Fans flock to welcome home the axe

Minnesota came back to throngs of fans Saturday after its first win in Wisconsin since 1994.

Gopher fans convene late into the evening of Saturday, Nov. 3 at the football team's indoor practice facility to greet the team as they returned from their win in Madison, Wisconsin. The Gophers defeated the Badgers the first time since 2003.

Courtney Deutz

Gopher fans convene late into the evening of Saturday, Nov. 3 at the football team's indoor practice facility to greet the team as they returned from their win in Madison, Wisconsin. The Gophers defeated the Badgers the first time since 2003.

Drew Cove

Fans woke up Saturday morning to a familiar frame of mind: the Gophers are underdogs against Wisconsin.

The point spread favored the Badgers by more than 11 on their home turf to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for the 15th-consecutive year. 

Suffice it to say, Minnesota fans were treated to an upset of the bitter border rival to take the storied trophy back to Dinkytown.

“Minnesota!” head coach P.J. Fleck said to the crowd waiting for the team in Minneapolis. “Your axe is officially home.”

The 37-15 final score had turned into a sure victory for Minnesota late in the game with a lead as large as 30 points. Once the game was over shortly after 5:30 p.m., the team celebrated on the field with the axe, got packed up and headed back to Minneapolis with some extra cargo.

As local fans were abuzz on Twitter wondering when the team was to get back, the team had a special reception in mind.

The team arrived at the new indoor practice facility just before 11:30 p.m., though fans were streaming toward Athletes Village as early as 10:15 to make sure they had a place to see the team return.

Around that time, much of the marching band was making its way through Dinkytown to welcome the team home.

“This is what our community is about; this is what our city is about,” Fleck said. “I’m just so thankful everybody showed up. Our fans, our band. This is what the University of Minnesota is all about.”

Among the sea of maroon and gold-clad fans packed into the facility were alumni and current students alike. One such fan was Brian Meyers, who stuck with the team through the axe-less drought. He was there the last time Minnesota won one of its other historic rivalry trophies.

“We were down here [four] years ago when they brought the [Little Brown] Jug home,” Meyers said, referring to Minnesota’s 30-14 victory over Michigan in 2014. “It’s the axe, it’s 14-15 years, we might as well come down and do it all again.”

Meyers was present at the Metrodome, the Gophers’ now-extinct former home, when then-kicker Rhys Lloyd hit a game-winning field goal in the 2003 game only to storm to the Wisconsin sideline and hoist the axe into the air. 

He said the resounding pressure on the Minnesota head coach when he was hired was to beat Wisconsin at all costs. 

“Some people you’re going to talk to say, ‘Oh heck, go 1-11 as long as you beat Wisconsin, that’s good enough for us.'” Meyers said. “I don’t know if that’s quite that far low, but we will take this as the start.”

Minnesota kicker Emmit Carpenter, who grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, made sure his family was wearing the Gophers maroon and gold Saturday. He was at the base of the goalpost after the victory with a “mock-chop” of the uprights in celebration.

“I can’t even describe to you the feelings of joy and happiness, especially to feel that with all of these guys,” Carpenter said. “It really means the world to all of us.”

With a 6-6 record, the Gophers are now bowl eligible. They will continue to practice until bowl season comes in mid-December. Fleck’s first season at head coach ended with a 5-7 final record and a 31-0 defeat at the hands of the Badgers.

“Within two years of this culture being here, your axe is back,” Fleck said to the crowd. “Wisconsin made a video and they said only seniors get to touch the axe. We don’t have that rule. Everybody gets to touch the axe.”