It wasn’t so much the noise, but the shaking. When Williams Arena was at its best, and therefore its loudest, the building would vibrate to a frightening degree. Fans would pound and kick the pillars and exposed pipes, creating a hollow clanking that could be heard just above the roar of the crowd. And oh the crowd!
Pre-season games were sold out, students would show up two hours early and throw frisbees across the court before the game, and the student section was feared. Shot clock violations weren’t just caused by a poorly executed offense, they were caused by players unable to hear each other, their coach, or themselves. The best way to know when there was a shot clock violation was when there was a whole new level of loud, above what had made the whistle and the horn impossible to hear.
Its hard to imagine a sold out crowd waiting for two hours outside on a cold March night, and another two hours inside, just to chant “Beat Kentucky” and welcome the team home. I was lucky enough to see it once, but it only whetted my appetite for more. It’s been a long ten years.
The student section got into people’s heads. They caused Chris Kingsbury to shoot an ill-advised forty footer with 30 seconds on the shot clock, that fell 10 feet short. They forced Judd Heathcoate to sit down, they made Bobby Knight explode, more so than usual. Opposing teams hated The Barn. They knew they would be taunted mercilessly for forty minutes. They knew there would no where to hide on the elevated court. They knew that if they didn’t play their best, they would lose, and they would hear about it. Fans even became minor celebrities, especially if they wore hard-hats and carried Bobby Jackson around the arena.
Williams Arena used to be one of the top three places in the country to watch a game. The place is historic– it even smells old. From the obstructed seats to the raised court to the benches that still make up some of the seating, it isn’t hard to imagine the days when Dave Winfield was best known for his basketball skills, or when the Gophers would win games 8-6. Those days may be gone now, but they can also come back. Tubby Smith may have given the basketball program a new lease on life, but the fans, and especially the students of the University of Minnesota, need to sign that lease.
I applaud the efforts of The Barnyard, and especially the students who have taken upon themselves the task of restoring one of the great traditions of college basketball, but I implore you to do more. To truly make The Barn what it once was, you must teach this generation of basketball fans what The Barn once was. Without that history, you will have nothing to emulate.
Please humbly accept these suggestions:
- Outreach is key- Give students opportunities to connect with coaches, alumni, and fan favorites. Schedule a weekly lunch with someone connected to The Gophers. Invite Hosea Crittenden to talk about his relationship with the student section, and how he made a three pointer on Hosea Crittenden night. Ask Jim Dutcher to describe the noise in The Barn when 17,000 people were crammed into it. After 50 years, I’m sure Ray Christiensen would have a few stories to tell. Have Tubby Smith talk about the upcoming game. Make attendance free, but only open to those who have a ticket for that week’s game(s).
- Invite your friends to games and offer to buy them a ticket. You are in college. You undoubtedly spend money on worse things than a great basketball experience. By your friend a ticket. They’ll probably buy you a beer after the game. Everyone will go home happy.
- Show this generation how The Barn used to be. Reserve a room somewhere on campus, and show a classic Gopher game the night before each home game, and make sure you have the volume on. When the students see and hear how intimidating the barn used to be, they will make it as intimidating as it used to be. Let me know if you want a list of games to show.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel- Don’t spend too much time establishing “official” cheers. This isn’t what made The Barn great. The “Left, Right” cheer is the only one I remember during my 15 years of having season tickets. All the other great moments were related to individuals- yelling at bad shooters to shoot, booing outrageously every time a player who snubbed the U touches the ball, deafening chants of “air ball” 15 minutes after the air ball initially happened, screaming at opposing coaches for any reason you can think of. Traditions happen organically, go with the flow and see what happens.
- Be as loud, crazy and ridiculous as possible. Even if The Barn isn’t full, act like it is. Make as much noise as possible, make the barn as loud as it can be, regardless if the opponent is UW or UW-River falls. The loudest I have heard the place was during an NIT game when the lower deck was barely full, it can be done.
It has been almost ten years since I had season tickets. Back then, I always wanted to sit in the student section, but was too young. Now, i finally have seats (or a place to stand) in the student section, but it isn’t what it used to be.
Let’s make The Barn one of the great college basketball experiences again.
Let’s restore the roar.
Let’s make it shake.