Gophers finally get chance to celebrate

At 60 yards long, 25 yards wide and shaped like a football, the home locker room at TCF Bank Stadium is one of the largest and nicest in all of college football.

In other words, it's not a bad spot for a party.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers held quite the bash there early Saturday night.

"It was like a huge nightclub," Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray told ESPN.com on Monday. "Guys were running around, screaming, taking pictures with the pig. We just couldn't believe it would be there another year."

The Gophers weren't the only ones. Other than a handful of positive-thinking Minnesota fans, no one outside the locker room gave the Gophers any chance to keep the pig, which, for those who don't know, is the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.

Minnesota hadn't merely lost its first three Big Ten games. The Gophers weren't competitive, getting outscored 144-31. Opponents outscored Minnesota 48-0 in the first quarters of those games, each of which was essentially over at halftime.

It's why Saturday's 22-21 victory against Iowa was so special to the Minnesota players, coaches and fans. The Gophers had endured one of the more miserable two-month stretches in team history. They had been labeled -- by this blog and other outlets -- as the worst major-conference team in America, with little evidence to the contrary.

But after hanging around in the first half, the Gophers rallied from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to win. Gray's fourth-down touchdown run with 2:48 proved to be the game-winner.

Not long after, Gray posted a picture of himself and Floyd on his Twitter page.

"It was a great win for us," Gray said. "Very positive. Couldn't have happened at a better time. Hopefully, it can turn around our season."

The first sign that Saturday's game would be different came at the end of the first quarter. Minnesota hadn't scored (not unusual this year) but wasn't trailing (very unusual).

"I knew then," Gray said, "that we had a shot."

Minnesota's defense continued to keep Iowa off of the scoreboard, despite a huge performance from Hawkeyes running back Marcus Coker. But the Gophers' offense wasn't doing anything, either.

After Minnesota running back Duane Bennett fumbled in Iowa territory early in the second quarter, Gray gathered the offense. The mild-mannered junior, who prefers to lead by example, spoke up.

"I started expressing my feelings to them," Gray said. "I can't say exactly what I was saying. It wasn't the best choice of words. I felt like the defense was playing their hearts out and the offense, we were just shooting ourselves in the foot."

Gray led a touchdown drive late in the half and came alive in the fourth quarter. He finished with 193 pass yards, 61 rush yards and two touchdowns.

The Gophers' sideline erupted with every big play in the second half. Someone tuning into the action might have thought Minnesota had won the game several times, judging by how players reacted to each positive moment.

This had been a long time coming. Especially for coach Jerry Kill.

Kill not only had endured the bad losses but twice was hospitalized for seizures in the first month of the season. He has been tough on his players and candid about the long road to respectability ahead for Minnesota.

But for one night at least, he could enjoy himself.

"He's still a hard-nosed guy, but you could tell he's very excited we won that game," Gray said. "He expressed a joyful sense of humor with us. His family was in there. Everyone was just so happy about bringing back the pig."

The celebration won't last long as Minnesota faces ranked opponents the next two weeks (No. 17 Michigan State and No. 20 Wisconsin).

But the Gophers hope Saturday's win is the starting point for bigger and better things.

"It makes us feel great," Gray said. "Having that win, it lets us know we can beat anybody on any given day."