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Gophers’ golden moment
Published September 21, 2009
The defining image from college football’s return to the University of Minnesota campus came during the opening night’s pregame ceremonies at TCF Bank Stadium.
At midfield, there stood Bud Grant, the old Vikings coach and a nine-time letter winner, among the few living Gophers football legends introduced to the crowd of 50,000-plus.
Tears streamed down the face of a man NFL fans remember as “stone-faced Bud,” the ultimate symbol of Minnesotans’ stoicism. The crowd roared.
Their applause was self-congratulatory, as well: The stadium’s private fundraising campaign topped $90 million, $5 million above its goal, and raised an additional $70 million for academic scholarships and other school initiatives.
More than 500 people who had never contributed a dime to the university felt compelled to donate money for the $303 million project, which speaks to the emotional attachment they had to the state’s only Division I school, said Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi.
Minnesota broke ranks with the many schools that renovate their aging stadiums rather than build new, and it’s worth noting the school has developed a first-class venue. TCF Bank Stadium’s open concourse, HD video screens and LED ribbon boards, loge boxes, two-level team store and meeting spaces fall more in line with modern NFL facilities.“We could have built the stadium for $100 million and wouldn’t have had much, but in all honesty, I think we could have built one for $500 million and I don’t know if it would have had any more,” Maturi said.
“We are just so pleased, we put in every amenity that we wanted,” he said. “It’s collegiate, not lavish compared with professional standards.”
The facility gives a nod to old Memorial Stadium, its on-campus predecessor that was in disrepair and torn down in 1992. The school made the decision after the 1981 season to move downtown — and indoors — to the Metrodome, which opened one year later.
TCF Bank Stadium’s horseshoe-shaped bowl, brick facade and archways were adapted from the former brick-clad home of Bronko Nagurski, Bobby Bell and Charlie Sanders, three Gophers who went on to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The building’s predesign had the structure running north and south, similar to other stadiums. Populous, the stadium’s architect, wanted to turn it around with the ends facing east and west. The adjustment created more space to build the plaza and took advantage of the view back to campus and the downtown Minneapolis skyline. After studying wind, shade and sun patterns, talking to fans and discussing the potential effects on TV broadcasts with network officials, the athletic department approved the change, said Phil Esten, the school’s associate athletic director in charge of the project.
“It wouldn’t have been as engaging if it was north and south,” said Populous designer Jeff Spear. The 20-foot-tall iron entry gates on the west side, another throwback design element, pose a commanding presence as they swing open to let fans into the building. It’s one of Spear’s favorite aspects of the facility.
“We wanted to have a large impressive front door and have the gates be part of the ceremony,” he said. The brick wall laid on top of concrete at field level, a late addition after a donor gave $500,000 for the project, completes a look that says this is a stage for college football.
Inside, the DQ Club, exclusive to suite and club seat holders on the third level, is modeled after LP Field’s club in Nashville, where the Gophers played in three Music City Bowls. The dominant image is a diagram of former Gophers coach Murray Warmath’s favorite call, a counter play, superimposed on a photograph of old Memorial.
Gopher diehards will also recognize the words to the school’s fight song, “The Rouser,” printed in gold on the club’s maroon-cushioned chairs.Three floors above on the top level, indoor club seat holders enjoy the best seats in the house, according to David Crum, associate athletic director for development. They stretch from the 35-yard line to the corner of the west end zone and the $2,250 season-ticket price includes a buffet meal in an expansive lounge. Of the 250 available, about 100 are left to sell, primarily because most Gophers supporters now prefer to watch football outdoors.
“The best way for us to sell this is on a cold or windy or rainy day and get them up here,” Crum said.
Up top in the seating bowl, the windscreens protecting fans from the elements list the bowl games the Gophers have played in over the years, a space that could turn into a second concourse with the stadium’s flexibility to add 30,000 seats in the future.
It’s all part of the school’s effort to rebuild its brand after spending the past 28 seasons as tenant in the dome, a building it shared with the Vikings and Twins. Now students don’t have to worry about a commute to the game. They can tailgate up the street, walk to the new facility in minutes and line Oak Street to cheer the football team’s procession from the alumni center to the stadium.
It’s that sense of collegial spirit that was sorely lacking at the dome, project officials said. The students and alumni are just starting to realize what they’ve been missing all these years, Maturi said.
“I don’t think they have a clue what they’re in for,” he said before the home opener. “I think the game-day experience is going to be greater than people thought.”