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What Sport are the Minnesota Gophers Most Known For?

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In his weekly Big Ten football chat yesterday, E!'s Adam Rittenberg was asked by a fan if he considered Michigan State a football school or a basketball school? Rittenberg's response was basketball, and I would whole-heartedly agree. I do not think of Michigan State as a football school. I'm guessing most fans outside of East Lansing would agree. Yet some MSU fans responded to him later in the chat, as well as today in a separate post about the topic, that they see themselves as a football school. Obviously, those people are wrong.

As an outsider, the first thing I think of with Michigan State is basketball: Magic Johnson. Tom Izzo. Mateen Cleaves doing that stupid dance when they won the national title (if you're wondering- and obviously you are- Mateen is my least favorite non-Duke college basketball player ever. I don't even know who would be next on that list. I don't hate Mateen quite as much as Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley- or about 19 other former Dukies- but it's close).

I could get into a whole boring diatribe on perception vs. reality and how we as humans like to perceive ourselves and how the world views us compared to the reality of how the world actually sees us...but I'll spare you. You're welcome. Instead, I thought I'd ask what people see the University of Minnesota as: a football, basketball, or hockey school? Which are we best known for (well other than disappointment)? I suppose a more definitive answer would be to run a poll on, say, OTE, where we'd get some outsiders views from the rest of the conference, but I'm more interested in what Minnesota fans think, simply because when I ask myself that question...I can't come up with an immediate answer.

When I look at every other school in the B1G, I get an immediate answer, and I'm guessing most people would agree with me:

  • Illinois- basketball
  • Indiana- basketball
  • Iowa- their fans are arrogant, dillusional and obnoxious. Also football
  • Michigan- arrogant and entitled fans, but compared to Iowa at least they've earned the right to that mentality- well except recently. So football
  • Michigan State- basketball
  • Nebraska- going to go out on a limb and say football
  • Northwestern- being really smart, a half-empty Ryan Field, and Pat Fitzgerald. So football
  • Ohio State- their ridiculous insistance on being called THE Ohio State University. I purposefully avoid calling them that at all costs. But definitely and obviously football.
  • Penn State- football
  • Purdue- basketball, mostly for Gene Keady's hair
  • Wisconsin- football

Pretty obvious and pretty immediate. But not so easy when I think of the University of Minnesota. Football has become my favorite of the three sports to follow, and it has the most national championships (6) and conference championships (18), but of course the last time the program won either of those was 1967. It was also the last time they played in a New Year's Day bowl game. So I have a very hard time saying football.

The hockey team might be the most famous (and infamous) program in all of college hockey, and would rival any school for most passionate fanbase. It won the school's two most recent national and conference titles (back-to-back natty title in 2002 and 03, and WCHA regular season and Final Five title in 2007), and until the past few seasons, won consistently at a very high level. Overall Gopher hockey has won 7 national titles, 12 regular season conference championships, 14 conference tourneys, and an amazing 19 appearances in the Frozen Four. Still, while Minnesota certainly IS the State of Hockey, like with the Wild, I still believe it's a niche sport here. You won't find a more passionate hockey fanbase than Gopher and Wild fans- it's just there doesn't seem to be that many of them compared to football and basketball. In the college hockey community, Minnesota would definitely be most known for hockey, but still I have trouble saying that overall.

Which brings us to basketball. In their history they've won the least of the Big 3 sports, with no national titles, a Final Four appearance in 1997 which we're now supposed to believe never happened, 8 Big Ten titles, 8 NCAA tourney appearances, and they haven't made the Sweet 16 since they didn't make it in 1997. They own the NIT however, especially lately, with 10 NIT appearances, one title (1993) and four appearances in the last 10 years (and soon to be five this year). Yet despite that, and a downturn a few years back under Dan Monson, support around the state and among the fanbase has stayed pretty consistent. Williams Arena aka "The Barn" is quite literally a historical monument to college sports, and fans pack it year after year. Once football season ends (and by that I mean the Vikings season ends in some new and torturous way), talk in the Twin Cities turns to Gopher hoops. Even in the heyday of Kevin Garnett, I still feel like Gopher hoops were never overshadowed much by the pro team in town (they have Glen Taylor and Kevin McHale to thank for that), and that in the TC and in Minnesota, Gopher basketball has consistently been the most popular team on campus.

So I guess I'm leaning to Minnesota being a basketball school? I really don't know. I'd say it's a toss-up between basketball and hockey, with a slight lean to hockey just because until the past few seasons, that's the one sport that's even close to mainstream the Gophers have been a power in. It's also what I would guess non-Gopher fans from around the Big Ten would say. But this isn't about them, and it isn't even about me, it's about you, as a Gopher fan: and what say you? Do you think of the Minnesota Gophers as a football school, a basketball school, or a hockey school?