MINNEAPOLIS -- After all the hype and build up, College GameDay delivered. The Minnesota Gophers faithful made it so.
Despite a steady overnight snowfall, near freezing temperatures and the occasional sleet storm, Minnesota fans came out in droves for the pregame party’s first trip to the U campus. By 7 a.m. — a full hour before GameDay’s official start time — Northrop Mall was half full.
They arrived bearing clever signs — from Tanner Morgan and P.J. Fleck’s faces plastered on a Step Brothers movie poster to celebrations of the Gophers’ beloved Dilly Bar Dan to taunts stemming from the Badgers’ loss to Illinois.
Most in attendance were dressed warmly; others flashed their Midwestern heartiness through a lack of apparel. One shirtless fan had his chest hair shaved to replicate Paul Bunyan’s Axe. It was suggested to a fan wearing nothing under a set of overalls that he should have dressed a little warmer.
“I do this all the time,” he said.
Alcohol was used as a warming mechanism for many in the mosh pit near the GameDay stage, with fans drinking their favorite beers and passing around those individualized shots.
Gophers football has a terrific tailgating scene in the lots surrounding TCF Bank Stadium, but on this November morning, this one took the cake.
Three or four hours is a long time to stand on a lawn — “There’s still an hour and a half left,” one fan said midway through the program. “Do you think Al’s Breakfast is busy?” — but there was enough going on to maintain the attention of most, including chants of “Who Hates Iowa?” to “Row the Boat” to intermittent performances by the band.
There was plenty of Minnesota content on the program throughout, too, including a segment on P.J. Fleck’s rise to fame during his three years with the program. KFAN radio host Dan Barreiro made an appearance during the segment. Moments later, a shot of local columnist Patrick Reusse’s proclaiming Fleck the 2018 ‘Turkey of the Year’ appeared on the big screens on the plaza.
“Boo!” one fan screamed. “We don’t want to see that!”
Fleck made his way to the event for an on-air interview, for which he was joined by his friend, Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders.
The University provided proper facilities, with buildings open for public restroom use, and even provided doughnuts, coffee and hot chocolate.
There were plenty of diehards present for the entire spectacle Saturday morning, but just as many dipped in and out, just to witness the scene before moving on to their next stop.
By the end of the three-hour show, the mall was full from front to back, with Gophers’ fans anxiously waiting to see which mascot head Lee Corso would sport.
Corso put on a Goldy Gopher head, even spinning it around to keep up with the mascot’s popular tradition. That finished a clean sweep in which every picker, including celebrity selecter Eric Decker, tabbed the Gophers to claim victory.
That led to one final roar from the packed house, before everyone started to make their way off to their next stop, whether that was a bar, a tailgate lot or maybe back home.
Immediately following the show’s conclusion, GameDay host Rece Davis made his way to the front of the stage to thank the fans for the outstanding atmosphere they created throughout the morning.
In their first opportunity to host the pregame hit, Gophers’ fans delivered.
By 11:15 a.m., Northrop mall was all but empty and cleanup was well underway, with nothing by empty cans and discarded signs left in the event’s wake. It looked like aftermath of a rock concert, which was exactly how it felt.
“Wow,” one event staff employee said as she surveyed the scene that now resembled a wasteland. “That was a lot of fun, though.”