A tradition of mediocrity

The Golden Gopher football team had a chance to send the season, and the Metrodome, away with some dignity. The game had exciting pretext: The Gophers, coming off an incredibly disappointing 1-11 season, could offer their fans a sense of redemption by beating the hated Iowa Hawkeyes at the Dome in front of a sold-out crowd. Unfortunately, as usual, nothing went as planned. Minnesota lost the game 55-0, ending their regular season 7-5. The Gophers couldnâÄôt even put up a field goal in their desperate attempt to avoid the feeling of ineptitude that comes from suffering a shutout. In the spirit of sarcastic cynicism, here are some of the greatest disappointments of Gopher sports in the past few years. Basketball scandal Under coach Clem Haskins, the 1997 Gopher basketball team played its way to the final four round of the NCAA tournament. The story highlighted a delightful year, in which Haskins led the Gophers to a 31-win season and a conference title. You will never see any data regarding this season, as well as any other season from 1993-1998, because Minnesota was found to have been involved in a long, terrible academic scandal. It was found that the team manager had been paid $3,000 to complete over 400 assignments, take-home tests, and term papers for players over a four-year period. The scandal tarnished the programâÄôs reputation and set the program back for several years. Can Tubby return us to prominence? Doubtful. The Michigan debacle On Oct. 10, 2003, the No. 16 Gophers were sitting pretty with a 28-7 lead against No. 20 Michigan. Marian Barber III rushed for 197 yards, and freshman standout Lawrence Maroney had run for two touchdowns. In front of a rare sellout crowd, poised for the glorious victory, the Gophers walked off the field with a win, and stopped playing football. The problem was, it was still the fourth quarter. The Wolverines scored 31 points in the fourth quarter, capped by a 33-yard field goal that won them the game. Interesting fun fact: The Gophers never beat Michigan in the Metrodome. At least we can say we came close. Wisconsin punt block On Oct. 15, 2005, the No. 22 ranked Gophers took on their No. 23 ranked border battle rivals from Wisconsin at the Dome. Nursing a three-point lead provided by Lawrence Maroney, who had 258 yards including a 93-yard touchdown run, the Gophers were ready to punt the ball with 25 seconds left, stop the Badgers and grab Paul BunyanâÄôs axe. But Justin Kucek bobbled the snap, and his punt was blocked and returned to give the Badgers a four-point lead to win the game. You couldnâÄôt make this up. Insight bowl After taking a 31-point third quarter lead against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, the Gophers were dancing on the sidelines in elation. The Big Ten was back. Texas Tech was crushed. Nevertheless, the Gophers were written into the history books on Dec. 29, 2006, as the Red Raiders mounted the biggest bowl comeback in NCAA history, defeating the Gophers in overtime, 44-41. The defeat was the straw that broke the camelâÄôs back for coach Glen Mason, who was fired shortly after. Now, less than two years removed from the disaster bowl, itâÄôs nice to see that the Gophers are still embracing the tradition of mediocrity that has defined their program. Robert Downs welcomes comments at [email protected]