Gophers fans take on Madtown

gopher fans traveling to madison

Ali Haupt

gopher fans traveling to madison

Last weekend, thousands of Gophers fans traveled behind enemy lines to watch their football team play the Badgers. Students rode down Interstate highway 94 in packs, and alumni poured in from all corners of the Midwest. But one of the most passionate fans was neither an alumni nor a student. Meet Steve Erban , the 66-year-old owner of Creative Charter , a company that shuttles Gophers fans to and from away games across the country. Erban grew up in Montana, but has lived in Minnesota since the 1970s. HeâÄôs a Big Ten sports junkie. It all started in 1993 when Erban wanted to get to a Gophers basketball game in New York, but couldnâÄôt find an efficient way to get there. Taking advantage of his pilotâÄôs license, he decided to charter a plane and ended up escorting fans, cheerleaders and the band to New York for the basketball game. Erban never looked back, and since then he, his wife and their clients have been parading across the country following Gophers sports. Their trip to Madison, which started Friday, was fairly typical: First beers cracked before 11 a.m., a stop for lunch to make friends and talk smack at a small-town bar in Wisconsin and then finally off to their final destination. âÄúThese are the core fans; if they werenâÄôt, they couldnâÄôt come back when we get beat,âÄù Erban said. ThereâÄôs no doubt that ErbanâÄôs companions, many of whom are middle-aged alumni, are hardcore Gophers fans. Sanford Brown was along for the ride Friday and has traveled with Erban for years. Over the years heâÄôs had season tickets for volleyball, basketball and football. Brown even has maroon and gold shoes. âÄúThere have been times when IâÄôve been at the University more than IâÄôve been at home,âÄù Brown said. Student fans Erban said he wished the student population was as devoted to Gophers football as his friends are. The reason for lack of interest has to do with the âÄúlost generation of Gopher fans,âÄù he said. Since the football team moved into the Metrodome and its season records began to decline, fan interest has decreased, he said. âÄúIâÄôve never been more disappointed in the students,âÄù Erban said. But on Saturday, there was a healthy population of University of Minnesota students who braved the cold weather and Badgers fan taunts to cheer on their team. All of the 3,000 tickets that were designated for Gophers fans were gone by June, University assistant ticket manager Scott Bucholtz said. The Badgers game is the only away game that tickets are sold out that quickly, he said. âÄúWisconsin is Wisconsin; it doesnâÄôt matter if weâÄôre 11-1 or 1-11, people are going to want to go,âÄù Bucholtz said. Marketing junior Scott Schofield attended the game Saturday and said there was noticeably more excitement at Camp Randall Stadium than there is in the Metrodome. âÄúWithout question, weâÄôll have more spirit next year with our new stadium,âÄù Schofield said. Schofield said he didnâÄôt have any altercations with the home fans, but there were several scuffles between Badgers and Gophers fans after the game. Gophers fans left the game under a flurry of taunts and some refused to take the jeering. One Gophers fan ran up and punched a Badgers ringleader in the back of the head on the way out of the game. The fan was immediately covered by a sea of red before security intervened. But unlike some fans, Erban was not overly discouraged by the GophersâÄô loss. He and his friends are already planning to follow the Gophers to their bowl game at the end of the season, even if that game happens to be the Motor City Bowl . âÄúThis is just the beginning; wherever [the team is] going, weâÄôre going,âÄù Erban said.