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Archive for Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mason alienates Gophers’ few fans

Minnesota coach should have known better than to call out loyal students

October 24, 2006

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— During the second quarter of Saturday's game at the Metrodome, Tim Seivert repeatedly put his hands to his stocking-capped head and shouted, "Are you serious?" He was sitting in the student section. Gophers coach Glen Mason, who coached at Kansas University from 1988 to 1996, had noticed a lot of drinking going on up there, though he seemed to be too busy scratching his head and pacing to keep an eye on Saturday's crowd.

Seivert wasn't drunk. A lengthy tailgater chased by some of those $6 Metrodome beers might have made the game easier to take, but the senior chose to suffer sober. He did not do so quietly, and neither did most of his fellow students.

As they watched the Gophers stumble to a 10-9 victory over Division I-AA North Dakota State, several students took issue with Mason's remarks last week. Those with beers in their hands and those without disputed Mason's contention that alcohol fueled some of their unhappiness with this rapidly unraveling season. And in case he still believed their boos were meant for the players, they sprinkled in enough "Fire Mason" chants to clear up any confusion.

It was, by all accounts, a bad week for the coach. A "Fire Glen Mason" website now inhabits cyberspace. The Gophers were outplayed through most of the game by a Division I-AA opponent. Even Mason admitted Saturday that "I was tired of watching the crap I was watching out there," referring to his own team in the fourth quarter.

Which makes it a particularly ill-conceived idea to criticize the students who continue to show up. After barely creeping to a 3-5 record, the Gophers need all the friends they can get.

"I've never seen anyone so comfortable with mediocrity," Seivert said of Mason, as other students hollered in agreement. "I'm not a fair-weather fan. I support this team. But listen to it in here. It's a lot louder when NDSU makes a play. That should tell him it's time to go."

In an attempt to conjure past glories, the Gophers wore throwback uniforms Saturday to honor their 1960 national championship team. Any resemblance began and ended with the white pants and helmets.

The anti-Mason invective generated by the student section started early, though it was hard to hear it over the roar from a tremendous contingent of Bison fans. They had far more to cheer for. The Bison were well-coached, crisp and poised, outshining the Gophers in nearly every phase of the game.

Kole Heckendorf and Travis White came up with a number of tough catches. Quarterback Steve Walker completed 22 of 37 passes for 237 yards, and gritty back Kyle Steffes powered his way to 138 yards rushing. They compiled 23 first downs to the Gophers' 12 and outgained them 380 yards to 249.

The Bison were undone by mistakes, leaving them to contemplate a near-miss. "We don't believe in moral victory," NDSU coach Craig Bohl said with irritation. "North Dakota State is not about moral victories."

And Mason? "This is the kind of game that puts a smile on your face," he said. "When you're outcoached and outplayed and still win."

Many Gophers fans shuffled out of the Metrodome with much different facial expressions. They didn't consider a one-point victory over a I-AA opponent to be a significant step forward in the 10-years-and-counting rebuilding effort.

As another "Fire Mason" chant rippled through the student section, the band quickly struck up a tune that drowned it out. The musicians were roundly booed.

In case there was any doubt left, the students quashed it at the game's end. When the Gophers blocked Shawn Bibeau's 42-yard field-goal attempt with one second remaining, their supporters leaped and hugged wildly, screamed with joy and cheered the players off the field.

Then, when Mason trotted toward the tunnel, they stopped clapping, cupped their hands around their mouths and booed until he disappeared.

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