The one fan looked at him and after a brief pause said, “The fans won today.”
Spot on, brother.
After a year and a half on the shelf due to COVID-19, Bulldogs football was back in a big way Saturday as UMD hosted Michigan Tech in a scrimmage at Malosky Stadium on a sunny day with the temperature pushing 60 degrees.
“It’s been a little weird this spring, just getting back into things, getting back into the routine, but ultimately, it’s been great,” UMD tight end Kurtis Wiegand said. “I know all the guys were really excited to be back out there. We got great weather and a great environment. It was nice to have a lot of fans out here today. It was the perfect day for some football. It was awesome.”
UMD sold 500 tickets to Saturday’s game. It was the closest thing the Bulldogs will have to their Maroon-White Spring Game, played annually for 45 years before being called off last spring due to the pandemic.
UMD and Michigan Tech were both members of the NSIC at one time but hadn’t played a game since 1993, the last of 16 meetings in a series that started in 1947.
The Bulldogs reached out to the Huskies in December, and they were all for it.
“At that point, it was a pipe dream for all of us to be able to pull this off,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “There was a lot that went into this, just starting in December talking about policies, procedures and opportunities and budgets. (Intersquad) spring football has never happened before so there was a lot of behind-the-scenes work to be able to have them here today, and fortunately, it all came together.”
Michigan Tech is in Houghton, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, about 215 miles from Duluth mostly via U.S. Highway 2.
Bemidji State and Northern Michigan were also part of Saturday’s original schedule but were late scratches.
“I’m so appreciative of Minnesota Duluth for setting this up — it was an awesome day, and we were so happy to come here and play,” said Huskies coach Steve Olson. “Our kids are just like their kids. They’ve been gnawing at the bit, they’ve been working hard in the weight room and doing all the things you need to do to get ready to play. We haven’t played since 2019, so we’re so thankful to get a chance to feel like something normal again, like there’s actually some football going on out here.”
In this one, there was nobody keeping score.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Wiegand, from Blaine, Minnesota, was particularly impressive with a pair of receptions over 30 yards apiece, including one where rumbled down the field, sidestepping one would-be-tackler after another. He kept looking back, waiting for the posse to finally catch up to him.
“Maybe I should trust my speed more,” Wiegand said, laughing. “I focus on not getting tackled and running as far as I can.”
“A lot of our intent going into this scrimmage was making sure a lot of our young guys got an opportunity today,” Wiese said. “Over half our roster right now hasn’t played in a college football game so we wanted those guys to have those chances.”
At times this certainly had the look and feel of a real game, with players playing, officials officiating and kickers missing kicks, all with a dash of some spring-style goofiness (standard). The fans had to laugh early in the “second half” when Michigan Tech kicker Drew Wyble attempted a 37-yard field goal, but there were no officials under the goalpost, no signal given. Wyble looked at the official off to his side and lifted his hands as if to say, “Was that good or not?”
Who cares? In a year where sports have often taken a backseat to the harsh realities of trying to deal with a pandemic, and after months cooped up all winter, fans and players alike were happy to be back out watching “America’s game.”
The teams started the day by mixing together during warmups. They competed against each other in drills. They shook hands before the game, and after.
Saturday was about camaraderie and sportsmanship and just getting a chance to enjoy a little football. Finally.
“It was neat for our kids to shake hands before the game, and the intent of that was to make sure that everybody understood that this was a scrimmage,” Wiese said. “Our intent was to play football today and improve both of our football teams, and I think we did that. It wasn’t necessarily to win or lose. It was fun for the most part. Everybody enjoyed today.”