Susan Z's View From The Stands: Minnesota

BuckeyeSports.com contributor Susan Zeier offers her unique perspective on Ohio State's final trip to the Metrodome to take on Minnesota. Check out her View From The Stands, or in this case, Sidelines.

There was some slight concern after the airline company lost my luggage that "losing" might be the mantra for the upcoming weekend in Minneapolis, but fortunately, after a side trip to Toronto, my silver bullet suitcase was returned to me a couple of hours before my sister Vicki and I had to leave the hotel for the Metrodome.

Shortly after landing in Minneapolis and as we were disembarking the airplane, one of our pilots shouted out a "Go Bucks!" as soon as he saw us making our way to the front of the cabin. That was cool to hear, especially after hearing several self-proclaimed Gopher fans, such as the desk clerk at the hotel, the lost baggage coordinator and other people we encountered, who didn't even realize that their University of Minnesota and the Ohio State Buckeyes were scheduled to play in a football game that weekend.

We'd hear someone say, "Oh, you two are Ohio State fans? Minnesota is my team. What are you doing here?" or "So, the Buckeyes are playing the Gophers when?" It's fairly easy to understand why the atmosphere in the Metrodome is less than rowdy and the college football scene around there is lacking excitement big-time when so many of their so-called fans don't even realize when, where and who the Gophers are playing on any given Saturday.

A baggage handler at the airport who was working nearby while I filled out the paperwork for my lost suitcase claim, told me that his son played hockey a couple of years back with James Laurinaitis and the two are pretty good friends. After asking him if he and his son were going to watch James play, he said, "No. I'm a Gopher fan at heart, but I am not going to pay those ticket prices to watch my Gophers get destroyed."

Over and over, knowledgeable Minnesota fans approached us, be it in the Mall of America or Walgreens, asking us to please take it easy on their Gophers.

We looked at the local television network's primetime news sports programming on Friday night in hopes of seeing some pregame fanfare or a preview about the game, but there was none. Not a single word was mentioned. The word "Gophers" must be blacklisted from their teleprompters since there was much talk about high school football, as there should be. Then we heard all about the NBA's Timberwolves, and after that we caught a sneak peek of what was expected to occur for the Packers-Vikings football game on Sunday.

No wonder a good number of people we spoke with were totally clueless as to who the Gophers' opponent was the following night. I found it very strange that the local Big Ten university's football team wasn't worthy of a short mention during the sports broadcast and especially so with a hometown guy in a starring role for the Buckeyes.

If there was anything good about the lack of fan interest, it was that for the Buckeye fan carousing around town wearing their favorite colors, there was zero heckling or trash talking going on. I came across one guy who jokingly game me a little flak when I walked into a Best Buy store. You know how they have someone standing guard at the entrance/exit of those stores? As soon as I appeared through the sliding doors, he stopped me and somewhat seriously said, "I can't allow you into our store, Miss, unless you remove that shirt." I laughed at him and asked, "What aisle will I find camera batteries?" Before he answered, he said that he was from Dayton and really a Buckeye fan himself but couldn't resist the comments just to see how I would react.

Other than the Best Buy guy, the only other person who came close to teasing me a little bit was the security person who searched me and my belongings at the media pass gate. After she finished, she jokingly said everything was OK except for the colors I was wearing, so she'd have to deny me entrance.

While outside one of the Metrodome gates, a group of six people walked by and shouted to us, "Go Bucks!" and "O-H!" My sister and I looked at them in disbelief because all six were wearing Minnesota sweatshirts. Assuming they realized our funny expressions and our lack of response, they proceeded to lift up their sweatshirts and every one of them had on an Ohio State T-shirt underneath. We gave them the "I-O!" back and urged them to get rid of the sweatshirts.

I knew from being in the Metrodome two years ago that I wanted to make sure I shot some pictures of the team as they came down the tunnel prior to kickoff. That tunnel is actually a staircase of approximately 40 steps or so which the team members have to maneuver each and every time they go back and forth to the locker room.

