Everyone’s aboard the Gophers boat

Published 2:40 am Thursday, November 21, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — At 73, Allan Vergin has been waiting a long time for his Golden Gophers to make it to a meaningful bowl game. When Minnesota beat Penn State earlier this month — giving the Gophers their first 9-0 record since 1904 — tears rolled down Vergin’s face as he told a friend: “I’m smelling roses!”

While last week’s tight loss to Iowa took a tiny bit of bloom off the team’s Rose Bowl hopes, Vergin and the rest of a long-beleaguered fan base are enjoying a red-hot revival of their 11th-ranked Gophers under coach P.J. Fleck.

“I think this coach has brought a group of guys together as a team that’s stronger than I’ve ever seen,” Vergin said, choking up again as he recounted the high of the Penn State win, which came at home. “These are a bunch of kids that love each other. And I think they love the coach and the coach loves them, and that makes it even more emotional.”

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Minnesota’s stirring run has some wondering if the Gophers could be in the mix for the College Football Playoff, which ranks them at No. 10. The Gophers would need to win the rest of their games — including an expected Big Ten championship game against No. 2 Ohio State — to have any chance to make the CFP field of four. A trip to the Rose Bowl would be the next best thing.

Fans were euphoric after the Gophers beat Penn State 31-26 in Minnesota’s first win over a top-five team in 20 years, rushing the field in a blissful sea of maroon. One fan took a rally towel to place at her father’s gravesite after the win. Online traffic on a fan website doubled, online sales of Gophers merchandise picked up and fans started booking hotel rooms in Pasadena (just in case) and planning trips to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis next month.

“Gopher fans have gone through the apathy phase before and right now it’s a complete polar opposite,” said Nadine Babu, co-owner of GopherHole.com.