Minnesota football: Last bastion of team concept

Football is a glorious game. The intensity, the skill and the sheer size of the athletes is unparalleled in all of sport.

The number of players involved in a game is something to behold, too. No fewer than 11 men break the offensive and defensive huddles to execute complicated routes and zones and then hit or get hit at play’s end.

With so many men carrying out crucial assignments, football is the consummate team sport. Which is why fans celebrate the feats of players who seem to conquer games single-handedly.

After all, who were Payton’s blockers? Able to name any of Namath’s receivers?

Well, neither Sweetness nor Broadway Joe did it alone. They needed teammates.

Minnesota’s football team is founded in belief of this very idea: team.

For the sake of the team, the program has decided not to allow individual photographs of athletes to be taken. Action shots from games are fine, but no private shoots.

Ruins the “team” concept, said Tim Allen, assistant athletic director for football operations.

The Daily ran profiles of seniors Jimmy Henry and Derek Burns last week, and photo requests were appropriately made on Tuesday. And then denied on Wednesday.

Word came down from Allen and coach Glen Mason the shoots were a no-go. Ruins the “team” concept, they said.

The “team” concept. Noble idea, but the Gophers higher-ups know as much about “team” as Barry Bonds does class.

Mason is the antithesis of “team.” Behind a smile of politician sincerity is the coach who runs for greener pastures any chance he gets.

Following a 10-win season at Kansas in 1995, Mason readied for a move to Georgia until a last-second change of heart kept him with the Jayhawks.

Undoubtedly rejuvenated to see Mason – the “team” guy – return, Kansas went 4-7 the following season.

Then it was off to Minnesota, where Mason led his squad to a 8-4 mark in 1999, his third year. As the coaching awards poured in, Mason – the “team” guy – began flirting with Michigan State and LSU to ensure contract renegotiations began in Gold Country.

After a 6-6 finish in 2000, Mason threw himself completely into getting the coveted head coaching job at Ohio State, his alma mater.

But after 13 years of John Cooper, Buckeye administration decided against another mediocre game-day coach and chose Jim Tressel over Mason.

So the “team” guy Mason is back and has sworn-off future job searches.

His new-found commitment is fueling Minnesota’s “team” approach.

So now what? Will names and numbers be taken off the Gophers game jerseys? That way, the crowd has to cheer for the offensive and defensive units, not Ron Johnson or Tellis Redmon or Henry.

And will players be required to keep their helmets on during games? Especially on the sidelines, lest a tricky photographer sneak a shot of Asad Abdul-Khaliq’s handsome mug?

For crying out loud, this is college football. Most of Minnesota’s players will never play a down of professional football, so why not give them something to show the grandchildren?

Individual photographs deserve to run with feature pieces, it’s that simple.

But Mason’s logic on what’s best for a “team” is flawed once again.

 

David La Vaque is the sports editor and
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