Iowa win redeems Gophers

Published 9:43 am Thursday, December 2, 2010

Column: John Laging, Talking Sports

Redemption has served us well. In one sense of the word it means that through Christ we can hope for salvation.

Other meanings of redemption go far back in time. To paraphrase Brendan Frazier: “ I guess darkness serves a purpose. There is redemption through the darkness of chaos. I think it forms the basis for Greek Mythology.” I researched Greek Mythology and Frazier was right. Hercules had to perform his 12 labors to achieve redemption. It can mean forgiveness, and it can mean saving something from a declined or dilapidated state.

The most recent redemption I’m aware of took place after months of darkness. The Gophers football team had finally won a Big Ten contest defeating Illinois. Then two weeks later won over a top 25 team, the Iowa Hawkeyes. It was not a simple victory, it involved more than a game played by young men on a cold Fall day.

Our Gophers football team was once respected throughout the land and were known as the “Giants of the North.” That had changed dramatically through the years, but still there were wisps of fame on cold Autumn mornings where the old Memorial Stadium stood. And if you were very quiet you might hear the muffled roar of the crowd.

When a team steeped in a winning tradition continues to win, like an Ohio State it’s one thing, but when a team who were once winners continue to lose, it’s quite another. There were decades of unhappiness with the Gopher team. Football coach Glen Mason was fired, not because he didn’t win, but because he didn’t win enough. Not only that, he seemed to lose when Minnesota was on the national stage.

Mason was gone and the expectations were high for the new coach Tim Brewster. Brewster was hired because he impressed Athletic Director Joel Maturi. Looking back on the hire, one could fault Maturi, Brewster had not been a head coach, in fact he had never been an assistant head coach. He had no track record on which to judge him and no experience to guide him. He was a salesman, evidently a good salesman, but that wasn’t enough. Brewster was fired and left with the alumni and administration discouraged and the fans of Minnesota despondent over the Gophers. The coaches and players were saddled with a losing program.

They had to play out the year with a team that couldn’t even beat South Dakota State University in their new home stadium. Toward the end of the season they were not dressing the allowed number of players. I assume some were injured and some may have just given up and quit.

Then they won over Illinois at Champaign. It was just one win, but it was a Big Ten win. Everyone was joyful, but was it just a “flash in the pan,” a lucky win and maybe they didn’t really deserve it? Next they had to play the Iowa Hawkeyes, once a top 10 team and still ranked 24th in the nation. The Gophers have one last chance to win at home this year.

They won! Redemption! All their work, courage and perseverance paid off. The team didn’t quit. They saved their season and their year. And certainly pointed the way for next year’s team. No matter that they didn’t have the most talent in the Big Ten, they had the most character.

Perhaps this year’s team and quarterback Adam Weber showed that our Gophers didn’t have to be the best team in the nation. Maybe it’s enough to be a good team with good players and coaches. Maybe that’s enough for a college team.