For Gopher fans (and especially students) longing for a return to something resembling the old normal, the football opener Sept. 2 against No. 4 Ohio State was all that … and then some.
The areas surrounding Huntington Bank Stadium were packed with maroon and gold hours before a prime-time kickoff on national TV. Drivers in bumper-to-bumper traffic looked for places to park while students in overalls lined University Avenue—unfazed by a light rain and delighting in the fan frenzy.
A half hour before kickoff the student section was full. It was the first chance in nearly two years for many students, and Gopher fans in general, to fully enjoy the game-day experience.
In the Maroon Lot outside of the stadium, lifelong Gopher fan Patrick Burley was soaking it up with his family. “It’s cool to have the buzz in the air,” he said. “Driving down frat row and hearing all the music it was like, alright, this is why I like sports. Even though the weather’s not great, I think people are just happy to be out here, no matter what.”
Ally Murray, a sophomore student from Woodbury, Minn., arrived about an hour before the gates opened to snag a priceless view from the front row of the student section, just a few yards from the tunnel where the Gophers would soon appear.
“It’s really exciting to be at my first football Gopher game, especially after all the pandemic stuff,” she said. “And especially being this close. It just seems like a dream right now.”
Her friend Dave Hawley, also a sophomore from Woodbury, agreed. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Seeing all the people, the alumni and everyone, like [former prep basketball star] Jalen Suggs and [President] Gabel. They took selfies with us; it was super cool.”
After the Gophers took their first lead of the game late in the first half, the student section was electric. In the top row was Jacklyn Mckenna, a junior from New York City. “One of the reasons I came here [to the University of Minnesota] was for the sports,” she said. “And with all of last year, not being able to come see a game in person was very disappointing. So I’m really happy to be back and have all the fans here, it’s just super exciting. The energy is very high. This is how I remember it being before COVID."
Ultimately, the Gophers lost the lead and the game to the Buckeyes, 45-31, before a sellout crowd of 50,805. But for Mckenna and the other fans in attendance, the memories from this evening will remain.
- Sports and Recreation