When the Minnesota football team visits Iowa City today, it wants to party like it’s 1999. Because, as Prince sang, “Say, say, two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time.”
Since Y2K, the Gophers are 0-7 against the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. While Minnesota is 5-5 versus Iowa in Minneapolis since then, the 18-year drought down south includes of the Gophers’ worst moments: giving up 40 or more points four times, being shut out once and having only two games as close as a touchdown.
To win 25-21 in 1999, the Gophers needed 15 unanswered second-half points, including a long Arland Bruce touchdown run and a pass breakup in the end zone in the final seconds. And it was against a Hawkeyes team that finished 1-10 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten — their worst record in 26 years.
Minnesota’s last win at Iowa capped an undefeated 4-0 road record in the Big Ten — a first since 1904. None of the road victories were bigger, however, than Dan Nystrom’s winning field goal to knock off No. 2 Penn State in Happy Valley two weeks earlier.
The Gophers and Hawkeyes enter today’s battle for Floyd of Rosedale at Kinnick Stadium with the same record — 4-3, 1-3 Big Ten — and fewer implications for the Big Ten race, but the match-up begins a new chapter as P.J. Fleck coaches in his first rivalry game at Minnesota.
The last time the Gophers won in Iowa City, Fleck was a freshman wide receiver at Northern Illinois, which was shut out by the Hawkeyes that September. Now in his 19th season, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is the longest-tenured coach in major college football. Fleck, 36, is its second youngest.
Fleck knew of Big Ten rivalries growing up an hour outside of Chicago, but he got a better sense of their importance to Gophers fans “the day I got hired,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many tweets I had: ‘Beat Iowa. Beat Wisconsin.’ That’s all they said.”
This September, Gophers were well on their way to a 2-0 start during the 48-14 victory over Oregon State when the traveling Minnesota contingency in Corvallis, Ore., began chanting about their animosity toward the Hawkeyes — seven weeks before Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Gophers had a golden opportunity to win in Iowa City slip away in 2015. The undefeated Hawkeyes were No. 5 in the College Football Playoff when Minnesota’s interim head coach Tracy Claeys and the under-.500 Gophers visited. Iowa fans enjoyed a doubleheader with an outdoor wrestling match against Oklahoma State in the afternoon, and all fans and players wore black for the prime-time game.
In the fourth quarter, Gophers tricked the Hawkeyes with a halfback pass from Shannon Brooks, who hit Drew Wolitarsky for a 42-yard touchdown to pull the Gophers within 33-28. Three minutes later, Hawkeyes running back LeShun Daniels benefited from a missed hold on Minnesota linebacker Cody Poock, which help spring a 51-yard touchdown run.
After a late Brooks touchdown and a failed onside kick, Hawkeyes held on to win 40-35 and went on to the Rose Bowl.