Minnesota hired Glen Mason as its coach prior to the 1997 season. He came in as the football facilities in the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex were undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation.
A new weight room and a new entrance addition with a miniature goal post and tiled floors made to look like a football field were built. And the existing complex was refurbished to include a new players’ lounge, a new office for Mason, new carpeting and a giant mural on the wall celebrating some of the football team’s glory.
But one thing remained the same — the rivalry trophy case.
It stayed empty.
The Little Brown Jug hasn’t sat in a Gophers trophy case since Minnesota knocked off Michigan in 1986. Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the trophy for the Wisconsin-Minnesota game, has not been there since ’94. The Governor’s Victory Bell was added in ’93 when Penn State joined the Big Ten and has been in the case just once.
And then there’s Floyd of Rosedale. Good ol’ Floyd. The bronze pig rested his curly tail in Iowa from ’92-’98.
Finally last November, in Minnesota’s last game of the season, came a breakthrough. The Gophers walloped Iowa 49-7 at the Metrodome and the trophy case finally had an occupant.
Except Mason wasn’t exactly sure who was occupying it.
“Last year I called him Ralph, I didn’t even know his name,” Mason said. “I had never met him. Now Floyd and I are buddies. I see him every morning when I walk in. He even winks at me once and a while. I kind of like him, I want him to stay here.”
Last year’s game saw the Gophers roll up 501 yards on offense. Quarterback Billy Cockerham ran for two touchdowns and connected with receiver Luke Leverson for two more.
The game came a week after the team stumbled to a 20-19 loss at Indiana. If the Gophers had won at Indiana, they would have been playing Iowa for a chance to go to a bowl game.
Mason said the team’s ability to beat Iowa after a demoralizing Hoosiers loss set the tone for this year.
“The mental development of this team just didn’t start on Aug. 8th, or whatever date we reported,” Mason said. “It goes way back. And one of those things was how we responded to a tough loss at Indiana and how we came back to play against Iowa. There’s no doubt.
“Last year it was a feel-good game,” Mason said. “We felt good about the program both internally and externally, and it carried through the offseason. I’m sure that’s what Iowa is trying to do,” he said. “If they beat us Saturday, I know one thing, they’ll feel a lot better sitting down eating turkey dinner than I will on Thursday.”
Bringing home Floyd, or Ralph (or whatever he’s called) has also enabled the 17th-ranked Gophers to put the Governor’s Victory Bell in their refurbished digs.
What is and what could be
The world of “what ifs” is usually not a healthy place to live for an athlete, but for the rest of us, it’s kind of fun to dabble in that realm.
Assuming the Gophers win at Iowa, and if they would have beat Wisconsin in overtime on Oct. 9, Minnesota would be Rose Bowl-bound for the first time since 1962.
Instead, the team is left to wonder which of a handful of bowls they will go to.
The University’s Alumni Association handed out a flyer after Saturday’s game urging fans to join the Gophers’ official bowl tour.
The flyer lists: the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 1; the Outback Bowl in Tampa on Jan. 1; the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Dec. 28; the Sun Bowl in El Paso on Dec. 31; and the Micron PC Bowl in Miami on Dec. 30.
ù Mason upgraded linebacker Astein Osei from doubtful to questionable for Saturday’s game. The sophomore injured his knee in the Indiana win and had to leave the game. Junior Curtese Poole will play if Osei can’t go.
Fellow linebacker Sean Hoffman sprained his ankle against Indiana. But he has been practicing and will be able to play.
ù The Gophers’ ticket office has an allotment of tickets available for Saturday’s game at Iowa. The ticket office has sold about 2,000 tickets so far. Tickets must be purchased or picked up by 5 p.m. Thursday. The price is $26. Phone orders can be made at 624-8080 or 1-800-UGOPHER.
Michael Dougherty covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]