Gophers’ success can bring fans together

Published 11:59pm Monday, November 25, 2013

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

For the first 18 months I lived in Nashville, Tenn., Saturdays often included working retail hours or time spent flipping between big-time college football games on local networks.

I paid little attention to what was happening up north — reveling in my first warm fall in the South — as the Gophers were on their way to losing six of their final eight games, which crescendoed into a collapse against Texas Tech in their bowl game.

In turn, I adopted the rolling hills of Nashville and most beautiful fall I’d ever experienced, and Vanderbilt, the local team that was en route to its best season in school history.

I began feeling, though, like I was losing my allegiances down here. The Twins were an afterthought, the Timberwolves were terrible and the Wild and Tubby Smith’s Gophers were again failing to reach their high expectations.

Then this past June, my best friend and former college roommate, Jake, moved to town. His wife accepted a scholarship to pursue a Master of Divinity at Vanderbilt, and he brought with him his unrelenting love for the Gophers.

We kicked off the Gophers football team’s 2013 season by casually drinking beers on his couch, trying to recognize players through the pixelated stream of the Big Ten Network on my iPad. We watched the win against San Jose State at a downtown bar during his bachelor party, and, with the Gophers sitting undefeated heading into its Big Ten opener against Iowa, we began thinking of bigger and bolder ways to watch the games.

But the Gophers lost. And lost their head coach. And lost again.

The season felt lost, and again I found myself looking elsewhere for a winner.

As we all know now, the Gophers went on to string four wins together and climbed into the nation’s top 25 for the first time since 2008. They upset Northwestern, Nebraska and Indiana, and, as favorites for the first time in the Big Ten season, held off Penn State at home.

I showed up at Jake’s, who lives only a mile from me, at 9 a.m., two hours before kickoff, in my brand new Gophers T-shirt. We made Bloody Marys, breakfast and perched a stuffed Goldy Gopher on top of his TV, while we sang Minnesota’s rouser.

Two weeks later for the Wisconsin game, I arrived 5 1/2 hours before game time, and we kept our new tradition alive but this time with two TVs in his living room.

The Gophers’ success this season has made Tennessee feel like home and brought me closer together — literally in Jake’s case — to my friends and family from Minnesota.

And they’ll continue to do so.

If the Gophers are selected to play in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., or Heart of Dallas Bowl, both within driving distance of Nashville, Jake and I plan to meet my dad and grandpa at the game.

Thanks for bringing us together, Goldy.

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