*I'm not talking about on the field
On Saturday, I was able to attend the Gophers-USC game at TCF Bank Stadium. Other than the, well, outcome on the field, it was a great day to be a Big Ten fan. The weather was perfect, the location was my hometown, so it was perfect, and, above all else, it WASN'T the goddamn Metrodome. Just for that fact alone, it was a win. But it was Big Ten Football, it was outside, and it was in Minnesota. My thoughts on the Minnesota tailgating experience after the jump.
The first thing that struck me was that the buzz on the campus around the stadium, like people are still getting to play with a new toy. In many ways, they are. Gopher fans are still trying to wok out the kinks, if you will, but there are some definite tailgate hot spots, and overall, it was a great game day experience. There aren't a lot of parking lots around the Bank, and the ones that are are reserved for season ticket pass holders. The Hiawatha Light Rail doesn't have a stop down on campus, either, so go early. There are a few lots and spots not too far from the stadium, but expect to pay $20, not outrageous when compared to other venues. I parked just off of University Avenue and made my way over to Washington Avenue, and found Sally's, which is quickly becoming the pregame tailgate spot for those who don't bring their own grill and brats.
Go here, get the Cajun Walleye Tacos.
Beer was under $5 for a 16-ounce cup (very reasonable), and they have pretty good food. I highly recommend the Cajun Walleye Tacos with a Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss. One of the best pregame meals I've had. Sally's also has an outdoor patio with beer and burger/brat tents. It was crowded, but not in a Titanic get-to-the-lifeboat kind of way. Food and drink was easily accessible, with little to no waiting. Sally's was well-prepared for a big pregame crowd.
The inside of Sally's a few hours before the game.
Minnesota Nice is still in vogue, and was able to chat up a bunch of Gopher fans, and although there were fans of all ages, it's geared more toward the younger crowd. Across the street from Sally's is another campus favorite, Stub and Herb's. That place seemed smaller and more crowded, but it still had a lively pregame scene.
If you're looking for a quieter atmosphere, you might want to check out the McNamara Alumni center, right across the street from both Sally's and Stub and Herb's. The alumni building has an older crowd, but it offers large screen TVs with Big Ten games on multiple channels, comfortable furniture and nice restrooms. It also has the original entryway to the old Memorial Stadium -- very cool.
The stadium itself is a fantastic facility, with wide concourses to accommodate a large crowd. There are a lot of food vendors all over the stadium, and a "must try" item is the Ski-U-Brat. I had the cheapest seats possible, and still had a good view of the field. The stadium opens up to the Minneapolis skyline, but I had a hard time seeing the skyline because of the ginormous scoreboard with an HD screen blocking the view:
Everyone I spoke to says football back on campus is the best thing to happen to the U in years, and EVERYBODY ... let me emphasize this: EVERYFREAKINGBODY is glad the Gophers are out of the Metrodome. I spoke to at least seven couples who bought season tickets just because the Gophers were back on campus. There was one overriding theme, however: As great as this new stadium and game day experience is, the Gophers need to produce a winner on the field, or this stadium won't stay filled, and what's building here will dry up and go away like a Gold Rush Ghost Town.
Every season ticket holder said Brewster (or, after Saturday's game, the guy that replaces him) has no more excuses. The Gophers have a great facility, are building a great on-campus experience, and play in a marquee conference. If Iowa and Wisconsin can compete, the reasoning goes, now Minnesota can. And it better, or else.
Minnesota is sitting on a gold mine. Release the Kraken.