Welcome to the refreshed The Daily Gopher! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts [link here] to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card [contest rules]. We’re collecting all of the stories here [link to stories] and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!
Gopher Sports and Gopher football, how did we get here? How did we all end up a part of this Gopher football community? How did everyone become Gopher football fans? Wouldn’t it just be easier to follow the masses and be Vikings fans? Why do we put ourselves through the trauma year after year after year? Did we get here by watching/listening/attending games with a grandparent or a parent? Was it one singular event that hooked you? Was it a particular player(s) you enjoyed watching play? Did you attend the U? Seriously, how did we all become fans of a perpetual fringe bowl team? Here is my story of I how became a Gopher football fan.
Some background info about myself; my name is Darrell Vitullo, I’m 39, I grew up in Edina and played football for Edina while in high school…and I use the term "played" loosely. I went to St. Mary’s University for college. So I didn’t even attend the U, though I did spend a fair amount of time on campus visiting/partying with friends. Like a lot of people in this state I grew up a bigger Vikings fan than a Gopher fan. I paid attention to the Gophers but I lived and died by the Vikings. Things couldn’t be more different today as I barely pay attention to the Vikings and the NFL anymore, yet I live and die by the Gophers. I read/watch/listen to anything I can find on college football, especially the Gophers.
Part of the reason I don’t follow the NFL anymore is I grew tired of the constant blah, blah, blah that is the NFL. The news this past week only drives the point home even more as the league announced they were going to change their celebration rules and people made it out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Sorry, a player being able to celebrate a touchdown with some pre-planned celebration isn’t going to get me to tune in. That’s not why I watch football and I don’t think that type of “news” is deserving of a press release. But people eat it up for some reason. The constant blah, blah, blah of the NFL is tiring and makes my head hurt. Anyway, I digress…
Maybe it’s the fact I’m getting older and more nostalgic but there is something about a bunch of 18-22 year old "kids" playing the game at an extremely high level for the love of the game. Yes, I understand they are about to get paid in some sort or other, but 97% of college players will never play the game beyond college. They are out there doing it because they love the game. The majority of players do actually want to get an education on top of playing. The players are not there just to collect a paycheck. Call me an old fuddy-duddy but I respect the heck out of that! Now onto my Gopher obsession and how/where it all began now that you have some background about myself.
My earliest memories of Gopher football are from the Rickie Foggie and Darrell Thompson era. I was just a kid so I don’t remember much, but that was my introduction to Gopher football. I thought Darrell Thompson was the coolest person on the planet, not because he was the RB he was, but because we had the same first name and he was on TV. Cut me some slack, I was 7 and I didn’t know anyone else with my name. I watched a lot of the games with my brother, so I knew both of those players were really good but I didn’t really understand the game since I was so young. I just knew my brother liked them, so I liked them as well. My most vivid memory of that era was sitting on my brother’s bed watching the 1986 Liberty Bowl against Tennessee and how big of a deal it was they were playing in it. I don’t remember the game at all, but I remember watching it. I was too young to remember Holtz bolting for Notre Dame, so I never felt the betrayal of it and I don’t have the anger towards him some fans do. But that era is what laid the groundwork for my fandom as it was my first experience with Gopher football.
As the years went on I continued to follow the program, but as I mentioned above, I was a bigger Vikings fan, plus as we all know they just weren’t that good of a program. They weren’t as bad as some have made them out to be, they were essentially what they still are, a fringe bowl team. Then Wacky Jim Wacker came to campus and started playing a player by the name of Chris Darkins and I WAS HOOKED. I was a freshman in high school at this point; I played RB and had a better understanding of the game of football. So I could truly appreciate Darkins for what he was; one helluva football player. I couldn’t get enough of watching him run, he was a special, special player! He was beyond amazing to me. As bad as those Wacker teams were, they did produce some high-powered offenses and Darkins lead the way with 8 gazillion yards every game, well at least that’s what it felt like to me. To this day, I don’t think he gets enough credit when people talk about the great Gopher running backs. It’s almost as if people have forgotten about him. Or maybe the fanbase had shrunk so much at this point most people just don’t know about him. I don’t know. I just know I will never forget him! I was beyond happy he was inducted to the M Club a couple years back. It was well deserved and long overdue. But that one single player is what truly set my fandom in motion. I went from paying moderate attention to the program to a massive fan!
My fandom then went from fandom to passion under Mason. I know there is a love/hate feeling towards Mase among fans. Personally, I respect the heck out of what Mase did for the U. He took a laughingstock of a program and turned them in to a respectable B1G program that was capable of playing with and beating any team in the country. Yes he had his faults that don’t need to be hashedout again, but you can’t deny the success he had as well. With that said, I stand by his firing; it was the correct thing to do. However you don’t fire Smilin’ Glen and replace him with Tim Brewster. As we all know, they are still trying to dig out from that mistake in a lot of ways.
However, part of the reason my passion grew under Mase was because I played with and against a lot of the Gopher players those first few years he was on campus. It was so much fun watching guys I lined up with and against playing in the Big House, The Shoe, Beaver Stadium, etc. It always gave me the chills and a sense of pride.
Speaking of the Tim Brewster “era”, well never mind we’ll skip that part...
I didn’t attend the U, but I love the U! I may not be alum, but that is my school as it is the school for everyone in MN. It is our state school, be proud of it! I burst with pride every time I hear my 6-year old daughter yell “Boo Bucky Badger” unprompted whenever she sees that stupid W anywhere. For better or worse, this program and school is a true passion of mine. I’m a realist about what and who they are but win or lose; I will always be there cheering this program on! So there you have it, that’s my story. Ski-U-Mah!
So what’s your story? Where did your fandom begin? Let us know your story in the comments; I look forward to reading them.
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