Gophers’ Saturday night lights generate excitement on campus

The Gophers expect a large turnout for Saturday’s night game vs. Syracuse.

Minnesota defensive back Cedric Thompson pressures Western Michigan tight end Blake Hammond during a game last Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Anthony Kwan, Daily File Photo

Minnesota defensive back Cedric Thompson pressures Western Michigan tight end Blake Hammond during a game last Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Dane Mizutani

University of Minnesota junior Kiera Berger has never been to a football game on campus.

Her lack of interest in sports, compounded with the Gophers’ recent plight on the gridiron, has kept her away from TCF Bank Stadium.

She’s only been to two other sporting events  while in college, but this Saturday when the Gophers host Syracuse, Berger will be there.

“The ticket is only $10, and everyone I know is going this week,” said Berger, a genetics, cell biology and development major. “It’s a night game too, so I’m pretty excited.”

A similar thought process has resonated throughout the student population this week as Minnesota prepares for its first night game of the season.

The Gophers are 3-0 after a 28-23 win over Western Michigan last week, and fans are starting to get excited.

“I think with it being a night game more students will have the opportunity to go,” chemistry junior Lyndi Thompson said. “There will be a lot more energy in the stadium, especially since the Gophers are off to a good start this year.”

Thompson purchased season tickets her freshman year, but she has not bought them since. She said she works on the weekends, so it’s “almost impossible” to go to games with early start times.

Like Thompson, forensics science and anthropology junior Luke Wagner ordered season tickets the past two seasons but did not renew them this year.

“It was hard to cheer for a team that was getting brutally beat,” Wagner said. “We’d show up for a quarter or so [last season], and if it was a good game we’d stay until the end. If it was a blowout we’d leave.”

He said he still plans to buy single-game tickets this year and is going this weekend for the nostalgic feel of playing football under the lights. Wagner played tight end and running back for Eastview High School and said there’s no better feeling than when the lights flash on a football field.

“There’s nothing like it,” he said. “There’s just more hype around [this kind of game] from a football standpoint.”

Gophers senior linebacker Mike Rallis said even he gets “a little anxious at the hotel” before a night game.

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill recognized that students, fans and even his players enjoy night games, but he said he doesn’t mind playing right after breakfast.

“As coaches sometimes you like playing at 11 [a.m.] because you don’t have to think about everything all during the day and afternoon,” Kill said. “You get up, go to work, you play, you get home, and you can get your week started again.”

Wagner said the late-start time this week will give students a larger opportunity to tailgate.

University alumnus Brian Bade is a 22-year season ticket holder and a weekly regular in lot C-37 before every home game. He said he doesn’t think much will change in the stands Saturday, but the tailgate lots will see a spike.

He said the lots generally are more crowded at night games because “people just don’t want to get up that early” to tailgate.

Bade said a way to increase student attendance at home games would be to make tailgating more affordable for the student population. He has to pay a $1,000 “gift donation” with his four-seat season package to park in the tailgate lot. On top of that, he has to pay a cumulative $140 to park during the season.

“It makes it basically impossible for students to go tailgate,” he said. “It’s different than when we were at the [Metrodome] — there would be tons of students there.

“If they want to get students out to the game, they need to make it a little more economical.”

This game against Syracuse has big implications for the rest of Minnesota’s season.

The Gophers will be the underdog for the first time this season — Syracuse is favored by 1. But if they win, they will be 4-0 for the first time since 2008. They will also be just two wins away from their first bowl game since 2009.

Wagner said if Minnesota wins this week, a lot of people will hop on the bandwagon.

Though many have criticized Minnesota’s cupcake schedule to this point, Bade said he is fine with it.

“I think personally these are the type of teams we need to be playing right now,” he said. “Who cares if you’re going to go play Alabama and get your [expletive] kicked by 80? You’re not learning anything by playing that game. You’re just going to go in and take a drubbing there. I think we’re going in the right direction.”