Jerry Kill's frank, no-nonsense approach to football (and life) has won over Gopher fans across the state, as he seeks to turn around a football program that has seen better days.
That attitude is even spilling over into the tailgating lots around TCF Bank Stadium. Case in point: The Jerry Killwagon.
"The Jerry Killwagon represents Jerry Kill," says Rosemount resident and Gopher tailgater Pete Kootsikas. "It's a 1985 beast, coming out of nowhere, taking us to the top. It's worked hard, the little engine that could... We're driving this thing to Pasadena one day!"
The Jerry Killwagon is, according to its Facebook page, the "official/unofficial tailgate bus of Golden Gopher Football" - a title that's tough to dispute. Each week, over 100 diehard fans from across the metro gather in Lot 88 east of TCF Bank Stadium, rallying around what appears to be, at least on the surface, merely an old gray converted correctional facility bus.
But to these Gopher fans, it's much more than that - it's the vehicular embodiment the man they believe will return Gopher football to previous glory.
"Jerry Kill is just a Minnesota guy. He doesn't do anything fancy... [He's a] blue-collar, do the hard work, we're-in-it-for-the-long-road, dedication and passion for Minnesota sports [guy]," says Jerry Killwagon co-founder Merrill Harris of Rosemount. "He knew what he was getting into, and hopefully the coaches and players and staff follow through on what we're trying to accomplish here: Building a competitive football program and getting to a New Year's Day bowl."
The Jerry Killwagon is stored at a friend's horse stable farm near Rosemount, and makes stops in St. Paul and Uptown Minneapolis each Saturday before heading to the U of M. Some fans ride the bus to campus, others join the festivities once they're at the stadium.
"We wanted to enhance our Gopher tailgating experience, to make it more fun for not only our group, but for everyone," says Harris. "We all chipped in for the bus to support the Gophers."
The ringleaders made many improvements to the bus already (including satellite TV and a grill) by collecting donations, and even holding a Jerry Killwagon fundraiser. Next season they intend to take it a step further by getting a full maroon and gold wrap for the bus. For Saturday's game against Nebraska, they had a DJ (DJ Pureplay) on hand to take things "a step above" and were far and away the life of the Lot 88 party. Saturday's Halloween game against Iowa also promises to hold plenty of surprises as well, say bus riders.
"He's gonna take us there," says Kootsikas, speaking about, presumably, both Jerry Kill and the Jerry Killwagon. "We just gotta give him time."
"It's all about having fun on game day Saturdays," says fellow ringleader Tim Jensen of Apple Valley. "We know and trust that good things will take place on the field -- we'll take care of the off-the-field [stuff]. We just gotta keep battling."
Sounds just like something Coach Kill would say.
Want to hop on the Jerry Killwagon bandwagon yourself? Friend it on Facebook and follow it on Twitter or Google Plus to stay-up-to-date with the bus's movements!
Video by Sarah Gray and John Tipton, GopherSports.com.