MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For first time in nearly two years, tens of thousands of Gopher football fans watched their team take the field in person.

The University of Minnesota hosted number four-ranked Ohio State football team Thursday night for their season opener, and a sellout crowd was there to see it.

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The energy was palpable on campus; from the frenetic frat house row along University Avenue, to the subdued yet still cheerful tailgate lots nearby.

“I wish I was younger, that’s what I feel like,” joked Gopher fan Beth Sundberg.

Maroon-and-gold pride took over the campus as football fans reveled in the chance to once again see the Gophers play at Huntington Bank Stadium, formerly TCF Bank Stadium.

“It’s just great to be back. See the actual energy. Definitely missing that watching games last year on TV,” said season ticket holder Joe Knutson.

It’s why he made sure he was near the front of the line when the gates opened.

(credit: CBS)

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“I just want to get in. Feel the experience, take it all in. Be back,” Knutson said.

Not just back in the stadium, but together with other fans. One tailgating group has been gathering for more than 15 years, and had to get creative last season.

“More virtually and more in garages and outdoors and that sort of thing, so it’s good to be back in this environment again,” said Jessica Kurth of Minnetonka.

That environment includes more than 50,000 fans seated next to each other — one of the largest outdoor sports events in Minnesota since the pandemic began. There is a mask policy at Huntington Bank Stadium. If you are indoors in the stadium, such as the bathroom, a mask is required unless you’re eating or drinking. It is strongly encouraged but not required if you’re outdoors at the stadium, such as your seats or the concourse.

“I have no issues with it whatsoever,” said college football fan Micah Beutell. “I’m glad that everyone’s got there ways of protecting others, you know. You’ll see it, too. People will be wearing [masks] throughout the building. I know once we get inside, mine will go on.”

“For myself, I’m comfortable. So that’s what I’m gonna be concerned about right now,” Sundberg said.

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Despite all the fanfare, the Buckeyes ended up handing the Gophers a 45-31 loss.

Jeff Wagner