Minnesota Football: A 'Brief' History of Gopher Home Openers

Gopher great Bruce Smith - Gopher Athletics

GoAUpher: Those of you who follow @hipstergopher on Twitter already know he is a bit of a history buff. I've always enjoyed the Gopher sports history nuggets he drops on Twitter and I thought the wider TDG community would as well. So I asked if he'd be willing to write a historical based FanPost from time to time. This excellent piece is the first (but hopefully not the last) great little historical piece of his you'll read here.


Crowd at a 1942 U of M game. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

@GoAUpher has been talking to me for awhile now about writing something about the illustrious history of the Gophers. With the season fast approaching we thought some history of our beloved team's home openers might be interesting for you all.

There isn't a good narrative way to frame this post about home openers, so I'm just going to list a bunch of kick ass general observations the topic that I've found while researching Golden Gopher Football history.


- The mighty Maroon and Gold are 90-26-5 all time in their first home game of the season.

- The score of an average Gopher home opener win is 33-7. The average score of home opening losses is 12-26.

The Early Years

- The Gophers played their first official game in 1882 as the away team at the Fairgrounds in St. Paul, where they gave the Hamline Pipers a 4-0 beat down that they richly deserved.

-Early Gophers AD's (or whoever it was who scheduled games in the early 1900s) were in the habit of scheduling high school teams for home openers (a tradition probably started by future Gopher/football legend WW ‘Pudge' Heffelfinger while he was still in high school). ended a few years afterward.

-The early years were not without their own version of our recent FCS style embarrassments. In 1900 and 1902 the good guys finished their games versus high school teams tied...0-0. Yup...

- In 1905 the U beat a team of Twin Cities High School All Stars 107-0. Games against high school teams

Versus the Dakotas

What do you do if you're trying to schedule easy games to start the season but you can't play against high school kids anymore? SCHEDULE THE DAKOTAS! Dominate the Dakotas is a reoccurring theme in Gopher home opener history.

- For example...some version of a Dakota school (North Dakota, North Dakota St, South Dakota, or South Dakota St) has been in the Gophers opening opponent 18 times.

- Which opponent the U of M has opened the home slate with most frequently? The University of North Dakota at 10 times (important note: we've beaten those S.O.B.s ALL TEN TIMES).


Postcard of Memorial Stadium c. 1940. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Versus the B1G

- Second most common home opener? Kind of a surprise, it's Nebraska at nine times (at a competitive 4 wins and 5 loses).

- In fact the mighty Golden Gophers have opened the home schedule with 9 big ten teams:

Chicago: once in 1901, with the Gophers claiming a 27-0 victory. Time for a rematch?

Iowa: once in 1909. YEAH WE WON 41-0!

Illinois: once in 1941, winning 34-6.

Indiana: four times, in which the Gophers are 4-0!

Michigan State: once in 1953, a 0-21 loss.

Ohio State: once in 1974, losing 19-34.

Nebraska: 4-5 all time versus the Huskers in the opener.

Penn State: once in 1993, with the Gophers losing 3-56 (/sad face).

Purdue: 1983, a loss (not a great way to start a season losing to Purdue).

Versus MACtion

- The U received its first dose of #MACtion in 1969, tying Ohio (BUT WE PUT THOSE JERKS IN THEIR PLACE IN 1970, 49-7 WINNERS).

The Bad Side of Home Openers

Some sad things have happened in home openers:

- A 1912 debacle with South Dakota where the Gophers lost 0-10. Oh well at least we'd never lose to them again Aw nuts.

- Tragedy in 1926 when the Gophers hosted Iowa State. Cyclones fullback Jack Trice would later die of injuries sustained during the game.


The 1941 National Championship Gophers. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.


- In our SEVEN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASONS the Gophers started the year off right:

1934 vs North Dakota State: 56-12

1935 vs North Dakota State: 26-6

1936 vs Nebraska: 7-0

1940 vs Washington: 19-14

1941 vs Illinois: 34-6

1960 vs Indiana: 42-0

- As you can see, the Gophers played pretty good competition those years in home openers (minus of course 1934 & '35 when the mighty Golden Gophers trounced NDSU).

Checking The Calendar

- The average date of the first Gopher home game is September 26th. The latest a Gophers season began was 1890 when they did not play a home game until November 20th.

- Thursday's game at TCF Bank Stadium against UNLV will be the earliest home game the Gophers have ever played in. Previously the Gophers had only kicked off the season twice in August, once in 2002 a 42-0 win over Southwest Texas St, and a 2008 battle of Tim Brewster vs Jerry Kill (Gophers were hungry and starving winning 31-27).

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