There’s a reason to cheer for the Minnesota Gophers football team, and it has nothing to do with being a fan of the team, the players, or the Big Ten conference in general. Minnesota is a team that is playing for a purpose. A team that is playing to honor a member of their own, head coach Jerry Kill, who had to step away from the team and the game he loves to deal with personal health issues.
Minnesota is not the most talented football team in the Big Ten. In fact, they aren’t even close. Yet here are the Gophers, fresh off a 34-23 victory over Nebraska, their first win over the Huskers in over half-a-century.
Minnesota improves to 6-2 on the season with the win, making them bowl eligible, and we’re still in the month of October. Nobody saw this coming into the season. Nobody, except the players and coaches themselves. That’s what makes it so special.
“There’s not one guy in the locker room, on the coaching staff, or anywhere, who would have said yes if you asked, ‘would you take six wins at the beginning of the year,’” interim coach Tracy Claeys said. “All of us would have said no, that’s not enough.”
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That says something about the confidence and belief that this Minnesota team possesses. And more importantly, it says that this team has fully bought into the message delivered by their head coach. You don’t see that with every team in college football now days. There are plenty of instances where the confidence is there, but the determination and ability to back it up simply is not.
What Bill O’Brien did at Penn State last season was truly unbelievable. He took over a team that was in absolute disarray after getting hit with some of the harshest sanctions every laid down by the NCAA, and he led that team to an unforgettable 8-4 season.
But much of what O’Brien did last year at Penn State, Minnesota is doing this season, and it truly is inspirational. After losing their first two Big Ten games of the season by a combined score of 65-20, the Gophers could have easily given up. Not these Gophers. They are playing with a purpose. They are playing for their head coach, who watched his team’s victory from up in the booth Saturday afternoon.
“To have him around just means so much,” Claeys said of Kill. “We all know he would love to be out there.”
In today’s game, it’s a badge of honor to win a conference championship, and a badge of something else to win games for a greater cause. Nebraska has played in six conference championship games over the past 15 years, and have won two of them (1997, 1999). Minnesota’s last conference championship? 1967.
But this day belonged to the Gophers. The past is the past, and in current day, the Gohpers are in the midst of a special season. One that should be talked about for years to come.
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“I could cry right now,” Minnesota senior Brock Vareen said following Saturday’s game. “This is unbelievable.”
This Minnesota team is taking in every minute of this season. It is the reason that every college football fan, regardless of what school you went to, should root for the Gophers, because this is the type of story that builds character in young adults throughout college athletics.
Saturday’s win against Nebraska will be mentioned by many Minnesota fans as being the programs biggest regular season victory in recent memory.
“I didn’t see that one coming,” I said to myself following the game.
But now I know… And I won’t make that mistake again when it comes to this team.
|About Sean Merriman||BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman covers football and men’s basketball and provides original content for BTN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BTNSean.|