Not since thedays of Bernie Bierman had Minneapolis cheered so lustily. Led by FullbackRoger Hagberg, here setting off on a 42-yard run for the game's decisivetouchdown, Minnesota last Saturday took all the speed Iowa had to offer andsimply crushed the Hawkeyes. The Gophers were again the nation's number oneteam, and the happiest man of all, after bitter years of waiting, was CoachMurray Warmath.
Apparently thereis such a disease as football fever. It may lie dormant for years, hidden awayin yellowing scrapbooks or deep inside the victim's chest. Unlike mostepidemics, it does not feed upon the downtrodden It waits, instead, untileverything is coming up roses and then it strikes. Last week it hit the stateof Minnesota, incapacitating Minneapolis and leaving even St. Paul on the vergeof a terrific sneeze.
The Twin Citieson the banks of the Mississippi will have a new big league baseball team nextyear, and they'll have a team in the National Football League, too. Minneapolisand St. Paul are very enthusiastic about this because they love baseball andthey love pro football, but last weekend the transplanted Senators and thefootball Vikings could have raced down Nicollet Avenue astride giraffes, withNixon and Kennedy waiting at the finish line to kiss the winner, and no one inMinneapolis would have bothered to look around. The University of Minnesota wasplaying the University of Iowa. Nothing was ever so important as this.
November 14, 1960
It was more thana football game, more even than a contest for the Big Ten lead. Iowa wasundefeated in six games; so was Minnesota. Iowa was ranked first in the nationin both wire-service polls; Minnesota was ranked second in one, third in theother. Forest Evashevski, the moody magician of Iowa football, was preparing toretire from coaching and he wanted to walk out a winner; Murray Warmath, whohad suffered through some of the most miserable seasons in Minnesota history,had been hounded and harried by old Gophers long enough, and he was determinedto keep his job. Iowa was fast and deceptive and brilliant; Minnesota wasstrong and steady and sure.
The 63,255 seatsat Memorial Stadium had been sold out for weeks, enabling industriousindividuals with little moral character but maximum foresight to collect $100for a pair of tickets within the 20-yard lines. Eventually the attendancereached 65,610, a stadium record. Not a hotel or motel room was availablewithin 20 miles. More than 30 radio stations in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Iowawere poised to broadcast the game to those who couldn't get in, and aneducational outlet in the Twin Cities was commandeered to produce the classicon TV. "We don't give a damn for the whole State of Iowa" rolledinharmoniously out of every bar. And coeds, who had not spoken to footballplayers for years, now kissed them openly, and wept.
There are placeswhere it is possible to win six football games in a row without the populacegoing berserk, but Minneapolis on Saturday was not one of them. In the '30s theGolden Gophers of Bernie Bierman were the scourge of the Big Ten and thenation. They won six conference championships in the years 1934-1941 and fourtimes were named the best college football team in all the land. But with thebeginning of World War II the fortunes of Minnesota faded, and after sevenyears Murray Warmath has just begun to restore some of the glory. "It takesa long time," he says, "to get a sick horse up."
Warmath, a bigman with a tough, homely face and a deep growl for a voice, played footballunder General Bob Neyland at Tennessee; later he coached at Tennessee underNeyland and at Army under Red Blaik, and he is not accustomed to losing. But hehas had to get used to it at Minnesota. He has had good seasons there as wellas bad, but the good ones were never quite good enough and the bad ones had away of turning into nightmares. The 1956 team was knocked out of the Rose Bowl,by Iowa, 7-0. The 1957 team, a preseason Big Ten favorite, was a tragicdisappointment. The 1958 team won only one game. And the 1959 team, with superbbut inexperienced young players, lost five Big Ten games by a total of 32points, then lost to Iowa 33-0, and fell into the conference cellar. The teamover which Warmath most frequently woke up screaming was Iowa. Warmath beatEvashevski in 1954, then lost to him five straight times.
