Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Signature Win

I'm going to bring this around to Gopher football: really, I will. But before I get to that I have to start by saying that if you don't know already, let me tell you: I'm Canadian, and therefore, I live and die with Canada's hockey team. All of this crap from the Canadian Olympic Committee about "Owning the Podium"? What a joke. There's been a few polls done of Canadians asking them if they'd rather win the most Olympic medals but no hockey gold OR only hockey gold but no other medals. Well guess which won in a landslide? Yep, over 80% of Canadians would rather win hockey gold and nothing else. So to say our image, our reputation, and everything we live for is at stake in this tournament is like saying NBC tape-delaying Olympic events in the internet age is a bad idea- it's the understatement of understatements.

I watched the USA's 5-3 win over the red and white last Sunday at the ESPNZone in Las Vegas with hundreds of other Canadian fans. The atmoshphere pregame was unbelievable. We showed up about an hour before the game and the waiting list to get in, according to the overwhelmed hostess, was "we don't know. We don't know how long it will be." Apparently they a) had no idea there was going to be a hockey game and b) had no idea every Canadian in Vegas would converge on them to watch it. Lesson learned. Thankfully we got in, and it was nuts to see an entire bar filled with nothing but Canadians.

Of course, as great as that was the USA took the wind out of the sails with the early first goal, and kept it out by always one-upping Canada, outworking them, and outplaying them. It was tough to watch. It was even tougher when four meathead gangster wanna-be d-bags who wouldn't recognize a hockey puck if it hit them in their fat heads rolled in midway through the third period to try and antagonize and start fights. Not exactly classy. Reminded me a lot of Iowa fans.

ANYWAY, as much as that game killed me, after watching Canada dismantle Germany, and then Russia last night, I'm thinking it's the USA loss that was the wake-up call Canada needed. A signature loss, if you will. While I want the USA and Canada to win tomorrow so we can get our sweet, sweet revenge, I'm not naive enough to think we WILL beat Slovakia. I hope we do, and I hope USA beats Finland, but I'm not counting on it. Still, I like our chances much better now than on Sunday. In 2002, Canada lost their opener to Sweden and then barely survived against Germany before Wayne Gretzky's "us against the world" speech rallied the lads and they rolled to Gold. In 2006 they lost...and lost...and were out. I'm hoping the USA loss turns into the rallying point it was in 2002, but we won't know until Friday, but it certainly seems to have changed their intensity and determination: they've been a more confident, more aggressive bunch since Sunday, and instead of worrying about trying to live up to the hype as the team that's supposed to be the best in the world, they're now just going out and playing. And through two knock-out games it's made all the difference.

So what does this have to do with Gopher football? Well I'm wondering when our beloved Gophs will finally get that rallying point game. For Canada, it's a hockey power that is expected by its fan to win every game. It seems like they need a tough loss, a signature loss, to wake them up and to change the momentum. For Gopher football, we know all too well about tough losses, since we've had so many over the years. It seems anytime this program gets some momentum, or we get some hope, it all comes crashing down. So for Minnesota, I'm left to wonder that to make the leap to be the program we all not only want it to be but KNOW it can be, we're going to have to get a signature WIN instead of a loss.

After reading Jer's summation of Minnesota in the Aughts over at TRE (as with everything Jermo writes, it's an excellent, informative, and entertaining read), I was reminded of the loss to Michigan in 2003. You know the game story by now: Minnesota led Michigan 35-7 at the end of the third quarter but lost. What I didn't really know- or perhaps had worked to forget- was just how close Minnesota was to going to the Rose Bowl that year, and how different this program would be today if it had. With the loss Minnesota ended up finishing 9-3 in the regular season and 5-3 in the Big Ten in a three-way tie for fourth place with Iowa and Michigan State. Because the Gophers are the Gophers, they ended up in the Sun Bowl.

But if they had held on against Michigan, if they had played any defense whatsoever in the fourth quarter instead of giving up 38 points, they would have gotten their signature win and been 8-0. And even if the rest of the 2003 regular season had played out exactly as it did- losses to MSU and Iowa, wins against Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin- the Gophs would have finished at 6-2 in the Big Ten in a four-way tie for first with Michigan, Ohio State, and Purdue. The Wolverines played both the Bucks and Boilers and beat both, while Minnesota played neither, but of course would have beaten Michigan. By my calculations, the tie-breaker then goes to Minnesota, especially with the rule that the team with the longest Rose Bowl drought gets to go.

So we were that close. Would Glen Mason still be coach here? Highly doubtful, as he seemed to have one foot out the door the entire time he was here looking for a better job. But I'd bet we'd have a stronger fanbase, and better local coverage because of it, and hopefully a better team and better recruiting. Sure, Rose Bowl seasons don't guarantee lasting success (just ask Purdue or Northwestern) but it certainly helps.

What we need in 2010 is a signature win, a momentum changer, and a program changer. We need something we haven't gotten yet from Tim Brewster: we need a big win against someone we're not supposed to beat. As you've no doubt heard, we have a very tough schedule coming up. I'd count only 3 games as gimmes, all at home in September against Middle Tennessee St, USD, and N. Illinois. There's four more that could go either way: Northwestern at home, then roadies against Purdue, Michigan State and Illinois. That leaves five daunting dates against top 15 foes nobody is going to expect us to beat: four at The Bank against USC, Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa, and we an early October trip to Camp Randall.

I believe Tim Brewster needs seven wins, if not eight, to save his job. Which means to do that, he has to do something he's never done- not only does he have to beat everyone we're supposed to beat, and then steal the ones that could either way, but he HAS to pull an upset on one of the five teams we have no business beating. He need to delight and shock a packed house at TCF Bank Stadium and get his first signature win. He has never beaten a team ranked in the top 25, and he's going to get a shot at at least five such teams this year- if not more by the time conference play rolls around. While a massive upset won't guarantee a successful and winning season (see Purdue circa 2009) it can be a huge boost to the ego, pride, and confidence of the team and its fans (see Purdue circa 2009).

So far the Tim Brewster Era has left Gopher fans pretty down and wanting more. Like Canada with a "signature loss" I'm hoping 2010 can bring a "signature win" for Minnesota and turn the momentum- and this program- around, and steer us towards the program we all know and want Minnesota football to be.

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