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A golden anniversary of a not-so-golden milestone will probably come Minnesota’s way next year.
If the Minnesota Gophers don’t win the Big Ten football title this year or next, it will mark 50 years since their last league-championship, which they shared in 1967 with Indiana and Purdue.
That’s right, Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue were atop the Big Ten. In football. Iowa and Wisconsin went 0-6-1 in the conference that year, without the decency to let each other get a win when they met.
Indiana went to the Rose Bowl that season. Purdue had gone the year before and the league had a “no repeat” rule. So the conference’s athletic directors voted, and chose the Hoosiers over the Gophers.
Things were tilted Indiana’s way because it had never been to Pasadena while Minnesota had been there as recently as 1962.
USC beat the Hoosiers, 14-3. A running back named O.J. Simpson scored both of the game’s touchdowns. Minnesota, meanwhile, dusted itself off and proceeded to return to the Rose Bowl ... never.
They say if you live long enough you’ll see everything, and O.J. seemed to be proof of that. But that isn’t really true, of course. Minnesota, while a competent football program that went to bowls in each of the last four seasons, continues to have a second-class citizenship cloud hanging over its head.
Neighbors Wisconsin and Iowa have been to the Rose Bowl a combined 11 times since the Gophers’ last visit. Those two programs don’t have any advantages over Minnesota in population, and both had some long stretches of terrible performances in the last half-century.
But the Badgers are kings in Madison and the Hawkeyes likewise in Iowa City. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Gophers are mere residents.
The average attendance for the first three Minnesota home games this season was 43,487, in a still-new, on-campus stadium of a school with over 50,000 students.
There’s no grand football tradition ingrained in the culture, nothing in our time that has ever gotten the Gophers to at least nudge close to the NFL Vikings in the state’s attention span.
In the last 40 years, only five Minnesota teams had winning records in Big Ten play, and all five were 5-3. Just one went to a Jan. 1 bowl, the 2014 Minnesota team that lost to Missouri 33-17 in the Citrus Bowl.
Last year, Minnesota went 5-7 and was placed in Detroit’s Quick Lane Bowl against Central Michigan because there weren’t enough 6-6 teams to go around. The Gophers’ marching band went from Minneapolis to Detroit by bus. A good time was had by all.
Now here we are Saturday with Iowa playing at Minnesota in a college stadium named for a bank, because nothing says college like debt.
Unlike the Gophers’ three home games that follow — against Rutgers, Purdue and Northwestern — this one means something in Minnesota. Although (Floyd of) Rosedale is a far cry from the Rose Bowl.
Whether a victory over Iowa could springboard the Gophers to Big Ten West title-contention is uncertain, but at least they could cling to hope for at least another week. The same goes for Iowa.
Though the Hawkeyes have enjoyed so many more positive football experiences than the Gophers over the last 35 years, we live in the present.
Saturday’s winner earns happiness and hope. The loser will have fallen two straight weeks in league play with a lot of season left, and that’s not the October surprise either wants.
You could say this is a totally desperate football weekend in the Twin Cities, but you’d be wrong. The Vikings are 4-0.