PJ Fleck excited to take Gophers football team to Pinstripe Bowl

University of Minnesota football coach PJ Fleck met with his team on Sunday and asked them by a show of hands who had been to New York City.

He said the number of hands that went up was about five percent of his roster. That will change soon as Fleck and the Gophers were selected to play in the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29 at Yankee Stadium. The team plans to fly out Christmas night, and take in New York City before facing Syracuse in the bowl game.

Minnesota got the Pinstripe Bowl after beating Wisconsin 23-16 to finish the regular season 8-4 and keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the second straight year.

"It’s ironic that we’re playing in this bowl, we’ve been studying Derek Jeter’s ‘The Captain’ all year, the Jets were just in town with the Vikings. I need a new mower, this is perfect. I know our guys are really excited," Fleck said Monday during a Pinstripe Bowl news conference on Zoom.

It’s a game that will come full circle for Minnesota Athletic Director Mark Coyle. He hired Dino Babers to be the head coach at Syracuse in 2015. Coyle took the job as Gophers’ AD in 2016, and hired Fleck to replace Tracy Claeys after the 2017 season. Now, Fleck and Babers face each other in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Fleck is 3-0 in bowl games at Minnesota. Babers got the Orange off to a 5-0 start this season, ranked as high as No. 14 in the country, before they finished 7-5.

"The cool thing about being an athletic director is I don’t have to throw any passes or make any tackles. It’s really neat to see the success that Dino has had," Coyle said. "With PJ and Heather and what they’ve done for our program, I’ve talked about PJ and Heather being the ultimate change agents. Just an exciting opportunity."


It’s not the warm weather climate that an Arizona or Florida can provide in December, but there won’t be lack of things to do for the Gophers in New York City before they take the field at Yankee Stadium.

Coyle, Fleck, Babers and Syracuse AD John Wildhack, and the captains for both teams, will get to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Both teams will get to take in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and a New York Rangers’ hockey game at Madison Square Garden.

They’ll also visit Ground Zero, site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and go to the top of One World Observatory. And food, lots of food.

"Bowl games are a reward for the season that you had and it’s a celebration of the time together. Really, one last time together before a whole new team starts and everybody moves on with the rest of their lives," Fleck said.


Fleck said Monday quarterback Tanner Morgan is still in the hands of the Gophers’ medical staff, but is attending practices and even started participating recently. Morgan has not played since suffering an upper body injury late in the first half of a win at Nebraska. Athan Kaliakmanis has started the last three games, as the Gophers won four of their last five to finish the season. Kaliakmanis threw for 319 yards and two scores in a win over the Badgers.

The one that still stings is a 13-10 loss to Iowa on Senior Day.

Fleck didn’t offer any update on if Morgan will play in the Pinstripe Bowl. If he doesn’t, he’ll leave as Minnesota’s all-time wins leader at 33.

"He’s done a lot for our program, I don’t think people value enough what Tanner Morgan has done for the University of Minnesota," Fleck said.


With a win in the Pinstripe Bowl, Fleck and the Gophers can accomplish something the program hasn’t done in more than 100 years. Minnesota would finish the season 9-4, marking three out of the last four years the Gophers will have at least nine wins in a season.

That hasn’t happened since 1903-05. The Gophers finished 2019 with an 11-2 mark and were 9-4 last season.

"This team has accomplished something that’s really special, that is historic for our program as we keep knocking down a lot of never’s and firsts. There’s a lot more to accomplish, and these guys are the ones doing that," Fleck said.

Not only is the Pinstripe Bowl the end of the 2022 season, it’s also the start of 2023. Fleck said Monday with six players recently entering the transfer portal, it’s an opportunity for younger players who have only been in three games to play, and not lose an extra year of eligibility. It’s also a game to celebrate a group that’s raised the standard for the program.

"It’s an end of an era for a lot of players on this team who have given a lot to our team. It made the University of Minnesota an incredibly strong brand in the college football market over the last six years, and they’ve done so much off the field for our community, so it’s a celebration of those guys," Fleck said.