Yet Minnesotaholds a wide edge in the series with 34 victories, 18 losses and one tie. Therewas a time—after the famed Minnesota fullback, Sheldon Beise, tackled the famedIowa halfback, Ozzie Simmons, with injurious results in 1934—when every Iowanwas convinced that the only purpose of the game, as far as Minnesota wasconcerned, was to see how many Iowans could be maimed. It became unsafe,therefore, to appear in Iowa City or Cedar Rapids with Minnesota license plateson your car. But then the governors of the two states bet a prize Hampshire hogon the outcome of the 1935 game, and apparently there was just enough of theabsurd about playing for a pig to cool everyone off. Today Floyd of Rosedale, abronze replica of that original old boar, is the annual trophy that goes to thewinner, and although Minnesota and Iowa sometimes continue to play rough inattempting to claim him, at least the contest is recognizable as football.
Warmath wouldrather beat Iowa and Evashevski than anyone else, and he particularly needed tobeat them on Saturday. Naturally, as a coach, he has suffered by comparisonwith the man who brought Iowa from the ranks of the have-nots to the peak offootball success with his brilliant tactics, unpredictable strategy andremarkable recruiting ability. Warmath does not consider Evashevski one of hisclosest friends and he only mutters something about "genius" when thename comes up. But aside from a deep personal desire to triumph over the Iowaman, Warmath needed to win to insure his job.
The University ofMinnesota is a huge school, with 26,000 students, and it has been in businesssince 1851. Warmath is constantly amazed by the number of alumni who seem to beoccupied solely with snarling at his door. But he stood them off in 1958 whenthey demanded that he resign and again last fall, when a group of Minneapolisbusinessmen offered to buy up the two remaining years of his five-year contractfor $35,000.
"Why do youstay here and take all this?" an assistant once asked.
"Because I'ma good football coach," said Warmath, "and I want to prove it."
Certainly heproved it in the first six games of 1960. His players carried him off the fieldafter the Gophers beat Illinois and again after they beat Michigan, and to aman who has grown accustomed to walking alone down the long, dark corridors ofdefeat this must have seemed like pretty fancy transportation. After Minnesotawalloped Kansas State in a warmup game last weekend, big red-white-and-bluebuttons saying "Warmath for President" began to show up in town. But ifhe failed to beat Evashevski and Iowa....
"This is themost important game," said Warmath, "that any team of mine has everplayed."
The two footballteams that trotted onto the field before the huge, howling mob on Saturday wereas great a study in contrast as their coaches. Speed has always been anEvashevski trademark, but the 1960 Hawkeyes are unbelievably fast; every man inthe first three backfields can outrun anyone on the entire Minnesota team.Three halfbacks—Larry Ferguson, Jerry Mauren and Sam Harris—and Fullback JoeWilliams had each averaged better than five yards a carry. And while WilburnHollis, the 200-pound quarterback out of Possum Trot, Miss, by way ofNebraska's Boys Town, is not much of a passer, he too can run so well that manyIowans consider him the best quarterback Evashevski has ever had. Better thanJerry Reichow or Kenny Ploen, better even than 1958 All-America RandyDuncan.
The Hawkeyes hadscored over half of their touchdowns on long runs, and when Hollis does throwhe goes for the long, sudden touchdown pass. That is the word for Iowa—sudden.The Iowans play daring, wide-open football, running from a confusing cluster offormations, and they pounce like terriers on any opponent's mistake. It is anexciting team with great scoring ability.
Warmath figuredbefore the game that his problem was simple enough.
"We have tospread our defense to keep them between the ends," he said. "And wehave to play back to keep them from getting behind us. We have to pinch theminto as small an area as possible. We don't intend to give them anything, butthe question is whether in spreading out like this to contain their wide stuffwe are going to be giving up too much down the middle."
On offense,Warmath intended to play the game as he learned to play it and as he has alwaysplayed it: controlling the play, grinding out yardage, kicking on third down inhis own territory, seldom throwing a pass, forcing the other team intomistakes. "That has been our success formula this year," he said."We have lost the ball on fumbles and interceptions only eight times; wehave got the football on fumbles and interceptions 22 times. We have more depthin the line than Iowa, and we can outkick them. We can move the ball, too. Ifour defense can contain their outside speed, we should win."