There still was about an hour or so before that would happen so I walked around the field to watch players of both teams warming up. While on the Minnesota sideline, I noticed a group of teenage boys who were standing along the edge of where the Buckeye quarterbacks and receivers were doing some pass and catch warmup drills. The boys, all wearing Minnesota gear, were in complete and unmitigated awe at being so close to Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, Ray Small and the others who were literally running patterns just a couple of feet in front of them. Their cameras were working overtime, snapping photos like crazy, and they seemed to be having a blast.

Shortly after kickoff, a photographer toting around a camera with all the bells and whistles and a lens bigger than my lost suitcase, came up to me and asked which guy was Ohio State's head coach. As soon as I pointed out Coach Tressel to him, he thanked me and commented on how Tress is always moving around and pacing back and forth, which is true. He paces back and forth a lot in between plays and seems to be looking for the best angle at which to best view the next course of action.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out how the Ohio State football managers really do a wonderful job maintaining their composure for the negative and verbal assaults hurled their way by opposing fans and even opposing team members throughout the games. Going back to Seattle, I spent a little time over on the Huskies' sideline and the two OSU ball boys were taking a lot from purple-wearing sideline folks but they held their own. Again on Saturday night, after the first OSU touchdown, some Gopher fans grabbed the football with the net after the extra point kick, making it difficult for the managers to retrieve the OSU football. After a little tugging and pulling on the net and ball, the ball boys were successful although they were being taunted and screamed at the entire time. One guy yelled that they didn't want the OSU football anyway because it was ugly, and one of ball boys yelled back, "All we do is score touchdowns with these ugly balls! You can keep your pretty ones!"

Later in the game, after Brian Hartline caught the final touchdown for the Bucks and Ryan Pretorius' kick, a group of five Ohio State fans who were planted in the front row of the Minnesota student section managed to grab the football through the net, then lifted up the netting until they could secure the football. The OSU managers started yelling at them to give the ball back, but the fans hid the ball and feigned innocence. The ball boy jumped up on the wall, feet off the ground, hanging on with one arm, trying to look and reach around for the football with the other, all the while one of the Buckeye fans was trying to break his grasp with the top of the wall. He finally managed to regain possession of the errant football after going into the stands and demanded to be handed over the football. Once the police came running, the fans gave it up.

Just so you know, our football managers fight the good fight out there every week although I suppose the home games aren't so disruptive for them. I had never realized how tough their job is before the last couple of weeks of seeing first-hand at how good they are at handling their duties.

During halftime, I decided to try and find Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi just to say hello. For those who don't know, Maturi was my husband's high school football coach and they have remained in contact other over the years. I was in the press box, having gone up there to gather up some refreshments and spotted Jim Lachey and Paul Keels talking with Minnesota's radio team so I decided to ask the Gopher guys if they knew where Joel's suite was, but they had no idea. So I headed with my nice cold Coke back down to the field. Lucky for me, some sort of honor ceremony was taking place for various Minnesota athletics' teams and coaches and I figured Coach Maturi had to be close by. After about a 10-second search, I spotted him, so I waited until the proceedings were complete and got his attention. We exchanged pleasantries and he thanked me for coming to the game when the Minnesota band came marching off the field. We were standing between the benches and the field's sideline and wound up pinned between a couple of members of the percussion section. I thought my head was going to get cymbalized as the band continued to jam together in the small area and all I could see were cymbals being bashed together right next to my head. Joel helped me jump up onto one of the benches and we walked down the bench to escape being crushed by the marching band.

Usually when on the field, I ignore the taunts from opposing fans which come flying now and then from the inebriated students of the home team but while crossing the back of the end zone, I couldn't help but respond to a guy who yelled something at me every time I walked by. This time he shouted, "Hey, Buckeye. Nobody likes you!" I know as taunts go that was pretty weak, but I turned, looked him straight in the eye and with a big smile on my face said, "At least one person likes me! That's why I'm on the field and you're not!!" Needless to say, for the rest of the evening, he left me alone.

