Before the 2012 season, I wrote Why I Go(pher). The Gopher football team would finish that season 6-7. And under that coaching staff and administration, it never felt like they would be more than a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team.
Yesterday, 7 years later, we turned the corner I wrote about. And as I predicted, I was there.
At the time that I wrote those words, I had no clue that I would have a 3-year-old son and a 9-month-old daughter sitting next to me. Long gone are the days of drinking as much as I want because I had nothing to do on Sunday.
Our Gopher gamedays are decidedly different. In this special edition of TimTalks, I am going to hand the mic over to my lovely wife to give you a gameday-in-the-life as the wife of a Gopher fan:
It’s 5:30 am on a Saturday. Warm in my bed, I am awakened by my husband’s awful alarm. I keep my eyes closed for a few minutes, considering trying to catch a few more zzzs. I decide against it. Time to move. My husband looks up, surprised, as I walk into the bathroom. “I understand. I know this is the biggest game in decades. I’m up.”
Two hours later the car is packed, the kids are dressed, the baby’s been fed, and we are ready to go.
For the first time in years, I have convinced my husband we don’t need to make it for the open of the tailgate lots. Lots open at 7:00 am. On our drive in, at 7:45, we hear from my brother who is already at the lot. I can tell instantly my husband is disappointed to not be there. We arrive at 8:07 am. Three hours until game time. Our shortest tailgate of the season.
Growing up with three brothers, I was accustomed to football games, but I was a little more focused on talking with my friends than staying up to speed on the play by play. My first Gopher football game, in 2001, my future husband and I sat in the Metrodome as he tried to explain football 101. I listened, not realizing as a 16-year-old girl that this would become a staple of my life.
Gopher football as a college student and twenty-something without children was A LOT of fun. I loved the social aspect. The chants, the cheers, and the beers. I loved to cheer for the big plays, but didn’t lose sleep over a bad game. But it got a lot tougher with one and now two kids. And I’ll admit, some days I get a bit salty.
Making it to a tailgate lot at 8:30 am with a three-year-old and an infant requires a lot of work. Arriving home a solid twelve hours later makes for some tired kids, and parents too. And some days I just wondered, could we maybe go at 9:30, or 10:00? Is it absolutely pivotal to the success of the team that we arrive for six full hours of tailgating? And the answer is, yes.
Yes, it does matter. Because it matters to my favorite human on this earth. It matters to him to show up for his team, week after week, some years loss after loss. And this moment, this day, was to date, the most important day in his lifelong journey as a Gopher fan. My husband has never missed a game in TCF Bank Stadium. My three-year-old son and 9-month-old daughter haven’t missed a home game in their lives. He’s been there for the electrifying wins and the heartbreaking losses. He always shows up.
So I show up. I nurse a baby in the sleet under a Gopher blanket to watch the team beat Nebraska. I stand in the pouring rain in Evanston to watch the team suffer a truly unwatchable defeat by Northwestern. Some couples go to Hawaii or Palm Springs. We go to Ohio State and Maryland.
But some days, like this beautiful November morning, I sit in the sunshine holding a sleeping baby, my hooligan three-year-old being a perfect angel, and watch the Gophers lead a top-five ranked Penn State team through not one, two, or three, but four full quarters of play to maintain their perfect season.
We lovingly refer to my husband as “Timmy Baby Pants.” It’s a lot of fun. On cue, Baby Pants shed a tear in the stands as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” played and fans rushed the field. Honestly, I shed a tear too. I’m so grateful for the husband and father that he is. And seeing the joy on his face while he hugged our three-year-old in the final minutes of the game, I’ll get up at 5:30 on a Saturday for that. I’ll stand in the snow and the rain to see those smiles on my two favorite boys’ faces.
And I know it’s only going to get easier, and better, as my kids grow up. I can already see the excitement and joy on my son’s face when he talks about “Minnesota.”
We are laying the foundation for a lifetime of tradition.
I’m a big Fleck fan. I love his energy and enthusiasm, and he’s easy on the eyes. Some people roll their eyes at the catch phrases and mantras, but I love them.
FAMILY. Forget About Me, I Love You.
It perfectly encompasses my Gopher experience. I love the energy and the party and the celebrations, sure. But I can’t tell you the score or even who we played in the opening game of the 2018 season. What I can tell you is what the face of a father looks like when his 2-year-old son walks into the stadium for a new season, looks out over the field and unprovoked exclaims “row the boat.”
I can tell you about the pride on a first-time father’s face as he walks into the stadium with his son strapped to his chest for his son’s first game.
I can tell you about the sparkle in a father’s eye as he watches me unwrap his daughter’s first pink Gopher shirt.
I can tell you what a father and son sing on Fridays before gameday (Les Mis – “One Day More”)
I can tell you how a tailgate lot full of strangers become friends (it takes a village.)
At the end of the game, win or lose, I can tell you about my husband and the amazing bond that he will forever share with our children over this team.
It’s why I Go(pher.)