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Must-Win for Football Gophers Tonight

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October 26, 2018

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KFXN Radio’s Dan Barreiro asked for suggestions on air this week for a trophy to be awarded to the winner of the Minnesota-Indiana football game. How about the Splintered Crutch Trophy?

A fight broke out in Bloomington, Indiana near the end of the 1968 Gophers-Hoosiers game. Minnesota fullback Jim Carter took his helmet off and was swinging it as a weapon in the fight. “(It) kept people away from me,” Carter said yesterday.

Carter was doing okay until an injured Indiana lineman in street clothes came out on the field to get in on the action. The Hoosier swung a crutch at Carter, just missing his head and landing on a shoulder pad. The crutch splintered on impact and Carter speculated he could have been in “serious trouble” if the blow had been to his head.

Creation of the Splintered Crutch Trophy could put a little excitement into two programs that historically have struggled to win games. The last time the Hoosiers and Gophers won a Big Ten championship was 1967 when the two programs shared the title along with Purdue. Indiana hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1968. Minnesota last earned its way to Pasadena in 1962.

This fall the two teams find themselves in familiar positions in their Big Ten divisions. Indiana, 1-4 in conference games, is in next to last place in the East Division, while the Gophers, 0-4, are at the bottom of the West Division standings.

The Hoosiers are on a three-game losing streak, Minnesota has a four-game going. No surprise that a former Big Ten coach predicted this about tonight’s game, “It will be close.”

P.J. Fleck

This is a matchup P.J. Fleck and his coaching staff badly need to win. The remaining schedule has Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern at home, with road games at Illinois and Wisconsin. The best opportunities for wins will be tonight and against hapless Illinois. If the Gophers can earn victories against IU and the Illini, and upset either Northwestern or Purdue, they will finish the season with an overall record of 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game.

There will be drama and judgment surrounding what Fleck and the Gophers accomplish between now and the last game of the season on November 24 against Wisconsin. The second-year coach won only two conference games last season but the scenario above delivers an improved 3-6 league record in 2018. The team’s overall record with three more wins will be 6-6, and a step forward from last year’s 5-7.

The Gophers need to restore confidence in themselves and their followers in the last five games of the season starting tonight at TCF Bank Stadium. Fleck’s image with fans and media will improve with a couple more wins, and provide more interest in the program going into 2019.

This is test time for the coaches and players. They need to rally after having the misfortune of losing some of their best players to injuries. Minnesota also has to recover from poor performances on defense when the unit has often looked under coached, confused and even disinterested.

The Gophers will have to pretty much inspire themselves tonight. The crowd will be small and while some loyalists will cheer for the Gophers like it’s a Big Ten championship game, there will be thousands and thousands of empty seats.

Ticket sales for 2018 remaining home games, and for next season, are part of what’s on the line for Fleck and the program tonight and in the weeks ahead. Attendance for 2018 home games could be the lowest at TCF since the stadium opened in 2009.

For Fleck this is an important time and an opportunity for momentum leading into 2019, when in his third year expectations will rightfully be greater than they have been.

Worth Noting

Kirk Cousins has been drawing notice for his pregame remarks to Vikings teammates but a lot of people have been following his verbal leadership skills since a famous speech he made in 2011. Representing the Big Ten Conference football players, Cousins made a speech at the league’s kickoff luncheon in Chicago that has become a YouTube favorite.

Cousins ranks fourth in the NFL with 2,162 passing yards and also fourth with a 70.0 completion percentage. He and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan are the only quarterbacks with at least 2,000 passing yards and a 70+ completion percentage this season.

When the national TV ratings come out for the week of October 28, it’s likely the Vikings-Saints game this Sunday night will be No. 1 for all programming.

The field reporter for the NBC televised game from U.S. Bank Stadium will be Edina’s Michele Tafoya.

Local NBA fans will see two of the league’s most intriguing players at Target Center before October ends. Tonight the Wolves play the Bucks with “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo. LeBron James, considered the best player on the planet, is in town with the Lakers on Monday night.

Then on Wednesday popular former Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio and the Jazz play at Target Center.

The Minnesota-North Dakota U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game Saturday night from Las Vegas will be streamed on NCHA.tv, and seen on cable companies Charter, Comcast (999), Mediacom (MC22) and Midco.

Tickets have sold out for Lindsay Whalen’s debut game November 9 as the Gopher women’s head basketball coach. The Gophers haven’t announced a crowd of over 10,000 since January of 2007.  Discounted single game tickets and the excitement about Whalen resulted in the sellout for the nonconference matchup against New Hampshire.

“Behind the Game,” the Twin Cities cable TV show co-hosted by Patrick Klinger and Bill Robertson, regularly schedules sports newsmakers, with the latest guest former MLB umpire Tim Tschida. Tom Chorske, who played 11 seasons in the NHL and now is a hockey commentator on local TV, will be an upcoming guest. The Tschida program can also be viewed on YouTube.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. avatar
    Tom Bienemann
    October 27, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    The Gophs had a real hatred for Indiana back in the late 60's. Hurricane Carter's crutch wielding incident in Bloomington is legend among his teammates. First time I ever saw the butt end of a crutch go flying off a game film screen.

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