For Andy Dyrdal, going to the Citrus Bowl is more than a chance to watch his beloved Minnesota Gophers football team. It’s his duty.
The last time the Gophers played in one of the New Year’s Day games was in 1962. Dyrdal, 91, was there for that game. Now, 53 years later, he’s going to be there for this one. “Wouldn’t think of missing it,” he said, as he sat next to a framed pennant and game program from the ’62 Rose Bowl, which is displayed on the living room wall of his Albert Lea home.
Will he frame a pennant from the Citrus Bowl? “Sure — if we win.”
Dyrdal never played football. “I was too small,” he said. “And I was a wimp.”
Still, his fascination with the game — and the Gophers — goes back at least 80 years.
“I remember being 11 and listening to the Gophers games on the radio,” he said. “I grew up on a farm outside of town, and sometimes I had to hold the radio up to my ear to hear it.”
These aren’t vague recollections. Dyrdal can cite the names of the players — then, now and in the many years between. He remembers individual plays, even demonstrates catching a lateral while describing a touchdown that running back Bud Higgins scored — in 1941. And he still grumbles about a penalty called against Carl Eller that he’s convinced cost the Gophers a win in the 1963 Wisconsin game.
“Some things just stick with you,” he said.
There will be four Dyrdals at this year’s Citrus Bowl. He will be accompanied by son Tom, grandson Andrew and Andrew’s wife, Rachel.
“But it’s not going to be three generations,” he insisted. “Rachel is pregnant, due in March. So I’m telling people that it’s three and a half generations.”
There couldn’t be a more appropriate place for the soon-to-be Dyrdal, according to the papa-to-be. Asked how the family became such ardent Gophers fans, Andrew Dyrdal replied, “We didn’t have a choice. That’s how we were brought up.”
In for the long haul
Andy Dyrdal hesitates to describe himself as the state’s biggest Gophers fan.
“I don’t like sentences that start with ‘I am,’ ” he said. “Plus, there are a lot [of avid fans] out there.”
But there’s no question that the retired letter carrier is as ardent as fans come.
“He’s for real,” said Dave Mona, a veteran Twin Cities sports commentator who’s known Dyrdal for years. “He’s the consummate Gopher fan, and he’s got some great memories.”
Over eight decades of fandom, Dyrdal has experienced exhilarating highs and disheartening lows right along with generations of players. As a teenager, he celebrated as the team won five consecutive national championships under legendary coach Bernie Bierman. But as an adult, he suffered through the 1983 season, when coach Joe Salem’s team won only one game while losing 10.
“The Joe Salem era, that was tough,” he admitted.
He doesn’t display a pennant from the 1961 Rose Bowl because the Gophers lost that game, but he’s no fair-weather fan. “I never leave a game early,” he insisted. “That 84-to-13 loss to Nebraska at the Metrodome in 1983, we stayed for every second of it.”
He grimaced slightly at the recollection. That’s about as close as he gets to indicating any sort of displeasure. Despite the Gophers’ frequent struggles over the years, he refuses to speak badly of the team.
“I’m not a second-guesser,” he said. “I’m not the guy sitting there saying, ‘Why’d they call that play?’ ”
In fact, he’s one of the few sports fans who speaks positively about the Metrodome, where he and his late wife, LoAnn, had season tickets for Gophers football.
“I love the new [Gophers] stadium, but I liked the Dome, too,” he said. Actually, it was LoAnn who was a fan of the building. “She liked that she didn’t have to worry about the weather — we didn’t have to sit in the rain, the sun never got in our eyes — and if she liked it, then I liked it.”
He’s not just a football fan. He’s also a big supporter of the Gophers basketball team, the Vikings, Twins and Timberwolves, as well as the minor-league Millers and the Lakers before them.
He’s not a typical resident of the State of Hockey, however. He struggled to recall the name of the team that predated the Wild.
“What were they? The North Stars?” He shook his head. “For some reason, I never got into hockey.”
Despite spending 30 years walking a mail beat, which he loved (“I felt sorry for the guys stuck in the office”), he doesn’t participate in outdoor sports, either.
“I think the reason is that I don’t like fish,” he said. “If I could pull up a T-bone on the line, then I’d be a fisherman.”
He remains active, however. He attributes his robust health to his “good Norwegian stock” (an aunt lived to 109), a career spent exercising in the fresh air ("I still love to go out for walks”) and his upbeat attitude. A plaque in his living room reminds him to “make it a good day.”
“It doesn’t say to have a good day,” he said. “It says to make it a good day. That’s a powerful statement.”
He intends to make New Year’s Day a very good day. Despite the fact that the Gophers are the underdog in the Citrus Bowl, he expects his team to win.
“I’m an optimist,” he insisted. “At least, until the game starts.”
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392s