CHICAGO - While the Minnesota players hold fond memories of the Metrodome, their final one in the place wrenches their gut. Iowa pounded the Golden Gophers, 55-0, to close out their 26-year history in that venue last September.
Minnesota moves into their brand new, on-campus stadium this season and hopes to fill it with recollections versus the Hawkeyes that ease the pain of last season and 2002, when Iowa fans carried the goal posts out of the Dome, among others.
While the Battle for Floyd takes place in Iowa City this season, some Gophers look forward to gaining a home field advantage when games are played in Minneapolis.
"We have the games at the Dome where Iowa was bringing just as many fans as Minnesota," Gopher Receiver Eric Decker said Tuesday at the Big Ten Kickoff Event. "Now, I think, with a sold out stadium, you'll see a maroon and gold crowd. The opponents will be up in the bleachers and stuff. It will give us that home field advantage."
Iowa has won seven of the last eight meetings with the Gophers, including three of the last four in Minneapolis.
"They come to our stadium and they have the same amount of fans that we do because they're so close," Minnesota Defensive Tackle Garrett Brown said. "Those games are always fun."
Fans from both schools appeared to be having fun in the Dome before last year's game being a part of history. By the fourth quarter, the followers in black and gold were sitting by empty seats vacated by the Minnesota faithful.
"I absolutely feel like we didn't play up to par and they played exceptionally well," Brown said. "That was all on us. This year we need to make sure we are playing at the same level if not higher than they are because it's got to be competitive. We can't have games that are that one-sided."
Minnesota ran over the Hawkeyes, 34-24, to end the 2006 season in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz pointed to that game as one of the low spots in his decade as the program's head coach. He felt that way, not only because his team lost, but because it lacked the effort and intelligence to compete.
"(The '08) game is definitely that game for us," Brown said. "We look back at the season we had my sophomore year and say that will never happen again. We can take that and the Iowa game from last year as learning experience and motivation.
"We need to make sure that no matter what we are giving 100 percent effort all the time, every play. If we do that and it still happens, than we can still feel good about ourselves because we know we gave everything we've got. But we need to make sure that something like that never happens again."
Decker admires how Iowa has built its program. He hopes the Gophers can follow a similar path.
"Towards the end of the ('08) season, after our bye week, some guys were getting fatigued," said Decker about a team that lost its final five games of the season. Iowa won ended with four consecutive wins.
"Some guys were getting some injuries. We just didn't have the depth that we needed to be successful at the end of the season. That's one thing we're really working on this year, to build some depth and get the young guys picked up and hopefully finish strong because that's the biggest thing. It's not how you start but how you finish.
"It's one of the biggest state rivalries there are. Iowa is a great team. They bring it week in and week out with motivation to play hard every game. That's the same approach we take into Iowa. We're hungry to get that trophy back."
"Those games, I mean, there's always an extra incentive to play in them because it's not just a game between two colleges," Decker said. "It's more of a game between two states. Those are the games when you look at them on your schedule; you circle them on the calendar. They are a big deal to everybody.
"If we can't come out with the trophy, it's kind of disheartening. It gives you extra motivation to try to come back next year and get it back. We haven't seen the axe (Wisconsin) for a while. The pig has been gone for a while, too."
Said Brown: "Those are the games that we look forward to. Our practices are completely different for those games. Everyone has bought into that it's going to be a hard-fought game. We know that everybody is watching us. Everybody wants the pig. Everybody wants the axe. Everybody wants the governor's bell (Penn State)."
Minnesota is hoping TCF Bank Stadium will even the playing field, so to speak, during these rivalry games.
"It's great," Decker said. "The players and the fans around the state are very excited. It's something very important to the University of Minnesota football to finally be back on campus and have a college atmosphere and have the students involved."
And they have a plan for all of the Iowa fans that became fond of calling The Metrodome, Kinnick North.
"We're going to put them in the corner," Brown said with a smile.