I innocently tuned in to Channel 12 (the sister channel of KSTP) Saturday night simply wanting to know how the Gophers game turned out. I hadn't paid attention during the day.
We have Mediacom cable which means we don't get much access to Gophers sports on TV. "Our beloved rodents" as Patrick Reusse has famously called them are often on the Big Ten Network. We don't get it.
This might be an issue if the Gophers were something to crow about. Most often they're kind of an afterthought. But on a fall Saturday, you might as well find out how they did. So I simply tuned in to Channel 12 at 9 p.m.
But little is simple about the U's football program. It was in the news all right but in a way that had nothing to do with winning football or football at all. Fans at TCF Bank Stadium had been scared silly by a sideline episode in which it appeared someone may have died or was in the throes of dying.
It wasn't a player who had been dealt a vicious hit. It wasn't like Joe Theismann suffering a compound fracture (the replay of which has been known to make some people throw up). It was the new head coach (i.e. new victim) of our University of Minnesota football Gophers.
Unbeknownst to many, this guy is susceptible to seizures. He had a doozey on Saturday. The Channel 12 news opened with this story which was presented with the expected feeling of gravity. I thought "well, that's interesting, but what was the score?" I had to wait until the later sports segment to find out.
We at McDonald's Monday morning engaged in a little gallows humor about the incident. Maybe Jerry Kill faked it in order to obscure the disastrous nature of the loss that was surely looming. The Gophers were playing their home opener against one of those obscure foes who normally are treated like scrimmage fodder by the Big 10.
When Tim Brewster's Gophers were losing to those Dakota schools, we could at least "keep it in the family" (the Upper Midwest).
You'd have to depend on the media to learn that New Mexico State goes by "the Aggies." I imagine there's also a University of New Mexico. Maybe even a New Mexico Tech. Or how about Tech State?
Anyway, a school that came here as a trivia answer not only held their own, they won in a game that plunged into the news for reasons having nothing to do with football. Coach Kill had a seizure. He rolled around on the ground as paramedics tried to hold him down.
The Gophers had a promising drive going and had the opportunity to tie the score.
Normally there isn't an ounce of drama when New Mexico State plays a Big 10 member. It's normally a slaughter. But I'll repeat that nothing seems simple or routine involving our "beloved rodents." Not even finishing a football game.
Kill had his affliction which must have scared the daylights out of most of the 30,000 fans in attendance.
Let me insert here before commenting further that on a human level we all have the deepest concern for Jerry Kill's welfare. But let's be blunt: Kill was in the news not because he was a human being having a health issue, he was in the news because he's head football coach at the U.
Head coaches in Division I football must be resilient souls. Some gotta win, some gotta lose. And the latter means you'll get tapped on the shoulder and asked to just mosey on down the road.
Brewster's tenure here was brutal. He didn't even make it through his last season. Who could have predicted that, what with Brewster having survived the acid test of being tight ends coach for the Denver Broncos?
Anyway, the revolving door continues here. We all know the Big 10 can be brutal and you can't set the bar too high, necessarily. But we went to the trouble of having a new stadium erected, we're Division I and in the Big 10 and doggone it, we'd like to think we can beat the Bison of NDSU, the Coyotes of U of South Dakota and the Aggies of New Mexico State.
Let's be quite blunt again: New Mexico State's average margin of defeat in six previous Big 10 matchups was 49 points.
The Star Tribune reported that the Aggies "looked like the more talented, poised and confident team for much of the day."
Did this game just underscore the exodus from the rust belt to the sun belt? Probably not, although some kind of diagnosis for the U's ills ought to be made soon.
Presumably we have a highly paid athletic director. Hasn't it been clear that Joel Maturi is overmatched? Yet he seems to be in a protective cocoon at the U. Would the Gophers be doing any worse if they had stayed in our beloved Metrodome? Isn't this a comedy?
First we moved into the dome because coach "Smoky Joe" Salem said we'd recruit better from there. He just became another victim. Eventually we heard that "on campus" and "open air" represented the only way to go. But isn't the Metrodome actually closer to Coffman Memorial Union than the new stadium site?
Periodically we get snowed under by these rabid pushes for new stadiums. We've gotten smart about this, right? And we wouldn't fall for it again? Wait a minute, the Minnesota Vikings are on the verge of pushing through the latest extortion job. Mark Dayton gets dragged along kicking and screaming.
Football is truly the opiate of the masses. Which means we're in for an awfully long fall/early winter. Because as I write this (9/13), Minnesota's big-time teams have a donut in the win column. It's an 0-3 state of affairs which looks like a prelude.
New Mexico State scored touchdowns on three of their first five possessions. They rolled up 421 yards of offense. In last year's home opener vs. that juggernaut from Vermilion, South Dakota, those howling Coyotes rolled up 444 yards.
How is this cheesecloth curtain of a defense going to hold up after the "creampuff" (non-conference) portion of the schedule is done?
They say we might have a "quarterback controversy." The guys involved are Marqueis Gray and Max Shortell. The latter is a true freshman. The Gophers should be so lucky as to have a real controversy. It might garner some of that media attention. Right now that attention is lavished on a subject, coach Kill's health, that shouldn't even enter the picture.
The powers that be at the U knew this might happen: the seizures. Will any fan not approach any future game thinking the spectacle of a squirming coach on the ground won't happen?
Again, it's a given that this is sad and the individual in question must be vigilant in attending to his health concerns. But the U didn't need to bring Kill and his health baggage here to Minnesota to be a distraction and disturb fans.
Kill isn't in Minnesota because he likes us. He's here because he got the lucrative contract. His job is to produce entertaining football. It's demanding beyond words.
Such a job is unfair to many who enter the ranks and engage in the primal, masochistic task.
It's hard enough getting the U football program pointed in the right direction, like turning a barge around in a river.
Kill came here as a no-name coach who couldn't charm with his charisma like Lou Holtz. He had to show the U could bear down and deliver better results. We've seen no evidence of that. Now at 0-2, the Gophers seem unlikely to achieve the kind of minor bowl (Sun Bowl or Music City Bowl) that is often good enough for a U coach to get a reprieve.
Wait until the Gophers play the "big boys." Wait until Ohio State gets to tee off against a true freshman quarterback (if Shortell plays).
And can we hope for any better on Sunday afternoons? Look, I enjoy a "back to the '70s" event as much as anyone, but the Vikings are going nowhere if they follow the dated 1970s model of "establishing the running game" and building around a workhorse runningback. That's so Walter Payton.
The modern NFL game has been fashioned to showcase the forward pass, so to keep the masses of lemmings watching from their couches and seeing all the beer commercials.
It was clear last year that quarterback Donovan McNabb was all washed up. And his backup now is rookie Christian Ponder who seems like a true freshman at this level.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave should wear a sack over his head.
The Vikings will at least get more eyeballs than the Gophers, because that's the way it's been since about the mid 1960s. But brace for a long fall and early-winter as football is likely to be a lowlight.
With the Gophers it feels like Sisyphus. Coach Kill, maybe you'd best take a sabbatical because your current role doesn't seem suited for you.
And AD Maturi? Take a hike, man.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org