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My experience at Saturday’s Gopher game offered a good reminder that some folks take sports too seriously

I was reminded again Saturday that some people take their sports a little too seriously.

The reminder came, via a push, from an unhappy Golden Gopher fan who was seated to my right at the big University of South Dakota-Minnesota game on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in a wonderful new stadium.

We’d started off as pals, the 40-something Gopher fan and me.

Like most of the 49,000 people in the stands, he was confident the Gophers would crush USD. Like most USD fans, I was pretty sure the Gopher fans were right.

I should explain: Most weekends, I’m a Gopher fan. Even growing up in South Dakota as I did, we listened to the Gophers’ games, cheering the exploits of such stars as Sandy Stephens and Bobby Bell.

But on Saturday, I was wearing Coyote red because for one year, decades ago, I was a USD student.

I was attending the game, along with my sister and brother-in-law, who was a longtime faculty member at USD, as guest of a long-suffering Gopher season-ticket-holder.

The Gopher fan was amused (at first) about sitting next to people cheering for the Coyotes.

My sister explained to the maroon-clad fellow that the proper pronunciation of the team nickname is “Coyotes,” not “Coyoteee.”

We talked about pheasant hunting in South Dakota. We talked about the weather. We talked about Vermillion, home town of USD. We talked about how we didn’t figure the Coyotes had a chance against a team from the mighty Big Ten Conference.

When the Gophers took a 3-0 lead, the maroon fellow became even more affable.

But his mood began to change when USD took a 7-3 lead. It grew grimmer as the Coyote lead grew to 14-3 over the Gophs.

I, of course, was standing and cheering the mighty deeds of MY team.

“You want to put some money on how this game ends?” my seatmate asked.

“Nah, we South Dakotans are frugal,” I said, not mentioning that for more than 30 years I’ve been a Minnesotan.

As the first half continued and the Coyotes maintained their lead, my seatmate’s mood turned uglier.

“I don’t like you,” he said. “Why don’t you move?”

“These are really good seats,” I said.

“Come on, if you have any belief in your team, put some money on ’em,” he said.

“Not a gamblin’ man,” I said. “But this sure is fun.”

I stood to cheer again. That’s when he stood and gave me a shove, knocking me off balance, toward my brother-in-law, who was seated on my left. He grabbed me, preventing me from falling.

“Come on,” the Gopher fan said. “Let’s settle it, right now.”

“I’m 63 years old,” I said, stunned by his suggestion. “I’m a spectator, not a participant.”

Visions of what would happen if I actually tried to fight this guy danced through my head. For starters, I’d be pummeled. Worse, I’d be embarrassed because security would drag both of us from the stadium with thousands of people looking on. Still worse, I would have to explain everything to my bride when I got home.

On every level, fighting was a losing proposition.

But when he caught me, my brother-in-law apparently heard the trumpet calls of his youth.

When he was a youngster, my brother-in-law was a Golden Gloves boxer. Later, he’d become a Marine Corps combat officer in Vietnam.

Now, all these decades later, he was ready to answer the bell. Take the hill. Win one for his brother-in-law and the Coyotes and underdogs everywhere.

“Doug, let’s change seats,” he said.

I looked in his eyes. There was fire.

“It’s gonna be OK,” I said.

My sister looked in her husband’s eyes and shook her head.

“For heaven’s sakes, you’re even older than Doug,” she said. (He’s 65, but wiry.)

We both sat back in our seats, as did the angry Gopher fan.

For the remainder of the first half, I stifled all cheers (although there was a lot for Coyote fans to cheer about.)

The fightin’ mad Gopher fan didn’t return to his seats for the second half. Maybe he really didn’t like me, though I suspect his anger was really directed at the Gophs.

After the game, Coyote fans gathered at a corner of the stadium, near the field where the USD band played and the school’s cheerleaders danced. And soon, they were joined by the Coyote players, who returned from the locker room to the field of their greatest triumph. The players — when college football players take off their helmets, you discover they’re just kids — danced and greeted friends and family members and posed for pictures in front of the scoreboard that read: USD 41, Gophers 38.

It was all very sweet, although I did keep looking over my shoulder to make sure that my old seatmate didn’t try to crash the party.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/14/2010 - 08:56 am.

    I suspect the belligerent Gopher fan also has anger issues elsewhere — at home, at work, on the road. Sorry your day at The Bank was marred by such a jerk.

  2. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 09/14/2010 - 08:57 am.

    Good story…

    I once sat – at the Dome – in the middle of the Iowa Hawkeye section, wearing a Gopher rugby shirt.

    We actually won in a come from behind fashion. The Iowans were very gracious and no one acted like an idiot.

    By the way – it was every bit as possible to have a great time in the Dome as it is in the House that Bob Built, AND they served beer to all of legal age.

  3. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 09/14/2010 - 10:19 am.

