
The event began with the relay of a football from the team’s current home, the Metrodome, to a parking lot that is scheduled to be TCF Bank Stadium in fall 2009.
Roughly 275 ball handlers stationed along the route passed a football hand-to-hand from the Metrodome to campus. Former coach Murray Warmath began the procession, which ended with a handoff from two children to University President Robert Bruininks.
Rick Beeson, a 1976 University graduate, participated in the relay. He said his support for the stadium stems from the business side of the deal as much as from football and also that he was involved in legislative lobbying efforts.
“(My wife and I) believe in this project. We think it’s going to help the University,” he said. “It will add to the campus life and student experience, and create more attachment for alumni. But, ultimately, it will raise money for the University to do what it needs to do.”
The marching band, spirit squad and Goldy Gopher filed into the parking lot ahead of the ball.
Speakers at the event included Bruininks, Maturi, football coach Glen Mason and “Back to Campus” campaign co-chairs John and Nancy Lindahl.
The University Alumni Association has been a leading organization in support of the stadium, and had more than 30 members participating in the relay.
“Saturday (was) a historic day for the University of Minnesota,” said University Alumni Association CEO Margaret Sughrue Carlson. “(TCF Bank Stadium) is a dream the alumni association has been working toward since 2002.”
In fall of that year, the alumni association pledged its support of the stadium, unanimously endorsing a statement that said “it was in the best interest of the University community to bring Gopher football back to campus.”
In fall 2003, the association voted to give $1 million to the project, one of the first substantial gifts for the cause.
In 2004, the association lobbied for TCF Bank Stadium at the Capitol.
The organization also had numerous representatives carrying signs signifying this continued support of the project.
Bruininks asked the Lindahls, both 1968 graduates, to head the “Back to Campus” initiative in 2002, which has been instrumental in fundraising efforts.
Nancy Lindahl said fundraising efforts were about halfway mark to the goal of $86 million, which she called a comfortable place to be at this point.
“I’m so proud to be representing this effort,” she said. “The stadium is a vision of the future.”
Mason lauded the “Back to Campus” efforts in his speech.
“You win with people, and when you’ve got people like (the Lindahls), you can’t help but succeed,” he said.
The Lindahls announced several new corporate donors of the TCF Bank Stadium project, and Nancy Lindahl said she will kick off a grassroots fundraising effort in late spring.
Nancy Lindahl said she intends to travel to every Minnesotan county and stay in each until the stadium receives a donation.
“(The University’s) all about history, legacy and tradition,” said Nancy Lindahl. “This stadium honors all of those.”
Not everyone is as enthusiastic about an on-campus stadium. Sophomore Jane Elvecrog said she did not attend the groundbreaking ceremony.
“I don’t know if (the stadium) is worth it to me, because I’m not a huge sports fan,” she said. “More people seem to want it than not, so it’s worth it for them.”