From the Catbird Seat... Tales of a football journey - only in MinnesotaIf you’re going to see Minnesota, there has got to be a better way to do it than the UMD football team did it this past weekend. The Bulldogs, the top-ranked Division II team in the land, just finished a “southern Minnesota motor coach tour,” in the wry words of coach Bob Nielson.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
If you’re going to see Minnesota, there has got to be a better way to do it than the UMD football team did it this past weekend.
The Bulldogs, the top-ranked Division II team in the land, just finished a “southern Minnesota motor coach tour,” in the wry words of coach Bob Nielson.
It all came about due to some truly bizarre circumstances. The ’Dogs were trying to wrap up their third straight Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title and finish their second undefeated regular season in the last three years – but had to go through Mankato to do it.
Or so we thought. How little we know.
Friday night’s storm dumped a rather stupendous 11 inches of slop on Mankato and its surrounds. Waking up to their team meal on Saturday morning, UMD’s players and coaches – and even me, their radio broadcaster – wondered what the day would bring.
What it brought wasn’t a football game. At first we were told that Blakeslee Stadium, Minnesota State’s cozy grass field home, wouldn’t be ready for play at the scheduled time. Then we were told it wouldn’t be available at all.
You can’t plow a wet grass field. You’ll destroy it. You have to shovel it, and there weren’t enough bodies available. So, cancel the game, right?
As Karnak the Magnificent might have said, “You are wrong, blizzard breath.”
UMD’s top seed in the NCAA Super Regional was at stake and the NSIC wanted its champion named. So, the game was delayed – but without a site.
Various neutral sites were considered, first and foremost the Metrodome, due to it obviously being … wait for it … a dome. However, there was a truck show there last weekend. So, it was out.
Concordia, St. Olaf, St. John’s, and numerous other sites were considered and the hot rumor was that TCF Bank Stadium was considered – which would have been fun if only for the knowledge that one good team had played there wearing maroon and gold.
Finally, though, the powers that be settled on Southwest Minnesota State University’s gorgeous Regional Events Center, three years old and sparkling new with field turf.
The conference also wanted the game played on Saturday night, which was impossible for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the team’s bus drivers couldn’t legally take the team across the state due to rules governing their work hours.
They could, however, do so later in the day, and took the team to Marshall late Saturday afternoon. So the road to the conference championship took a 90-mile, and also a 90-degree, turn.
The NCAA needed to announce its Division II national championship playoff pairings on Sunday as well to allow the competing teams the maximum time to prepare. That meant the Bulldogs had to play early.
Very early, in fact. Kickoff was at 10 a.m.
That meant a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call for the team, now in its second hotel of the weekend, across the state from its scheduled playoff location.
To make matters worse, the Bulldogs had scarcely shaken themselves awake on the field when former Bulldog Dennis Carter lugged the opening kickoff back 93 yards for a touchdown for the Mavericks.
Now, how good have the Bulldogs been this season? Until that moment, they had been behind on the scoreboard for nine minutes and 25 seconds. All season.
This time, it took them until D.J. Winfield’s 60-yard punt return in the third quarter to get on top. But once they did, there was no looking back. The Bulldogs remain the top-ranked team in the land and deservedly so.
Yet their trip was triangular – Duluth to Mankato to Marshall to St. Cloud to home.
It was a wild and crazy weekend. Yet 11-0 is in the bag, and the playoffs loom large. If the Bulldogs play as they can, they are an absolutely legitimate threat to claim their second national championship in three years.
And if they do, hopefully there will be no more worries about snow.
Jeff Papas is a longtime Pine Journal sportswriter and columnist. He also is the voice of UMD Bulldog football on KQDS-AM 1490 in Duluth.