To recap, or in case you didn't read the Top Ten Hockey plays article posted on Monday...shame on you if you didn't; the idea for this post came originally out of a post on the NFL Nation blog on ESPN that named the three most memorable plays in each NFL franchise's history. It then became a talker on Twin Cities sports radio recently. However, they all took a much more pro centric view on their lists, so I decided to make my own and make it only Gopher Sports plays.
Now this is not a be all end all of top plays in Gopher Football History. In fact, this one had to be subtitled. It was subtitled "That most of us were alive for" because of course the heyday of Gopher Football occurred between 1934 and 1960. Many if not the vast majority of the readers of this blog were either not around for that, or probably fairly young. In fact, I was reminded of one of those older plays that could easily be on this list Monday when the videos of Bob McNamara started to pop out. His 89 yard kick return against Iowa in 1954 easily could make this list, but I'm sure there were plenty of others that Bruce Smith, Paul Giel, Sandy Stephens and others had as well that are not as well known to the current generation of Gopher fans. Based upon the lack of easily attainable video evidence, we will start our list with the beginning of the Metrodome Era.
As with the hockey list, also key is the word play. It's not the most memorable games, in fact there may be many memorable games that don't have a significant memorable play. One of those that comes to mind would be the debacle that is Michigan 2003. However I can't think of one specific play from that game that would make this list. Others may, and that's fine. Make sure to put it in the comments if you think one belongs. As a disclaimer to avoid all the, "Why did you bring up that horrific memory again!" posts, don't forget that as Minnesota fans we all know well that memorable moments don't all have to be positive moments. So you will see some soul crushing moments on this list. I apologize ahead of time, I didn't like putting them in here anymore than you will like reliving them, but they happened, and unfortunately are quite memorable.
So here is my list of the Top Ten Memorable Plays in Gopher Football History (that most of us were alive for)
Honorable Mention: The Gophers Get Out-Gophered!
It was a crazy game last November in Bloomington, Indiana when the Gophers and Hoosiers played. The Gophers too a significant lead at halftime, and added another touchdown to go up 35-13 midway through the third quarter as they looked like they were going to cruise to their third consecutive Big Ten victory. Then Indiana woke up. The Hoosers scored 26 consecutive points to take a 39-35 lead with 5:33 left in the game. The Gophers scored quickly, but maybe too quickly on a 500yard touchdown pass to Maxx Williams, and Minnesota went up 42-39. indiana once again took control on offense and appeared to drive into at least game-tying field goal range with just under 30 seconds left when.....
#10 How Rhys It Is
The Gophers started out 2003 6-0 before the game that shall not be named turned the tide of the season very quickly. The 9-3 Gophers ended up getting a berth to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas to take on Kellen Clements and the Oregon Ducks. It was a rematch of the 1999 Sun Bowl where a Joey Harrington td strike late propelled the Ducks to a 24-20 win. in 2003, the Gophers wanted revenge. Thomas Tapeh ran for three touchdowns for the Gophers, and Lawrence Maroney added one to give Minnesota a 28-24 lead. However, Oregon would add two field goals in the fourth quarter, the last with 4:16 to play. With not much time to spare, Asad Abdul-Kaliq and Maroney led the Gophers down the field giving Rhys Lloyd a chance to add to his end of game heroics that season. The last Gopher drive starts at 1:41:00 of the video, and the Lloyd kick is at 1:54:40
#9 Masoned For the Last Time
We all know how this story ends. The Gophers led 38-7 with 7:47 left in the third quarter of the 206 Insight Bowl. The Gophers wouldn't score again until a field goal in overtime, while Texas Tech scored 31 consecutive points including the play in our countdown, a play that even the most jaded Gopher fans had to be saying, "Really?/" when hit happened. Alex Trlica nails a 52-yard field goal to send the game into overtime...and you just knew the Gophers weren't winning in OT. Special dishonorable mention is the horrible soundtrack to this video. If you didn't feel bad watching this, now it will be even worse. The kick is at the 4:24 mark of the video.
#8 Gray Saves The Day!
The Gophers were 1-6 coming into the annual Battle For Floyd in 2011. They were still looking for the first signature win of the Jerry Kill era. Iowa came into the game at 5-2 and was looking for a win to move to a tie at the top of the Big Ten Standings. It looked like that would happen as Marcus Coker ran all over the Gophers to a total of 252 yards and two touchdowns as Iowa led 21-10 with 13:51 to play in the game. But then the Gophers came alive. There are several plays from the last ten minutes of this game that could make this list. Gray's QB sneak on 4th and 1 to keep the Gophers alive with about 10 minutes to play in the game, Da'Jon McKnight's jump catch, the onside kick. However, the play that does make our list is the one everyone remembers. 4th and Goal on the Iowa 2, 2:48 to play. Everyone in the building knew who was going to have the ball. The question was what would he do with it. The play starts at 1:05 in the video below.
#7 The Fumble Recovery Heard Round Dinkytown
The Gophers had a rough 2010 season. Tim Brewster was dismissed half-way through the season, and Assistant Coach Jeff Horton had taken over as an Interim Coach. The Gophers had just pulled off an upset in Champaign the previous week and rival Iowa was coming into TCF for the last game of the season. The Gophers had not won Floyd since 2006, and no one really had confidence that this would be the year he would stay in Minneapolis. The Gophers scored first and went up 3-0. Then Horton pulled out his back of tricks. The Gophers went for and recovered an onside kick, and Marquis Gray ran for a 14-yard TD to put Minnesota up 10-0 after the first two drives of the game. The teams traded points in the second quarter and Minnesota led 20-17 at halftime. Iowa scored early in the fourth quarter to take a 24-20 lead, and it looked like Floyd was going back to IC once again. Then the Gophers drove. Adam Weber hit McKnight on a 40-yard pass that McKnight made a great catch on, and a few plays later Duane Bennett put the Gophers up 27-24. Iowa still had 4:31 to try and go for the tie or the win, but Troy Stoudermire had other ideas. The biggest play of this game starts at the 4:20 mark of the video, and the end of the video recaps the first TCF Bank field storming.
