University of Minnesota
"House fronts," like this one on the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house in 1946, are a Homecoming staple. Light "balloons" will cast a new light on this year's creations.
Photo: courtesy University Archives
The 'ultimate' celebration continues
This weekend is full of Homecoming events celebrating the return of football to campus
By Rick Moore
The billboards that have dotted the area around the Twin Cities campus for the last year were meant to spark interest in the new football stadium: "Stadium Village. Now With Stadium." "Biggest Comeback in Gopher History." And "Join the Ultimate Homecoming."
"The Ultimate Homecoming" is also the slogan for this year's annual autumn celebration. And with good reason. This year's Homecoming Week festivities are two and a half years in the making, and more than 300 students, staff, alumni, and community members have put together a week that students and alumni alike will remember for years to come.
According to Kayleen Alexson, the student spokewoman for Homecoming 2009, the event has taken on a new level of energy this year, fed by the excitement of football returning to campus.
"I think that's definitely carried over this week, with Homecoming being one of the larger campuswide events," says Alexson, a senior majoring in communication studies. "There's definitely a larger group of people involved in Homecoming this year."
Maroon and gold... and an evening parade
Homecoming Week kicked off on Sunday, October 4, with tours of TCF Bank Stadium that drew about 15,000 visitors. With each passing day the excitement has been building, and it will reach a crescendo on Friday and Saturday.
For the first time in more than 20 years, the Homecoming parade will occur on the eve of the game, beginning at 7 p.m. The festivities commence with a special Maroon and Gold Pre-Parade Party at the McNamara Alumni Center at 4 p.m. Among the many activities will be carnival games and prizes; appearances by the parade grand marshals, Goldy, and the Spirit Squad; an autograph session featuring former Gopher greats; and a "Best Maroon and Gold Dressed" contest, with the winner receiving two tickets to the Homecoming game.
While the parade is technically in the evening, it may not seem that way. Light "balloons"—similar to those that light up construction zones—will turn night into day along the length of the parade route on University Avenue, from Pleasant Street to Williams Arena.
"I've heard that these "balloons" light up a city block," notes Alexson. "It'll be interesting to see the [fraternity row] house fronts lit up with the balloons, as well."
The parade's grand marshals are some of the U's most renowned alumni: former Vice President Walter Mondale, "A Prairie Home Companion" creator Garrison Keillor, NFL Hall of Famer and All-American Bobby Bell, Mpls.St.Paul magazine publisher Deb Hopp, and All-American basketball star Lindsay Whalen. They will be joined by Jeanie Borlaug Laube, the daughter of U alum and Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who passed away September 12.
For the first time ever, the parade will feature entries from the U's academic community, including 12 of the 16 colleges, as well as student organizations and area businesses. There are more than 80 entries.
Following the parade, a special Homecoming pep fest will rock the new stadium. Students and fans will be entertained by the University of Minnesota Marching Band and Spirit Squad and hear talks from Keillor and head coach Tim Brewster. The evening concludes with a fireworks show set to music.
Bank on an exciting game
On Saturday, all eyes will be turn to the FieldTurf at TCF Bank Stadium as the Golden Gophers take on the Purdue Boilermakers in what should be the ultimate Homecoming game. Minnesota (1-1 in the Big Ten, 3-2 overall) will be looking to stem the disappointment of losing to Wisconsin last week and try to make it two straight wins against Purdue (0-1, 1-4).
Coincidentally, the last Homecoming game at Memorial Stadium was also played on October 10, exactly 28 years ago. The Gophers beat Northwestern 35-23 in that contest. (The very first Homecoming game, you ask? That was in 1914, when Minnesota beat Wisconsin 14-3 in front of 17,000 fans at Greater Northrop Field—Memorial Stadium's predecessor.)
Game time is 11 a.m., but fans can get rolling at 8 a.m., when the Game-Day Party begins at the McNamara Alumni Center and plaza. The event features live music, family-friendly activities, remarks by President Bob Bruininks and Athletics Director Joel Maturi, and the popular Victory Walk, where the Gopher players march through a human walkway formed by the spirit squad, marching band, and fans.
Food, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages are available for purchase, and fans who don't have tickets to the game can watch it on one of the jumbo video screens inside the McNamara Center. To top it off, the party continues all afternoon at the Mac after the game ends.
Lastly, the focus turns to community service with "The Ultimate Volunteer Experience" on Sunday. Students will perform various service projects suggested by members of the community, such as cleaning up streets, washing windows, or pitching in on preexisting service projects for local nonprofits.
It all adds up to a Homecoming that deserves the label of "ultimate." Says Alexson: "It'll probably be setting the standard for future Homecomings at the U."