Gophers win over Huskers creates buzz near Madison

Published 5:03am Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

I was deep in Badgers country on Saturday, when I watched the Gophers football team overpower Nebraska, a traditional powerhouse they hadn’t beaten in 53 years.

I was in a hotel room 49 miles east of Madison, Wis., the proud home of the University of Wisconsin, when I flipped on the game on ESPN to watch the first quarter.

Dressed in a navy jacket and grey pants, I slipped on my monogramed tie bar and eased onto a couch. I was about to be an usher in my best friend’s wedding and began to plot how I’d watch the game while fulfilling my duties.

We arrived at the church around noon, and the groom, the best man and I huddled around my iPhone to continue watching the game. I watched the second quarter in the church’s basement, the third quarter while taking pictures and the fourth during the ceremony.

(Don’t worry, they know).

Jake and Melanie said their vows when the Gophers’ Phillip Nelson plunged into the end zone to seal the upset, and the couple’s families and friends applauded as they were announced husband and wife.

The timing was perfect. They may as well been applauding the Gophers, too.

After I walked to the front of the sanctuary to receive communion from the new couple, I whispered, “the Gophers won,” to the groom as I dipped my wafer in the vessel of wine he held.

He replied, “I know,” and smiled, and I fist-bumped his uncle, another Gophers fan, as I walked back to my seat.

Oconomowac, Wis., was buzzing on Saturday, not only because of the wedding, but because the Gophers program is suddenly in the best shape its been in years.

In a matter of two weeks, the Gophers have gone from a team in peril to a Big Ten contender.

After disappointing losses to Iowa and Michigan, the Gophers lost their head coach and their fans began losing hope for a season that began with modest expectations.

I didn’t see another win on the schedule and feared that a winless Big Ten season paired with coach Jerry Kill’s health issues might have the Gophers starting from scratch again next year.

Unexpected wins against Northwestern on the road and Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium changed everything.

The Gophers are playing as well as anyone in the conference, save Ohio State, and suddenly find themselves a 1/2 game back of second place in the Legends Division.

Michigan State, who is 4-0 in the conference, hosts Michigan on Saturday and then plays tough road games at Nebraska and Northwestern before hosting the Gophers in the season finale.

That has serial optimists thinking about the Rose Bowl.

While the Gophers are a long way away from playing in a Big Ten Championship game, two unlikely wins have reversed the course of the season and mood of their fans.

After the wedding, the wedding party sang the Minnesota rouser on a trolley en route to the reception, and a bridesmaid said after she was going to be sick.

Let’s hope the Gophers continue to make her feel that way.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Tuesday.