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Patrick Reusse

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Question haunts (old) Gophers fans: 'Do we have the hay in the barn?'

The Gophers were 6-0, rated No. 3 nationally and preparing to play Iowa, rated No. 1 and also 6-0, on Nov. 5, 1960 in Memorial Stadium. The Hawkeyes had won five straight vs. the Gophers, by a combined 140-26.

This Iowa team was so strong that when college football author Bill Connelly, from Football Study Hall and SB Nation, released a book in 2017 selecting the 50 greatest college teams of all-time, those Hawkeyes were included.

So, yes, we were very apprehensive on the prairie of southwestern Minnesota as to whether the Gophers could keep up with Forest Evashevski’s swift Hawkeyes. And then late in the week, came those reassuring words from Gophers coach Murray Warmath:

“The hay is in the barn.’’

To a just-turned 15-year-old Fulda boy this meant that all available preparations had taken place, the best possible plan had been developed to slow down the Hawkeyes, and the Gophers had a chance.

That’s all you want, right, when your team is playing a big-shot opponent … a chance?

Not in front of the sports writers, at least not for public consumption that could raise the temperature of Iowa’s players a couple of degrees, Murray might have been more aggressive in his remarks.

From what I heard through the years, Murray might have said to his athletes: “We’re going to go out there and eat ourselves a big slice of Hawkeye pie.’’

For us readers of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune and the afternoon Star, though – there was praise for the fine leadership of Evashevski (in what was his last season as the football coach) and the talent oozing from the Hawkeyes’ roster. As for the Gophers, we settled for Murray soothing our souls with the old reliable about the hay and the barn.

It turned out to be a wonderful, fulfilling crop: Gophers 27, Iowa 10.

Impressive enough to have the 1960 Gophers voted No. 1 by the wire services in the final polls (that came out at the end of the regular season), even after a post-Iowa upset loss to Purdue.

The Gophers’ drubbing of Iowa remains one of the five greatest moments in my lifetime of following Minnesota sports, right there with Games 6 and 7 of the 1991 World Series, Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, and watching Denny Green and Randy Moss leave the field in Giants Stadium after 41-doughnut.

I’m guessing it was Murray, and maybe that Iowa game, that turned me into an opponent of the hard sell to the public by coaches.

Pro rasslin’ -- loved the hard sell. Boxing – fine with it, once Cassius Clay, the “Louisville Lip,’’ the young champ who became Muhammad Ali, got us used to it.

Non-stop babbling filled with juvenile sayings from coaches ... creeps me out.

Tim Brewster gave me a headache in the first 15 minutes of his opening sales pitch. P.J. Fleck came in a decade later and at least had the good taste to say that, with the hard sell of himself and the program, he was “not for everybody.’’

Brewster’s pitch to Athletic Director Joel Maturi was as an excellent recruiter. He recruited Vince Young, which apparently led Joel to believe the next Vince-type superstar would want to come to Minnesota, not a place like Texas.

Fleck’s resume was stronger for Athletic Director Mark Coyle: a quick rebuild and an unbeaten regular season at Western Michigan. Thus, it was my tradition to add the disclaimer, “Fleck can probably coach, but’’ before getting to the, “... he reminds me of Brewster.’’

Juvenile sayings. Hard sell. That was the comparison.

We’ve also had a bit of misunderstanding on Fleck being named as the winner of the TAT – The Authentic Turkey – award last Thanksgiving morn.

Terrible timing, the public tells me, because two days later Fleck and the Gophers went to Wisconsin and regained Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 14 years.

Actually, it was the only timing available, since the selector rightly figured this was the last chance to get Fleck on the Turkey list, where he will belong as perhaps the greatest bull slinger of all in Minnesota sports.

OK, runner-up to The Crusher, but P.J. as Turkey in 2018 ... it had to be done for posterity.

Now, one November later, the Gophers are 8-0 and Penn State is 8-0, and Fleck’s Gophers are playing a game Saturday that is No. 2 on the national scene, behind only LSU at Alabama, rated 1-2 in the Associated Press poll.

Minnesota’s own Rachel Bachman called me this week trying to contact Sid Hartman for a couple of Gophers’ quotes. She was working on a story on the Gophers’ revival slated for strong play in the notable publication for which she works, the Wall Street Journal.

For its part in the hype, the Star Tribune broke out a peach-colored sports section front for Friday’s edition, as a reminder of the days when Gophers football was king (win or lose) and the Tribune's Sunday sales pitch in the autumn was, "Reach for the Peach.

Biggest home game since Iowa-Gophers, Nov. 5, 1960? It’s close to that.

For sure, it’s a big enough game to allow bygones to be bygones: I’ve decided to forgive Heather Fleck, P.J.’s missus, for ripping me in aggressive fashion on Twitter back in early 2018.

Who knows? Maybe a small degree of fault was mine. Anyway, that sure feels good to be settled, and with two November unbeatens going at it, what else is there to say:

Go, Gophers. HIB*. Ski-U-Mah.

*Hay In Barn.

Reusse: Covering World Series was great, until it started lasting too long

October 8, 1956. Nice fall day in Fulda, Minn. I skipped lunch in the cafeteria/church basement at St. Gabriel’s and pedaled by bike around what we called “First Lake’’ to check on what was happening in the fifth game of a World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees.

I was soon to turn 11. Sixth grade. Sister Marna. Uff da. This was high risk; she didn’t like either me, or my neighbor and bad influence, Daniel Weicherding.

