The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 11, 2012

Our View: MSU football showed winning character


The Free Press

— College sports should not be all consuming in a community like Mankato. But there is a time when the conduct of young men or women working together as a team can fuel a community narrative in a story worth re-telling.

Such is the case with this year's Minnesota State University's football team -- the Mavericks.

This group of athletes came from Mankato and Detroit Lakes, from Joliet, Ill., and Los Angeles and many small towns and big cities in between. They started their season with what could have been a crushing blow to attitudes, their game-day success and their season. Their coach, who recruited many of them right from their hometowns, was ushered off the field and later arrested for a crime most found at the very least shocking.

By the time their coach Todd Hoffner was cleared of all child pornography charges that were deemed completely unfounded by a judge, the team was 12-0 and two wins away from being in the national championship game. They won their 13th game the next day.

There is no doubt many of these athletes struggled with the distraction from game one to game 13. They managed to keep their poise, their team unity, their character and their ability to perform at a very high level, if not their highest level.

There were ups and downs. They forced overtime with a team below their talent level and went on to win. They won a tough playoff game in double overtime on a cold and windy day in November. And through it all, they kept to the business of football. As much as some of them wanted to talk to the media about their coach's case, they didn't.

What they accomplished on the field is nothing short of remarkable and borders on miraculous. This was a team that never gave up. When they were outmuscled and outplayed by a team with more success and certain advantages in size and talent, they charged on with grace and accepted with class their first loss of the season.

Their interim coach Aaron Keen deserves credit as does his coaching staff. The team set all kinds of MSU records in a historic season. It was no small feat to manage a team to the best record in MSU history in a year that could have been the worst.

There is a message a community can take from how a simple game is played in the midst of such adversity. It may mean something different to every one who tries to overcome some kind of hurdle whatever they do in the community, every day.

The success of the MSU football team played out on the sports pages, but its story is certainly written on the streets of Mankato.