MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers were missing a big part of their usual home field advantage Saturday — the fans. Still, students could be seen in the streets around TCF Bank Stadium in Gopher gear before kickoff.

Sadie Lichtsinn, a freshman, was impressed.

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“Campus is [usually] dead during the day,” she said. “I’ve never seen this many people here.”

Many freshmen hung around the stadium to try to feel the excitement of a season opener.

“I’ve heard the student section in the football games are completely unbelievable,” said Angel Martinez Johnson. “I was so excited about that.”

Tim Stapleton, a freshman on Minnesota’s wrestling team, said football being played, albeit without fans, is encouraging for the prospect of his season.

“We know the importance of keeping everyone else safe,” Stapleton said. “I’m less worried about myself but other people around the area.”

A few quieter tailgates popped up at some of the Greek life houses. Several freshmen told WCCO they’d watch the season opener in their dorm rooms in small groups.

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The Barron family got to watch from inside the stadium. Their son, Ty, is a linebacker on the team.

“There’s a lot of rules — the mask [has] to be worn [over your nose], not below it. No bags, no purses. Sit in pods of six,” said Gen Barron, Ty’s mother.

Mia Barron, Ty’s sister, works for the Timberwolves.

“My boss is like, ‘You should see what their policies are and take note.’ We’re hopeful to have fans back at Target Center too,” she said.

The freshmen didn’t get an introduction that involved a packed stadium, but their first taste of Big Ten action will stick with many of them.

“There’s still school spirit amongst a pandemic, which I think speaks volumes about Gopher football,” Johnson Martinez said.

Any fans with season tickets can choose to keep their seats for next year or request a full refund.

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David Schuman