Minnesota is notan exciting team when it attacks. The standout in the backfield most of theseason has been Sandy Stephens, a junior quarterback from Pennsylvania ("Wefinally had to go outside Minnesota to get quarterbacks and halfbacks andends," admits Warmath). Stephens weighs 215 pounds and would rather runthan throw. The Gophers are massive, with a line that averages 220 pounds, andright in the middle of it is a 243-pound guard named Tom Brown, who has legslike tree trunks, the movements of a big cat, and is perhaps the best interiorlineman in college football. "He's whipped every man in front of him forthree years," says Warmath.
There is also a260-pound tackle, Fran Brixius, who can block; a 220-pound sophomore tackle,Bob Bell, who can crash; and defensive ends named Bob Deegan and Dick Larson,who have been extremely tough on opposing passers all year. The line had heldsix teams to a total of 31 points before the Iowa game.
Originally, Iowawas favored by 6½ points, but by Monday before the game the spread was down to1½ in Minneapolis. By Tuesday it was down to a point, by Thursday to half apoint. On Saturday the game was considered even.
As it turned out,the game wasn't even at all. Minnesota's marvelous line, led by Brown, whippedIowa to a stubble. The Gophers made a runaway of the contest with threesecond-half touchdowns, won 27-10, and returned Floyd of Rosedale to Minnesotaafter an absence of six years. When it was all over, Minnesota, not Iowa, wasthe No. 1 team in the nation.
The Gophersscored their only first-half touchdown on a bad Iowa play in the first quarter.Hawkeye Center Bill Van Buren, who had not made a poor snap all season, sailedthe football back over John Calhoun's head on a fourth-down punt attempt, andMinnesota took over on the Iowa 14. The Gophers scored in three plays, BillMuncey taking a pitchout from Stephens and circling left end for the last sevenyards. Jim Rogers kicked the first of three successful conversions.
Iowa drove 60yards to the Minnesota five midway in the second period, but then Brown and Co.pushed the Hawkeyes back five yards in three plays and Tom Moore kicked a fieldgoal for Iowa from 18 yards out.
The swift Iowabacks would sometimes shake partially loose for 15 or 20 yards, but the yardagewas gained inside tackle, never outside end, and most of the time that bigMinnesota line was chasing Iowa runners in the opposite direction. The Gopherdeep defenders also kept receivers well covered, just as Warmath planned, andthe long-distance punting of Stephens kept Iowa backed up in its own end of thefield. And all through those two punishing quarters the Hawkeye line was takinga terrible beating.
Iowa scored firstin the second half to go into a 10-7 lead. Evashevski's tricky double reverseate up 19 yards in five plays, and then Joe Williams popped through the middle,wiggled past two Minnesota linebackers and ran 20 yards to score. Moore kickedthe point.
But the rest ofthe way the game belonged to Minnesota. The Gophers, whose offense had beenvirtually nonexistent in the first half, powered 81 yards to a touchdown in 12plays before the third quarter was over. Roger Hagberg, a 205-pound seniorfullback who was to gain 103 yards in 15 carries during the afternoon, caught avery important third-down pass from Stephens' third-string substitute, littleJoe Salem, for 28 yards, and then ran through center for 18 more to put theball on the Iowa eight. Stephens followed Brown's vicious block into the endzone three plays later from one yard out. Rogers missed the kick, but it was13-10, and Minnesota had proved it could move the ball against Iowa—just asWarmath had said.
In the fourthquarter Hagberg moved the ball 42 yards on one big play. Gopher Tackle JimWheeler recovered an Iowa fumble on the Iowa 42, and Hagberg immediately brokethrough the middle, shook off tacklers, cut to his left and sailed across thegoal. The touchdown came with a little less than five minutes left, and by nowMinnesota was having fun. Bob Deegan, the Gopher end, hit an Iowa passer sohard that he fumbled, and four plays later Minnesota scored again.
It wasn't fancyfootball, the way Minnesota played the game, but it was very impressive. Purdueand Wisconsin are going to have trouble producing something better in the nexttwo weeks. If they can't, Minnesota will win its first Big Ten championship in19 years. And if that doesn't make Murray Warmath's job secure, then nothingever will.