Big ten, big band, big spirit: going Gopher for a day

This past weekend, on what was possibly the perfect fall day, I attended a University of Minnesota football game along with some friends.
Watching, or at least pretending to watch, football is a favorite autumnal pastime of mine, so perhaps I was driven to attend because Macalester’s lack of home games was leaving a void in my life. But I think the real driving force behind my schlep over to Stadium Village was a desire to participate in big school football culture.

Don’t get me wrong: as much as I can, I do really enjoy attending Mac football games. And it would be a mistake to think that I’m a big football fan, since everything first down related mystifies my mind. But there is something undeniably special about going to a college or high school football game, and in my experience there is an extra special bonus at a big school (plus being from Indiana, I’m partial to the Big 10).

To truly begin a fall football experience there should be some tailgating, but unfortunately we got to the stadium just in time for the pre-kickoff music. However, walking past the parking lots I got a glimpse of familiar tailgating activities in full swing. Cornhole was prominently displayed in all of its glory. (For all you non-cultured folk, cornhole is the Midwestern name for bean bag toss.) Since it was a morning game, the presence of barbecue and beer guzzling seemed to be taking a backseat, but I still wondered: why is the Macalester parking lot not overtaken with tailgaters? Sure, the M Club hosts tailgates occasionally, but more often there should be a plethora of options for pre-game fun.

Speaking of pre-game, since big schools have big bands that march and color guard squads and cheerleaders, getting to our seats before the game gave us a great vantage point for experiencing all of those things. The sheer number of exciting, performance-related festivities that happened before the game was impressive. There was music, marching, a really massive flag, and so much talk of tradition that I felt like the whole event was much more important than it actually was.

Realistically, the U of M Golden Gophers playing San Jose State might not have merited all of the pomp and circumstance, but I certainly appreciated it. I also really appreciated that as a Big 10 school, the Gophers kindly displayed the flags of their conference competitors. I know that Mac flies the flags of other MIAC schools, but the Big 10 flags got marched around the field—allowing me a moment to cheer to myself for Purdue and IU.

Overall, the band may have been the single best part of the experience. To have a functional marching band, we would probably have to be a much bigger school, but wow would that be great. Not only was the band excellent at playing their songs before and during the game, not to mention halftime, but they may have been some of the most athletic folks there. Being in the marching band requires much more than instrumental skill; those musicians were lugging around their drums and horns, while playing, marching, dancing and remembering what seemed to be pretty precise choreography. They also formed an outline of an ‘M’ at one point and rotated the shape around; all the while playing loudly enough that I could hear them from our cheap seats. It was truly impressive.

In terms of spirit, you can’t beat the student section. We weren’t seated there, but it was easy to sense it as the main source of the stadium’s energy. Let’s put it this way: there were enough students at an 11 a.m. game dressed up, singing, dancing, and cheering that there was an award for super fan of the game. There was a man with a Golden Gopher hat and a massive matching foam finger. I wasn’t really sure about the fashion choice, but you have to give props where props are due for finding those things and wearing them in public. There were booths in the stadium selling all of the maroon and gold gear you could possibly want. Actually, that’s not true: the striped overalls worn by several fans were unable to be found after a rather cursory search.

Nonetheless, after my Big 10 experience, I still really appreciate the fan section at Macalester games. I think we’re relatively clever with our cheers and what few traditions I’m aware of seem to be pretty rad. I dig that someone recites lines from Braveheart! That being said, I think we have it in us to be that dancing, cheering student section I witnessed, if only on a smaller scale. Probably all we need is some music piped in through the loudspeakers.

Overall the experience was immersive, however brief. I found plenty of entertainment, even though the actual game of football doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. We left with a few minutes on the clock, sure that the U would prevail (and they did winning 43-24). I’m not saying that the world of Division I sports doesn’t have a lot to improve upon or that there weren’t times when the commodification of such a pure fall pastime felt wrong. I love our small school, but there are advantages to big universities. And a crisp sunny Saturday is going to make me yearn for a little pomp and a beat with my first downs. Luckily, tickets to Gopher football games are pretty reasonable and the stadium is located just a bus ride away. Not to mention that Mac football has its first home game (finally) on Oct. 5. Maybe I’ll lurk in the parking lot beforehand.