Why I Go(pher) 2.0

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’m awakened by my husband’s alarm. I keep my eyes closed for a few minutes, considering trying to catch a little more sleep. 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 in time for the open of the tailgate lots. Lots open six hours before game time or 7:00 am for an 11:00 game. On our drive in, at 7:45, we hear from my brother who has beaten us there. I can tell instantly my husband is disappointed at our late arrival. We pull up at 8:07 am. Three hours until game time. Our shortest tailgate of the season.

Growing up with three brothers, I spent my fair share of time at football games. However, I was more interested in 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 the basics of the game. 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 traditions, and the beers. I cheered loud 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. His 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 see the team suffer a truly unwatchable defeat by Northwestern. I’ve never been to Hawaii or Palm Springs, but I’ve been 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 with eyes full of wonderment, 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 his wife 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 about the grin on a toddler’s face as he signals for another “Golden Gopher First Down!”

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 called the Gophers.

It’s why I Go(pher).

What’s In A Nickname?

You do not get to choose your nicknames. They follow you around, silently stalking until they attach themselves to you, like a parasite, when you least expect it.

Sometimes they are funny and endearing. Sometimes they are malicious. Sometimes they are cool and catchy. The nickname that attached itself to me is somewhere in the middle, I suppose.

You have no recourse if the nickname that finds you is one that you do not care for. Resisting only results in the moniker taking a stronger hold, like a Chinese finger trap. Though, you do not realize this until it is too late.

My nickname found me in the fall of 2002 the Monday following the final football game of my senior year. The last football game of my life.

Now, it is important to give a little context that involves football, rest assured that this will not turn into a nostalgic reliving of my glory days on the football field. I have no illusions that my career was anything more than what it was, mediocre. I was not the star of the team or anything close to it. I had a weak knee, due to a snowmobile accident that I have written about previously, that caused me to play hesitant in a game that has no patience for hesitant players. I did what I could to fill my role on the team as a Fullback. I had a few games where I made solid contributions that would show up in a box score but nothing to brag about.

Well, I was 100% (1/1) kicking extra points as the backup placekicker.

That being said, I had an amazing time playing and enjoyed all of the time spent on the field with my teammates and coaches. What’s more, I was a part of a historic season as our team had the first undefeated regular season in 64 years. It’s hard not to have fun when your team is winning all of the time.

Everything came down to the section 8, Class 5A championship game on November 1, 2002. A cold, blustery day. The kind of day that you don’t want to play football unless there is something important on the line. With temperatures below freezing, everything hurts and the field, which was forgiving green grass a few months prior, now more closely resembles an asphalt parking lot.

A win on this day would send us to the next round, competing in the state quarterfinals.

Athletes, in general, are superstitious people. All sorts of traditions and rituals are followed as the competition approached. This was the case for the Brainerd Warriors. Before we would take the field to warm up for the game, we would slowly assemble in the dark basketball gym. This was not only a respite from the stench of high school locker room but also a chance to relax and visualize your upcoming performance. Time to mentally prepare for the game ahead and the game plan that was installed during practice.

This ritual was interrupted by the opposing team as they opted to warm up in the gym, avoiding the cold temperatures outside. This was an unwelcomed distraction, to say the least.

The other ritual is lining up at the top of the long stairs that overlooked the football field below holding hands with the teammate next you. The goal here was to be a cohesive unit and to have “one heart beat” as a team. Looking down at the field illuminated under the stadium lighting with our friends and family in the stands, it occurred to no one on the team that it would be the last time we would do so.

As a teenager, I spent so much time dreading football practice. Putting on the same smelly pads day after day. Conditioning in the unforgiving August heat twice a day for two weeks.

It wasn’t until we lost the game that I realized how much it all actually meant to me.

I couldn’t believe that it was over.

After shaking hands with the opposing team, we huddled as a team under our goal posts. Another ritual but this was the first time we had done so as the losing team. Another sobering pang of reality.

After a brief speech from our team captains, the field is flooded with family and friends offering condolences on the loss.

I am an emotional guy. I often wish I wasn’t but it is just who I am. I cry easy and the more I try to prevent it, the worse it gets.

Tears flooded my face as I realized from now on playing football would be nothing more than a fading memory.

Now, I will maintain that I was not the only guy crying on the field that night. There were many others. If any of you are reading this, you know who you are.

As I made my way to my parents and my girlfriend, crying, I saw the flash out of the corner of my eye. At the time, I paid no attention to this. There were pictures being taken by families all over the field. I hugged my parents as they congratulated me on a good season.

I walked around to teammates, doing the same thing.

It wasn’t until the following Monday morning that I would realize that the flash that I saw out of the corner of my eye was my nickname attaching itself to me.

As I walked into the high school a little before 8AM, still in shock that the season was over, one of best friends approached me, “Hey! It’s Timmy Baby Pants!”

“What?” I said. I had no clue where this was coming from, I was confused and anxious (the state that I am in about 75% of the time).

Laughing he said, “Nice picture in the paper, Timmy Baby Pants!”

“Wh- what picture?” I said. I had not seen the paper.

Oh no.

He calls out to another one of my “best” friends, neither of them played football, “he doesn’t know! He hasn’t seen the paper!”

They lead me down a hallway to a bulletin board hanging outside of a classroom where a teacher would pin-up articles that highlighted students performances, athletic or otherwise.

Even from a distance, I knew exactly what the picture was.

This picture adorned the front page of the sports section.

What's in a nickname?

Why me? Why would they use a picture of me? I was a meaningless role player at best. What did I do to the photographer?

“Are you sad, Timmy Baby Pants? Should we call the wambulance?” one of my “friends” says.

“Did Timmy Baby Pants lose the big game?” says the other.

This is my life now.

I tried to justify. I tried to explain that I wasn’t the only one crying. This made it worse.

By the end of the day, most of my friends were calling me Timmy Baby Pants.

By the end of the week, my mom was calling me Timmy Baby Pants.

This picture is framed and on display in my house.

It has been 14 years. The nickname remains. At least yearly, the picture is posted on Facebook by one of my loving friends. One year, a large number of people even made it their profile picture. This winter I was introduced to a mutual friend at a bar and after a moment of studying my face he said, “Wait, you’re the crying football player!”

Over the past 14 years, I have surrendered. I now realize that the stupid nickname fits. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.

Cheers.

Timmy Baby Pants