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Join the game-day bandwagon

We have a unique opportunity to show the country how truly great our fan base is.

Is your heart still pounding from Saturday’s football game? I know mine is, but not entirely for the reasons yours might be.

With three unexpected consecutive victories, the Gophers have the intrigue of not only the casual student fan but the country, as well. Any time a historically downtrodden team grabs a few consecutive victories, sports writers and outspoken pundits alike jump on the bandwagon and see how far it goes.

Along with this, the image of the football team couples with the image of the campus. I would have no idea what Auburn’s Toomer’s Corner trees were if it weren’t for the school’s national championship run in 2011, nor the Boise State blue football field if it weren’t for their fun-to-watch streakiness during our youth. These attributes are nice and all, but the non-football entity that the media focuses on the most when teams get hot is the student and the game-day experience.

 For the first time in most of our lives, we have the opportunity to show the nation a great fan base and, almost more importantly, a fantastic game-day experience. It is our turn to hop on the Gopher bandwagon, but it’s also our turn to enjoy all that the Saturday experience has to offer.

To sports writers, the 2013 Minnesota story is journalism gold. Head coach Jerry Kill’s leave of absence coupled with the winning streak sprung the team and the University into the limelight. Although exciting, this can be a good or bad circumstance, depending on how the fan base treats it.

This has happened with historically lackluster teams in the past. After decades of bad seasons, the 1993 Wisconsin football team went 10-1-1 and catapulted into an unexpected Rose Bowl bid. During this season, Wisconsin beat Michigan for the first time in 12 years. The chaotic and violent attempt to rush the field left 73 people injured. The Camp Randall Crush, as it would be deemed, illustrated a rowdy and overzealous student section. Due to the circumstances of the winning season, the Crush created a nationally recognized stigma that still holds today.

At the same time, some longtime Gophers fans will show scars from years of irrelevancy and notorious game collapses, which have precipitated into a protective negativity and fair-weather mindset about the team. Many don’t want to experience the pain of collapse, and who does? Nobody likes to lose, so casual fans will ride the waves of good times but jump ship when it falters. Holding a fan base and establishing a good game-day atmosphere is even harder to do with the University’s campus — the only true urban campus in the Big Ten. If the Gophers are doing poorly, weekend-goers will turn to the plethora of other activities to do in Minneapolis.

The marketing and financing teams in the athletics department have tried to create that experience by coupling amenities galore with a general optimism about the team. “Build it and they will come” was a key motto when the University built TCF Bank Stadium, and ever since, it seems like the Gophers have added everything except wins to Saturday experiences.

In my opinion, the best effort the marketing team has done was giving away nearly 6,000 tickets to all of you freshmen reading this. That giveaway certainly improved the situation temporarily. The game-day experience on the Thursday night against Nevada–Las Vegas was exactly what the team wanted to see: an active, enthused fan base utilizing the tailgating facilities, showing up early to the game and eventually welcoming the team out of the tunnel with huge applause.

Still, killer losses to Iowa and Michigan gave many longtime followers a sinking feeling that the Gophers would once again fall to the collapse-after-getting-our-hopes-up status quo. Even after the unexpected win against Northwestern, the student presence was low at the Nebraska game, as much of the upper-deck seats usually reserved for students were invaded with a sea of scarlet. This image of periodic apathy and doubtfulness has been the image of the Gophers for years, but this season, we can change that as the nation turns its head to Minnesota. Showing the college football world a solid Saturday experience has ramifications for bowl bids, funding strings, better recruits and better Big Ten appeal for prospective students.

Minnesota could enter itself into a Flutie Effect, where a good sports team gathers a burst of national intrigue and application boosts.

Time and time again, consistently good teams have created consistent fan bases. With three consecutive wins, there aren’t many excuses for a poor turnout Saturday.

A winning team will naturally garner the bandwagon, but to establish that desired game-day experience, the historically negative mindset needs to go away. I encourage the student fan base to not only come to Saturday’s Penn State game, but to actually experience it. Don’t show up right at 11 a.m. at kickoff; instead, enjoy that Victory tailgating lot. Watch the team’s TCF entry at 8:30 a.m. in the plaza. Come into the stadium 20 minutes before kickoff to watch the band’s pregame show. Most importantly, stay positive like we have been most of the season. And then, only then, will we show the nation that our Saturdays are as legit as the team’s streak is.

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