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Gopher football players visit a patient and his father at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, Fairview

Gopher football players Laurence Maroney, Matt Spaeth, and Justin Valentine (clockwise from lower left) visit with a young patient and his father at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, Fairview, on December 22.

Bowl-bound Gophers visit children at hospital

Published on December 28, 2005; updated on December 30, 2005

As finals week wrapped up at the University of Minnesota and students scattered for the holiday weekend, about two dozen Golden Gopher football players took some time last Thursday to visit with young patients at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, Fairview.

The players donned their game jerseys, and some even trimmed themselves in special Santa hats with an embroidered "M" on the front. They made their rounds through the entire hospital and brought smiles to children of all ages dealing with a range of afflictions.

"It's great for our patients and their families to receive these special visitors," says Ginger Plumbo, a spokeswoman for the hospital. "They know that other people are thinking of them while they're here."

The players, accompanied by head coach Glen Mason and other team representatives, spent about two hours at the hospital. Many more players had volunteered to make the visit, Plumbo notes, but the hospital settled on a number that wouldn't seem overwhelming to the children.

The entire Gopher football team headed to Nashville this week for the 2005 Music City Bowl today against Virginia. The Cavaliers staged a big second-half comeback and beat Minnesota 34-31, with the deciding points coming on a 39-yard field goal by Connor Hughes with 1:08 to play.

The Gophers had jumped to a 21-7 lead in the first half behind touchdown passes from Bryan Cupito to Justin Valentine, Ernie Wheelwright, and Jared Ellerson. But Virginia chipped away at the lead, and after outscoring the Minnesota 14-3 in the third quarter, tied the score at 24-24. The Gophers and Cavaliers then exchanged touchdowns before Virginia's final drive, which culminated in Hughes' field goal. Minnesota had one more possession, and advanced to the Virginia 48 on a 25-yard reception by Wheelwright. But on the next play, Cupito's pass to the end zone was intercepted by Virginia's Marcus Hamilton, sealing the game.

It was the fourth consecutive bowl appearance for the Gophers and the sixth in the last seven years. The only other Big Ten teams with six or more bowl appearances in that span of time are Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. The loss to Virginia snapped Minnesota's three-game bowl winning streak. The Gophers had defeated Arkansas 29-14 in the 2002 Music City Bowl, Oregon 31-30 in the 2003 Sun Bowl, and Alabama 20-16 in last year's Music City Bowl.

To read about Richard "Pinky" McNamara and Murray Warmath being named honorary co-chairs of the stadium fundraising campaign, see Gopher Legends.