Gophers protect their house

Minnesota was not to be denied in first game in new home.

Marco LaNave

After each victory, a football team will give out a game ball to one or more players who were the most important in the win. Following the GophersâÄô 20-13 win over Air Force in the opening game at TCF Bank Stadium , head coach Tim Brewster gave game balls to two âÄúvery deservingâÄù people who, although they did not play in SaturdayâÄôs contest, helped to make it a reality. University President Bob Bruininks and Athletics Director Joel Maturi were given the balls in recognition of their success in bringing Gophers football back to campus. âÄúTheyâÄôve got game balls because those two guys are instrumental in us being in the home weâÄôre in,âÄù Brewster said. Bruininks, Maturi, the stadium construction team, the University alumni and the state of Minnesota had all done their part well before kickoff on Saturday. Before a sellout crowd of 50,805, only the Gophers could make it a perfect ending, or rather, beginning. The excitement of a new era of Gophers football became real for junior quarterback Adam Weber on the teamâÄôs bus ride down University Avenue to its new home. âÄúHaving hundreds and hundreds of people there who are just so excited, you know, just raw emotion of excitement, and that feeds off,âÄù Weber said. For Brewster, a former NFL assistant coach who has also coached at Texas and North Carolina, the pre-game Gopher Victory Walk from McNamara Alumni Center to TCF Bank Stadium was the first thrill of the day. âÄúIâÄôve been in some big-time places, IâÄôve been around some big-time football, and that was as big-time as it gets,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúI canâÄôt even tell you the electricity that our football team felt from our fans.âÄù Preceding the game was a flurry of pre-game festivities, including the introductions of nine honorary captains and honorary coach Murray Warmath , who led the football program from 1954 to 1971. âÄúThatâÄôs what makes Minnesota so special, thatâÄôs why we have as great a football tradition as we do, because of those people,âÄù Brewster said. When the game got going, the Gophers had a little nervous tension on their first offensive series as they gained just eight yards before punting. âÄúI think after the first drive, we settled down,âÄù senior wide receiver Eric Decker said. âÄúAfter that, you know, we finally realized, âÄòHey, this is just another ballgame.âÄô But, you know, a special one at home, with the crowd and everything.âÄù The atmosphere seemed to have only an inspiring effect on senior linebacker Nate Triplett , a native of Maple Plain, Minn. who had a career-high and game-high 17 tackles. âÄúIâÄôve known this game was going to be big since this stadium started being built,âÄù Triplett said. âÄúI think a couple years down the road it might really set in what happened here. You know, just how big this game was.âÄù It seemed too big for Minnesota to lose, even though the Gophers trailed 10-3 after three quarters. âÄúWe knew we had to win this game,âÄù Weber said. âÄúHowever we did it, we had to find a way.âÄù Weber did his part by completing six of seven passes on a drive that tied the game early in the fourth quarter. On the following Air Force drive, when a fumble bounced into the arms of Triplett, who returned it 52 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, there seemed little doubt among the Gophers and their fans as to the end of the script. A new home. A new season. And a victory to remember it by.