#6 Gophers Get Axed
I don't really want to talk about it.....
#5 Triplett Takes TCF by Storm
September 12th, 2009 is a day that will be remembered fondly by all Gopher fans. The Gophers were back on campus. They took on Air Force in the first ever game at TCF Bank Stadium, and for most of the game, it didn't look like the Falcons had any interest in letting the Gophers open with a win. The game was tied 3-3 at halftime and Air Force scored late in the third to go up 10-3. The Gopher crowd was unhappy. Finally the Gophers cracked the end zone when Deleone Eskridge scored on a short run to tie the game at 10 early in the fourth quarter. The Gopher fans were restless for the first big play in the new stadium, and thanks to Brandon Kirksey and Nate Triplett on the next defensive series, they would get their wish.
#4 Foggie Flogs Michigan
The Gophers had not won the Little Brown Jug since their 16-0 upset of #1 Michigan in 1977. The second ranked Wolverine team was once again undefeated and a win over the Gophers was the only thing standing between them and a Rose Bowl berth. The Gophers were 25-point underdogs coming into the game in the Big House. However, due to five Wolverine turnovers, the teams were tied at 17 after a Michigan touchdown with just over three minutes left. The Gophers were driving, but it looked like their chance to win the game would be a very long Chip Lohmiller field goal attempt. Then with 42 seconds left, and the ball on the 50, Ricky Foggie put the game on his shoulders, and made the eventual Lohmiller kick much easier. The Foggie run, our #4 play, starts at about 7:05 in the video.
#3 Gary Runs Into History
As you just saw, the Gophers won the Little Brown Jug in 1986. They had not won it since when they came oh so close in both 2003 and 2004. The Gophers went into the Big House in 2005 to see if they could find the last piece to the puzzle that kept stymieing them. It didn't help that Gopher starting quarterback Brian Cupito got injured in the game and it came down to Tony Mortenson to run the show for the Gophers. Garrett Rivas had two chances to break the 20-20 tie for Michigan, but missed both field goal attempts. With Mortenson in at QB, the Gophers were just trying to run the clock down and play for overtime. It was third and 10 on the Minnesota 26 with 1:52 left in the game when Glen Mason, trying not to blow the Michigan game late for the third year in a row called another run to the right side for Gary Russell. 61 yards later it was Jason Giannini's turn to make history, and he did. But it was Russell's run that made the jug come home, and become play #3.
#2 Unhappy Valley
The 5-3 Gophers went into Happy Valley to face the #2 ranked and 9-0 Nittany Lions. Penn State was getting ready for a run at the National Championship. The Gophers were looking for bowl eligibility. Penn State led 23-21 late in the fourth quarter and had a fourth down on the Gophers 33 yard line with two minutes to play. Instead of attempting a field goal that would force the Gophers to score a TD, Joe Paterno brought out the punting unit. The Gophers would take over on their own 20 with 1:50 to go. Glen Mason shocked everyone by calling a Hail Mary on the first play of the Gopher drive, and Billy Cockerham hit Ron Johnson for a 46-yard gain on first down. After a Lavar Arrington sack and two incomplete passes, the Gophers were down to their last chance. It was 4th and 16, and Cockerham threw up a miracle. The ball was tipped, and Gopher receiver Arland Bruce ended up making the catch to get the first down. A few plays layer, Dan Nystrom stepped on to take the biggest kick of his life. And the rest is Gopher history.
#1 Run Rhys Run!
The Gophers were 8-2 on the season, having bounced back from two crushing losses in a row to Michigan and Michigan State. They knew they still had a slight chance at a Rose Bowl berth, but would need to beat Wisconsin to keep those dreams alive. They Gophers got on top early on the third play of the game as Lawrence Maroney took it 31 yards to the house. The two teams would trade field goals in the rest of the first quarter to make the score 10-3 Minnesota. An Asad-Abdul Kaliq touchdown and a Thomas Tapeh touchdown would put the Gophers ahead 24-6 with 1:45 left in the first half. However, Wisconsin would not be stopped that easily. The Badgers marched down the field and Jim Sorgi hit Owen Daniels for a touchdown thirty seconds later to make it 24-13 at halftime.
The Badgers scored to start the third quarter and cut the Gopher lead to 24-20. However, the Gophers had a problem. On one of the last plays of the first half, Kaliq was hit and injured. The Gophers would have to rely on Benji Kamrath to finish the game at quarterback. A Rhys Lloyd field goal put the Gophers back up by 7, but Wisconsin tied it late in the third quarter on a Sorgi pass to Darrin Charles. The Gophers relied on their three-headed running attack, and Marion Barber III put Minnesota up 34-27 with about 11 minutes to play. The Badgers responded as Sorgi found Daniels again to make it 34-34 with seven minutes left in the game. Both teams had another drive but failed to score, and the Gophers got the ball for what would be the last time on thier 20 with 2;49 to play. Kamrath came through for the Gophers on the last drive with two third down completions to move the chains. With one second on the clock, Minnesota took a timeout on the Badger 19 yard line. Glen Mason, took Lloyd to the side and as is famously recapped in the AP story for the game:
As Rhys Lloyd prepared for his game-winning field goal, Minnesota coach Glen Mason offered a final piece of advice.
"Don't forget to get the Axe," Mason said, referring to Paul Bunyan's Axe, which sat on Wisconsin's sideline.
He didn't...and his kick and sprint around the Metrodome is #1 on our list.