I took a pay cut from being a sports copy boy at the Minneapolis Tribune to get hired as a sportswriter at the Duluth newspapers, the morning News-Tribune and the afternoon Herald, in January 1966.
I was there four months in what basically turned out to be a much-needed apprenticeship in covering games and making deadlines. Then, Mike Augustin hired me to join him as a full-timer at the St. Cloud Times. Jon Roe and Frank Hyland were finishing degrees at St. Cloud State before heading off to big-time dailies, and they were the part-timers.
Augie covered St. John’s and St. Cloud Tech, and assigned me to cover St. Cloud State and St. Cloud Cathedral. There weren’t strict lines drawn here, with Roe and Hyland contributing mightily to our coverage of those entities, and a sizable map of high school teams.
This was pre-Title IX guidelines, and we had the manpower to cover most any area event that we felt was of significant interest to our readers.
The two activities that ranked at the top of the interest standings were St. John’s football and St. Cloud State basketball. John Gagliardi had won NAIA national titles with the Johnnies in 1963 and 1965. Red Severson had taken the Huskies to what was the NAIA’s wonderful 32-team national tournament in 1962 and 1964.
I got to know well Gagliardi and basketball coach Jim Smith, who would become legends for decades at St. John’s, and all the St. Cloud State guys, and the fiery Ken Staples as the manager of the Northern League’s St. Cloud Rox in the summer, and dozens of high school coaches in Central Minnesota, but if I were to name the first coach that I actually covered as an entity unto his own, it would be Marlowe “Red’’ Severson.
The Redhead died last Thursday at age 89 and a funeral mass will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s Upper Cathedral in St. Cloud. Severson became quite a different man than I knew in his later decades. He wrote books with a strongly religious bent and subtitles such as, “The Elixir for Happiness.’’
I spent 28 months at the Times, and during that time, Augie, Red and I had lunch two or three times a week, and there was elixir involved, although not served with a strongly religious bent.
The usual location was Schneider’s Bar, a small place with the world’s greatest Polish sausage sandwich. Augie and I would wind down from putting out the afternoon Times with a couple of beers, and Red would tune his nerves with a shot or two of Canadian Club.
Roe also would join us on occasion, and I believe he was responsible for the title we gave the lunch place: Schneider’s Café Exceptionale, as our equivalent to Charlie’s famous steakhouse.
World problems were solved and much basketball was learned during those sessions with Red. Put it this way: Coach Severson was considerably less guarded around the media when it came to his plans for the Huskies than Coach Zimmer is in his plans for the quarterback position with the Vikings.
Red had just turned 30 when he was hired from Buffalo High School and begin coaching the Huskies in the 1958-59 season. By the time I got there, Severson’s team had won or tied for the Northern Intercollegiate Conference title in seven of his eight seasons.
The MIAC and the NIC champions had been playing a one-game playoff for the trip to Kansas City since 1951. Severson’s Huskies became the first NIC team to win that game in 1962, and then did so again in 1964.
You’re asked to note that the NCAA was divided into the University Division and the College Division (for smaller schools with fewer scholarships) at that time. The NAIA was the main affiliation for hundreds of colleges and home to tremendous talent.
Those MIAC-NIC playoffs would fill gyms to the rafters and carried tremendous emotion. It was the privates vs. publics, with the exception of UMD being an MIAC member from 1951 to 1975.
The Huskies had been playing in a small gym called Eastman Hall. They moved into the new Halenbeck Hall athletic facility during the 1965-66 season. That was the senior season for Issy Schmiesing, an all-time great center for the Huskies.
“I made the first basket in Halenbeck,’’ Terry Porter said. “That was something to remember.’’
Porter has several other important hoops memories, including playing a large role in Marshall’s 75-74 victory over Cloquet in 1963 in the greatest* championship game in Minnesota’s history of one-class basketball that ended in 1970.
Porter was one of four junior starters for Marshall, and came to St. Cloud State as a freshman for the 1964-65 season.
“I had a couple of bad games in a row as a freshman,’’ he said. “I happened to be sitting in Red’s office talking, and he got a call from Morgan Brandrup, the sports writer with the Marshall newspaper.
“Issy had just scored 56 points in a game for us. Morgan said, ‘I just wanted to check in and see how Terry Porter is playing for you.’ And Red said, ‘Terry’s doing well. Why, just the other night, Issy Schmiesing and Terry combined for 60 points.’
“I was amazed how quick Red came up with that.’’
My first season covering Red and the Huskies was 1966-67. There were any number of terrific games that put 6,000 people in Halenbeck Hall, but the Huskies were beat out by Bemidji State for the NIC title.
Then came 1967-68. Porter and Tom Ditty were the senior stars on a fabulous team. The Huskies swept to the NIC title, beat Gustavus Adolphus in the playoff and went to Kansas City as the No. 5 seed in the 32-team tournament.
They defeated Millersville [Pa.] in the first round and then were upset by Dickinson [N.D.] in the second round. In an attempt to gather insights, I accompanied Porter, Ditty and a couple other old-enough Huskies to a bar in Kansas City, Kan. with relaxed closing hours.
“Red was a character, but he also was a drill sergeant as a coach,’’ Porter said. “He loved practice – and the Sunday night practices, after a Saturday game, were legendary.
“I was a freshman and Red said he was going to give us some extra time off for Christmas: We would have a morning practice on Christmas Eve, then we could go home, and we didn’t have to be back until Christmas night for the next practice.
“I remember driving back from Marshall on Christmas afternoon, mumbling to myself, ‘Red thinks this is extra time off for Christmas?’ ‘’
I was hired at the St. Paul newspapers in September 1968. Red tied for another NIC title in 1969, then went to Mankato State, a step up in the North Central Conference. It didn’t work out in four seasons. Red was only 45 when he put away his coaching whistle and entered the business world.
I have a few more Red stories that could be told, but most involve an elixir that brought only temporary happiness, and then a headache in the morning.
The time we were headed with good intentions to Willmar for a recruiting trip and didn’t get past Beaudreau’s Bar in east St. Cloud, where Red put away all comers in arm wrestling, right- or left-armed … yeah, I’m going to skip that one.