Minnesota Gophers find new home

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Associated Press
Friday, August 21, 2009
— An entire generation of Minnesotans has grown up not knowing what it really feels like to attend a major-conference college football game on state soil.

After 27 forgettable seasons in the lifeless Metrodome downtown, the Golden Gophers are set to open sparkling new TCF Bank Stadium on the university’s campus this fall, giving players, fans and coaches the kind of experience that is taken for granted at schools like Wisconsin, Michigan and Alabama.

The $300 million facility is the first new stadium in the Big Ten since 1960. It boasts the largest home locker room in professional or collegiate athletics, and it brings a state-of-the-art facility to a program that has been anything but that for the last three decades.

“It’s one of those things that has exceeded any and all expectations that I had for the stadium,” coach Tim Brewster said. “Anybody who has been in it, it’s helped us in recruiting. It’s just been something that has been sorely missed, and the state of Minnesota is certainly excited to have football back on campus.”

The decision to move from Memorial Stadium on campus to the Metrodome in 1982 remains perhaps the biggest mistake in the history of a program that won six national titles between 1934 and 1960. The move coincided with a lack of competitiveness that has made the Gophers a non-factor in the Big Ten for more than two decades. The program had an overall record of 131-180 during its time at the Dome.

The Gophers were even worse when they got out of the typical cream puffs in their nonconference schedules. They were 69-148-2 in Big Ten play from 1982-2008 and never won more than five conference games in a season.

As a result, the Metrodome often felt like another road game for the Gophers. Fans of opposing teams—especially border rivals Wisconsin and Iowa—would flood the place. Hawkeye fans even tore down the goal posts after a victory in 2002 in one of the program’s sorriest moments.

But the 50,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium is practically sold out for this inaugural season, meaning Badgers and Hawkeyes fans will have a hard time finding a seat.

“To have that support, and they’re all going to be rooting for us, it’s going to be an awesome feeling,” senior linebacker Lee Campbell said.

Whether the team will improve its 7-6 record of last season, which included a 3-5 mark in the Big Ten, is an open question. But the program is counting on a boost from its new home.

The building was designed to lure talent to the Twin Cities. The horseshoe-shaped stadium offers a breathtaking view of the Minneapolis skyline out of its open end and has a special entrance for prospective recruits, with a huge lounge area and comfortable couches.

The concourses are wide and fan-friendly, and the main HD video board is the third largest in college football. And then there is the locker room.

“You have to squint to see across to the other end,” Campbell said.

The football-shaped room is 60 yards—yes, yards—long by 25 yards wide with 120 cherry wood lockers. A large “M” is mounted on the ceiling in the middle, with lights that change colors and can be set to music.

“It’s an amazing stadium,” Brewster said. “And it’s going to give us something that we haven’t had in a long time, and that’s a tremendous home-field advantage.”

The first game will be played at night on Sept. 12 against Air Force. For the vast majority of students on campus, it will be the first time in their lives that the school will offer a genuine college football experience comparable to their Big Ten peers.

“As excited as I am about opening the stadium, I’m more excited for our fans,” athletic director Joel Maturi said.

“I don’t think most of them understand what they have missed.”

Last updated: 11:06 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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