I noticed for the first time that when going through their prekick ritual, Ryan Pretorius and Jon Thoma always give each other a quick handshake after spotting where the ball will be put down. The bonding and trust in each other is clearly obvious, which every kicker needs with his holder, of course.

Doc Tressel's wife, Connie, asked me if I saw her get hit in the head with a football during warmups. She said it hurt and we both expressed how glad we are that we would never be on the field in the Metrodome again for a Buckeye game as it seems to have something against her and me. The plans for the new Gopher football stadium look really neat. I think by the time Ohio State ventures to the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes again, they will get to play in the new venue. Hopefully, the parking situation there won't be as confusing and hard to decipher as it is for the HHH Dome.

About Nader Abdallah, I did notice him sitting on the bench in the second quarter with an ice bag taped to one of his knees. Then after the halftime break, he emerged from the locker room in street clothes. Nader appeared to me to be walking normally and without a limp or anything. He wasn't on crutches. In fact, he was very vocal and animated in helping to "coach" and give supportive words to his defensive line comrades each time the unit wasn't on the field. Nader looked to have some great leadership skills in my opinion. I've always had the impression that he's sort of quiet and reserved but that's not the impression I got on Saturday night.

After the game ended, I followed the team up the long flight of stairs to the press conference area, which was in the hallway outside of the locker room doors. Alex Boone and Steve Rehring were near the back of the pack and as soon as they hit the first step, I heard Alex exclaim, "Man, I hate these steps!!"

Oh boy, Alex. You better hope the NFL team that selects you in the draft isn't the Vikings. Luckily, for future Buckeye teams, they'll never have to climb those steps again.

After Coach Tressel finished his press conference, I made my way toward the exit and found myself walking across the loading dock area where the Ohio State semi was being backed down a long ramp. The walkway alongside the moving semi was very narrow, like about 3 feet, and even though others were continuing on the narrow path up the ramp, I suddenly had a sick feeling as the weekend was the one-year anniversary of when my daughter's car was rammed from behind by a tractor trailer going 50 mph on Interstate 71. I couldn't bring myself to walk alongside with my shoulders just inches from a moving truck no matter how slowly that movement was. The fellow directing the truck driver down the ramp told me it would be OK to continue on my exit journey, but I decided to step aside and wait anyway.

During that wait, Coach Heacock walked up and I congratulated him on the wonderful performance by his defensive guys and he seemed pleased to hear that and thanked me. I've met Coach Heacock a couple of times before this and he is just a super, nice guy. I'm guessing his players and their parents just love him to death.

Outside, some of the players were eating their postgame meals at a table set up near the buses. As I walked by, I heard a familiar voice say, "Hello, Dani's mom!" Those words came from Ryan Pretorius who was just finishing up eating his late dinner. I stopped to chat for a bit with him when for some reason Ryan said that I looked famished. Actually, I was a little hungry but didn't think my appearance gave that away. But Ryan offered me his leftovers, which was a chicken breast sub sandwich and I accepted. He then offered to fix me up even better, took the foil wrapped sandwich back from me and promptly dropped it into a white paper sack along with some "cookies" as he called them (really pretzels), a banana, a king-sized Snickers bar and some paper napkins. I thanked him profusely, gave him a hug and went on my way. The chicken submarine sandwich was delicious by the way and I guess I didn't realize how hungry I was until I started eating it.

The flight home was uneventful other than meeting a few more friendly Buckeye fans who all were anxious to discuss their experiences in Minneapolis as well as all the college football upsets that occurred on Saturday.

Midwest Airlines redeemed themselves for losing my luggage, too. We had two one-hour legs for our flight – the first from Minneapolis to Milwaukee and then on to Cleveland. On both of those jaunts, we were treated with freshly-baked, warm chocolate chip cookies.

Just like the Buckeyes, the warm cookies were the best!!

Go Buckeyes!!! Beat the Boilermakers!!!


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