    A good, albeit sad story. I’ve avoided live football games of all sorts for years, partially because I despise the huge amounts of money people throw at this industry, but even more so because the concentration of testosterone-driven jerks like your neighbor is off the charts. My nomination for the place to witness the worst side of human behavior: any pro football stadium. I remember seeing a family from Wisconsin with kids at a vikings game once, the kids were petrified from all the abuse being spewed by purple-clad idiots drunk on bad 8-dollar beer. Apparently some of the same crowd makes it over to TCF stadium as well.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2010 - 10:22 am.

    I actually sent an e-mail to one of the local TV sportscasters about his coverage of the game. The guy had an edge of resentment about the empty seats, and the loss to what was supposed to be an inferior team. He acted like someone died. I sent him an e-mail reminding him that it’s a game. The whole point of sports is to have fun as a spectator and as a player, there’s no other reason to do sports. These guys forget that no matter who wins or loses whatever game they play, it’s trivia.

  5. Submitted by Ken Mills on 09/14/2010 - 11:34 am.

    Hi Doug,

    As a SoDak native, I loved your story about the USD victory last Saturday. Did you see the barbs at USD in the Sunday Strib story about the game?

    There was stuff like “…something called the Great West Conference…” and other put downs of South Dakota.

    I think this attitude is one reason the Gophers suck so bad. It is like they feel they are entitled to superior to anyone from the Dakotas. This condescending approach blinds the truth — that it is just a game; that USD played better and was coached better; and, that sometimes the underdog wins regardless of how cool they are.

  6. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/14/2010 - 12:39 pm.

    Now I understand why I like (the more civilized sport) of baseball than football. I guess the violence on the field resonates into the stands? Meanwhile with baseball, you can generally relax, caht, and enjoy a much more leisurely experience. I also have noted most games have attendees from the visiting team (and lots of Twins fans at the away games); and I have never heard of them being hassled.

    Sorry about that Doug; hopefully “Minnesota Nice” can return on your next Gopher visit.

  7. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 09/14/2010 - 12:59 pm.

    Great article about the game. Gopher fans do take their sports too seriously.

    Unless the UofM, the U’s athletic department, the U’s administration, and the state at-large takes a look at what collegiate athletics is all about and what purposes, plans, or goals does the university have for the future of sports in its programs then all the criticisms and derogatory commentary serve no intelligent purposes whatsoever.

    Until a definitive straight forward explanation can be had as to the reasons collegiate athletics exist then all the ersatz sports punditry exhibited thus far is an exercise in futility.

    Collegiate athletics do serve a purpose for character building, intellectual growth, institutional pride, and educational stature. Athletics, win or lose, serve lessons for life. Unfortunately, fans and society in general have forgotten altruistic values to sports.

    Collegiate sports are not ‘primarily’ test competitions for the professional arenas but for the individual’s academic and intellectual experiences and growth. Great professional athletes, like Hall-of-Famers, use their talents not only on the playing venues but in the classroom.

    Playing sports was a means to an academic end. Anything, sports related, after college was icing to their vocational dream cake. Playing post-collegiate pro sports can be short-lived and personal hardship can befall the player if he/she doesn’t have a back-up vocation to pursue.

    When I go to any athletics event, as a spectator/fan, I go to root for my team with all the gusto I can muster. Win or lose, I am true blue for my team. Yes, I may be disappointed at a losing game but it’s only a game and there will be other games to watch.

    Minnesota sport fans should take their sports with keen interest and staunch support but remember that winning isn’t everything it’s the lessons you learn when you don’t!

  8. Submitted by Jane McClure on 09/14/2010 - 04:27 pm.

    @Ken and Paul. Couldn’t agree more. Some of the local sportscasters need little skirts and pom poms.

  9. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/14/2010 - 06:26 pm.

    I got into the game cheap as someone had an extra ticket. At halftime I moved over to where the sunbaked USD fans were as I have many connections to SD.

    My stories are a little more sweet. A four year old mn boy asked his Dad why the sd fans were cheering so loud, the Dad explained because they are excited about their team. Then when the sd quarterback ran a 21 yard TD late in the game I shook a USD fan’s hand and congratulated him. Turns out a lot of players are from far away.

  10. Submitted by Bob Quarrels on 09/15/2010 - 08:13 am.

    There’s an easy way to avoid such boorishness, particularly for the graying and families with small children. Don’t be a boor yourself.

    It has become custom at sporting events that one team is considered the “home” team and most of the crowd will be backing that one. If you wish to root for the other, root quietly, don’t dress as a cheerleader for your team and don’t rub it into the tens of thousands you’re outnumbered by if they win.

    I’ve been to Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago to see the Twins play, and I restrain my enthusiasm. I’ve had great conversations with other fans without–even in Comiskey Park–brawling with them.

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