Beyond Minnesota’s Golden Gophers: How The Animal Is Seen In Pop Culture

In Minnesota, the gopher is synonymous with the state and its sports teams. It was in 1857 when the name “Gopher State” was coined due to a political cartoon mocking the $5 million Railroad Loan, pivotal in opening up the West. The caricature depicted cunning railroad tycoons as striped gophers hauling a railway carriage with the Territorial Legislature towards the “Slough of Despond”.

Fittingly, Minnesota’s sports teams became known as the “Gophers” when, in 1934, Halsey Hall, a prominent sports writer and broadcaster, referred to college football coach Bernie Bierman’s team, who were dressed in all-gold uniforms, as “The Golden Gophers”. Today 21 teams for the University of Minnesota bear that name.

Gophers in pop culture

The most famous gopher outside of Minnesota has to be the cunning rodent seen in the 1980 comedy film, Caddyshack. Director Harold Ramis – Egon in Ghostbusters – brought together a wonderful ensemble cast which included Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, and Bill Murray. Playing the groundskeeper of a luxury golf resort, Murray’s Carl Speckler is tasked with capturing a destructive gopher which is tearing up the sun-kissed fairways and perfectly manicured greens.

Amid the various mishaps and pratfalls occurring in and around the clubhouse, Speckler is otherwise preoccupied throughout the film with fighting a losing battle with a gopher which becomes increasingly problematic and elusive. It’s a subplot that helped Caddyshack become – and remain – one of the 1980s most memorable comedies.

Elsewhere, the animal is the star of the show at the World Famous Gopher Museum in Torrington, Canada. It showcases over 70 taxidermized gophers meticulously arranged to mimic townsfolk across 44 intricately crafted dioramas. The dioramas portray gophers assuming various roles, such as hunters, firefighters, cosmetologists, priests, bank robbers, RCMP officers, pool players, and representatives of First Nations communities. The museum welcomes up to 10,000 people every year.

The gopher’s influence far and wide

Gophers are the inspiration behind popular online slots games featured on several online casinos. Among the most popular titles, there are games like Gopher Gold Slot and Gophers War which can be played at many of the top casino listings in 2024, American confectionary company Extra Ordinary Delights’ delicious caramel and pecan nut Milk Chocolate Baby Gophers, and the mascot for the Go programming language. The rodents have also turned up as characters in animated Hollywood movies while the puppet Gordon the Gopher became synonymous with British daytime TV in the 1980s.

The gopher’s presence extends far beyond the borders of Minnesota, permeating various facets of pop culture worldwide. From its origins as the emblematic symbol of Minnesota’s state identity and sports teams to its portrayal in iconic films like Caddyshack, the gopher has left an indelible mark.

The Torrington Gopher Museum in Canada further celebrates the animal’s charm through intricate dioramas, attracting thousands of visitors annually. Moreover, the gopher’s influence is evident far and wide, from online gaming to confectionary treats and even as a programming language mascot. Whether as a comedic foil or a cultural icon, the gopher continues to captivate audiences and remains a beloved figure in the collective imagination.

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