My mother Cecile had the game on the black-and-white Philco. It was mid-game, the Yankees were leading and Don Larsen was pitching a shutout. Wait a second – a no-hitter. Wait another second – a perfect game.

What are you going to do? Eat the sandwich, get back on the bike and make the class bell, or wait to see if Larsen made it through another half-inning. I waited, then pedaled back, was late, and received the “where have you been’’ stare from Sister Marna.

“I went home to check on the World Series,’’ I said. “Don Larsen is pitching a perfect game for the Yankees through seven.’’

This was baseball and the World Series in America in the mid-1950s, and a grade-school nun understood the importance of this, meaning: It might have been the only time Sister Marna accepted one of my excuses.

And, yes, Larsen completed what remains the only perfect game in 115 World Series, in the old, old Yankee Stadium, with the famous autumn shadows.

The final was 2-0, the game time was 2 hours, 6 minutes, and there were two pitchers used: Larsen, and Sal “The Barber’’ Maglie for Brooklyn.

Nobody in America referred to that losing pitcher simply as Sal Maglie. He was always “Sal the Barber,’’ because he liked to give hitters a close shave with inside pitches.

Sort of like I had with Sister Marna on that historic afternoon, if I had been old enough to shave.

**

I was fortunate to cover 24 consecutive World Series from 1981 through 2005 (the strike wiped out 1994), and then a 25th in 2007. I covered seven for the St. Paul newspapers from 1981 through 1987, and the remainder for the Star Tribune.

I was sitting next to Tom Powers from the Pioneer Press in the outside auxiliary press box in the upper deck at Candlestick Park before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series. I’ll never forget that brief conversation.

“What’s that?’’ Powers said.

“Must be a vibration from the plane,’’ I said, pointing to a jumbo jet that was rising low over the stadium against a gorgeous blue sky.

One second later, Powers said, “That’s no plane vibration,’’ and I had to agree, as the upper deck started trying to lurch forward and light towers swayed.

October 17, 1989. My 44th birthday. A World Series earthquake that created almost as much anxiety as coming through that classroom door at St. Gabe’s 10 minutes late to face Sister Marna all those years earlier.

**

The World Series was my favorite event to cover, edging out the Masters. Some Series were dull and one-sided; others provided tremendous drama; all were different.

I enjoyed the challenge of trying to write something coherent on deadline; trying to get to a postgame clubhouse and grab a quote or a scene that gave a twist to the next morning’s effort.

There was still a Sunday afternoon game in 1983, when the Orioles polished off the Phillies 5-0 in Game 5 to win the series 4-1. Eddie Murray hit two home runs in that decisive game.

Later, the champagne spraying had ended in the visitors clubhouse, and this older African-American fellow was standing off to the side, an appreciative smile on his face.

I started talking to him. It was Charles Murray, Eddie’s father, a man who had moved from the Deep South to Los Angeles and raised his family in Watts. A gentle man, you could tell.

Already, Eddie was known to sports writers for his refusal to conduct interviews, but talking to his dad for 10 minutes on that happy day for the Murrays, I got a different glimpse of this superstar ballplayer.

“Every Sunday night, no matter where he is, Eddie calls his mother [Carrie] at 8 o’clock in California, tells her he loves her, and they have a nice talk,’’ Charles said.

And Mr. Murray beamed with as much pride over that, as in talking about his son’s two home runs that had done in the Phillies and won the World Series for the Orioles.

**

The game times for the five games of the Orioles-Phillies World Series were 2:22, 2:27, 2:35, 2:50 and 2:21.

You could work a World Series, make a deadline. Heck, you could massage a game story and write a whole new column for the late run.

Then:

Starting times were pushed back. Commercial breaks became longer. Games grew longer and longer. The large websites arrived and sent several reporters and had no firm deadlines to cover the Series exhaustively. The print newspaper business fell on hard times. Even the successful newspapers – including the Star Tribune – became more locally focused, which is the only way to go.

We have more people dedicated to covering the Vikings and Gophers sports now than we did when the print business was in its heyday; again, that’s the only way to go. I mean, this elongated piece is intended for startribune.com, not a print edition.

If the Twins had made the World Series, it would be all hands on deck. They didn’t. Three-and-out vs. the Yankees. Not much surprise in that.

As part of the routine, the Strib stopped covering the World Series with a reporter a number of years ago. And why bother? You can’t get to a clubhouse anymore, you don’t have time to find a Charles Murray standing there; not with game times of 3:43, 4:01, 4:03, 3:48, 3:18 (not bad) and 3:37 for the first six games of this World Series; you can’t actually work a World Series game and have time to get it in a morning newspaper.

There’s been a lot good about this World Series:

Outstanding starting pitchers. Great players. A magnificent all-around Astros team vs. a gritty Nationals team trying to give the city of Washington a World Series championship for the first time since 1924.

And people are watching in small numbers and sports writers from MLB towns other than Washington and Houston are almost non-existent in the media corps.

On Wednesday night, with Game 7 being played in Houston, I’ll be at the Pavilion writing a column on the Gophers-Ohio State volleyball match.

I’m not complaining. Gophers volleyball has become one of the most-entertaining activities on the local sports scene.

And if I get home by 11 or so, there probably will be a couple of more innings to play, particularly if the umps have had to waddle over, put on the 1980s headsets and confer with “New York’’ for 10 minutes.

That’s if someone is around to respond. Apparently, that didn’t happen during Tuesday night’s fiasco. They hooked up the umps and nobody was on the other end for a while.

That’s one thing that hasn’t changed with baseball since my first World Series:

MLB still can screw up a one-car parade.