Any wildlife expert can tell you that gophers are normally a dull brown color, but then again, a wildlife expert may not be the best person to tell you about the Minnesota Golden Gophers and their awesome, action-packed athletic history. The creature part of their moniker stems from their home state’s roots, but the colorful descriptor wasn’t added until the 1930s when the school’s football team began wearing it from head to toe. The outfits proved to a good luck charm of sorts, as the Gophers won seven Big Ten Conference titles and five national championships from ‘32 to ‘41.
In recent years, the women’s ice hockey team and the NCAA crowns they captured in 2012, ‘13 and ‘15 generated the most national headlines, but that isn’t to imply that other Gopher teams have been without their shining moments. Men’s basketball, baseball, wrestling and golf have all surged to the top of the college sports world at some point. However, hockey may be king (or queen, rather) of the Twin Cities. The women’s squad is virtually a dynasty, and the men’s team isn’t too shabby either, with national triumphs in ‘74, ‘76, ‘79, ‘02 and ‘03. That being said, it’s still football that gets 50,000 folks to drop everything they’re doing on a Saturday and cheer on the Gophers.
The university made its gridiron debut all the way back in 1882, and fourteen years later, joined the Western Conference (now the Big Ten Conference) as a charter member. In 1904, Minnesota went a perfect 13-0 and was awarded the national championship by Billingsley. How Michigan and UPenn also earned shares of the title that year is anyone’s guess, because it was the boys in Maroon and Gold who racked up 725 points over the course of the season while also shutting out opponents in 12 contests. Pardon the pun, but Minnesota’s golden years were absolutely the stretch from ‘32 to ‘41 when they were capturing banners and titles left and right, and saw halfback Bruce Smith run away with the Heisman Trophy in ‘41.
A seventh football crown came to the Twin Cities in ‘60, which proved to be an especially exciting year since the baseball team also claimed a national title that spring. Nearly four decades later, Minnesota was a hotbed for championship clout as men’s hockey, golf and wrestling all claimed NCAA triumphs in ‘01 and ’02.
It’s hard to say what the most beloved part of Gopher athletics is, but it definitely comes down to either the incomparable “Ski-U-Mah” rallying cry or the continued presence of Goldy, the seven-foot-tall living embodiment of Minny fandom. The mascot’s “Spin Your Head” routine has been delighting fans for countless years, while his dance moves recall another famous gopher. Regardless of the outcome, Goldy and 50,000 of his closest friends always hold their heads high. They celebrate the thrilling victories, and when they get down in the dumps, they remind themselves: “It could be worse. We could be Iowa.”