Here's the Thing: Minnesota

By Patrick Vint on October 5, 2018 at 12:33 pm
Floyd of Rosedale, in good hands
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

They hate Iowa. We hate Minnesota. But do they still? And how can we again?

Three trophy games over five weeks will make a guy think about the fundamentals of hate.  Here's what I've learned: Hate is a funny thing.

As we have long since established, hatred of Iowa State runs deep due to cultural differences.  There is a big-brother/little-brother dynamic layered on top of a rural/urban divide that parallels our national discourse.  Most of the advertisements I've seen in this political season have been based on disrespect of the elite.  You could overlay a highlight film of just about every Cyclone win over Iowa in the last twenty years on that narrative and have a fairly compelling short film.  It's why the "I support Iowa State in every game they're not playing against Iowa" crowd makes no sense to fundamentalists from either side; supporting both requires supporting both sides of a culture war.

Hatred of Wisconsin is familial.  The Badgers, geographically proximate to the Hawkeyes like no other Big Ten school, were built in Iowa's own image by a former Iowa assistant.  Every game seems to devolve into the same trench warfare as the previous iteration; blowouts are few and far between.  The series, played 92 times, is virtually tied (Wisconsin has taken a small lead in recent years).  In recent times, the winner of Iowa-Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten West, because they do Big Ten West football better than anyone else.  It's not the culture war of Iowa State, because the cultures are practically identical.  This isn't the Crusades.  This is Spider Man pointing at himself.

Where, then, does that place Minnesota? 

It used to be that Minnesota looked down on Iowa as hayseeds unworthy of their cosmopolitan university.  But the days of Minnesota as culture war are long gone, forever ended the day Hayden put on those overalls and launched a run of six wins in seven games for the Hawkeyes.  The differences between the institutions as institutions are virtually nonexistent; each school is a worthy substitute for the other in almost every ranking.  Deriving hate from those Iowa State dynamics would be forced, at best, today.

Likewise, history has long since turned in Iowa's favor.  Minnesota's pre-war dominance used to be a source of derision, but even Gopher fans have abandoned talk of Murray Warmath.  Nebraska's admission to the Big Ten forever banished Minnesota hatred due to its closely-held legacy of glory days long ago.  Now they just seem like another fan base laughing in the general direction of Lincoln.

There was always incompetence, though.  Hating on the Gophers in the mid-aughts was a blast, mostly because it was hating on their high self-esteem in contrast to a decade of ineptitude.  Glen Mason was always good for giving away a game or two, usually in kick-to-the-groin fashion.

Tim Brewster upped the ante, promising recruiting wins that would lead to a resurgence of the pre-war Gophers.  He had fake championship trophies made for titles won in the 1930s and 1940s.  He spoke in non-stop cliche.  He was a snake oil salesman, and Kirk Ferentz did to him what he does to all the snake oil salesmen until Brewster was done.  And Lord, those were fun years to hate Minnesota.

But even the era of hating on Minnesota for its pure incompetence is gone.  During the Jerry Kill days, there wasn't even a differentiation in how the teams played football.  If Phil Parker ever left to coach elsewhere, Tracy Claeys would likely be on the short list of potential replacements.  There are differences, to be sure -- Brian Ferentz subtweeting P.J. Fleck on recruiting philosophy is the most prominent -- but it's hardly enough from which to build rivalry.

Minnesota's hatred of Iowa is bordering on institutional, with a "Who hates Iowa?" chant drawing the same sort of canned, knee-jerk response as someone walking into a Michigan State bar and yelling "Go green".  But where, exactly, are we deriving our hate for Minnesota these days? 

Minnesota's culture under P.J. Fleck is certainly not Iowa's, but Fleck is at least genuine about his Row the Boat stuff.  Fleck also has the presence of mind to appreciate Iowa's culture, even if he isn't exactly replicating it.  It's not Wisconsin, obviously, but it's not so far away from Iowa that it's worthy of ridicule or mockery.  The series itself hasn't been that close in recent years, with Iowa winning 13 of the last 17 and 25 of the last 36.   Minnesota is no longer obsessed with ancient history.  And it's hard to fight an urban/rural battle when you're playing for possession of a bronze pig.  Even the building where the greatest battles were fought -- and our greatest spoils were taken -- has been torn down, the monument to our dominance leveled with our spoils still trapped inside.  There's geography, and there's history, but building merely on that without any recent escalating events is like saying that England is a rival of France because the Hundred Years War happened.

Saturday afternoon, I will tap into a deep well of hatred, a dark place in my soul reserved solely for the Golden Gophers of Minnesota, and will muster all of the pure, black tar hatred I can find.  I will hope they do something contemptible, like sacrifice a pig at midfield or throw a pass on first down, so that the well doesn't run dry.  There will possibly be a Minnesota fan nearby, and I will ask him who hates Iowa NOW, jackass, just as soon as the game is out of reach.  He will likely say he still hates Iowa, and I will appreciate how reflexive that is, how there's no need to summon that response or even think through the ramifications.  I want to do that again.  I want to go back to that.  Give me my fix, Gophers.

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