Patrick Reusse Logo


Patrick Reusse

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

Reusse: Really, Gophers have beaten Ohio State. (We have witnesses)

The Golden Gophers went into Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 19, 1940 and defeated Ohio State 13-7. This gave the Gophers a 3-2 lead in the series, and at that point, the fortunate athletes that the teams had not played more often were the Buckeyes.

Bernie Bierman’s Gophers had been voted as national champions by varied outlets in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Ohio State was not on the schedule in any of those seasons. The Gophers were champs in that 8-0 season of 1940 and then again in 1941, when they didn’t play Ohio State.

Squads were not traveling by chartered jet airplanes in the earlier decades of college football, and with Ohio State on the eastern edge and Minnesota at the northwestern point of the Big Ten, the schools did not get together often.

There were also eight-game schedules (with five or six conference games) before the mid-1940s. Add up travel time and availability of dates, and the Gophers and the Buckeyes saw one another occasionally.

The 10th team in the conference into the 1940s was the University of Chicago. In 1946, Chicago dropped athletics. Michigan State was voted in as Chicago’s replacement in 1948, although it did not start playing a Big Ten football schedule until 1953.

So, there are eight opponents that have been staples in this conference, and here are the number of games vs. Ohio State entering this season (including the Buckeyes’ advantage in the series):

Illinois-102 (69-30-3), Michigan-101 (50-47-4), Indiana-88 (75-9-4), Wisconsin-82 (59-18-5), Northwestern-76 (61-14-1), Iowa 65 (47-15-3), Purdue 56 (40-14-2) and Minnesota-52 (45-7).

As indicated here, the series has taken a strong turn toward Ohio State since those eight years before the Big War when Bierman and the Gophers were claiming five national championships.

Since 1940, Ohio State has gone 42-4 against the Gophers, and 38-2 in the past half-century. The odds will be stacked against Phil Fleck’s lads when they enter the Horseshoe on Saturday morning – 29 ½ points, say the bettors – but it hasn’t always gone against our Gophs. There are those seven victories.

OCT. 28, 1922--GOPHERS 9, OSU 0, Minneapolis (Northrop Field)

Earl Arnold’s report in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune included this:

“Employing the same tactics used to defeat Indiana, coach Bill Spaulding’s green, inexperienced Gophers trod the Red and Gray of Ohio State under their feet, 9 to 0, keeping the Minnesota slate for 1922 clear …

“Once in the third quarter, Ohio State completed a pass that landed on the Gophers’ 2-yard line. But it ended there [with] perfect football from a defensive standpoint.’’

NOV. 28, 1931—GOPHERS 19, OSU 7, Minneapolis (Memorial Stadium)

The legendary George Barton wrote the game story for the Sunday Tribune and it carried the subhead, “Devastating Play of Munn and Manders Wrecks Bucks’ Line.’’

Biggie Munn was an All-America guard and Jack Manders was the fullback. And Barton also paid tribute to a crowd estimated at 25,000: “The throng that braved the wintry weather to cheer the Gophers, aiding a worthy cause, was treated to a gridiron spectacle which will live long in memory.’’

OCT. 19, 1940—GOPHERS 13, OSU 7, Columbus.

Charley Johnson pointed out in the Minneapolis Star Journal that it took many great goal-line stands for Bierman’s Gophers to avenge a 1939 loss to the Buckeyes.

“To Bobby Paffrath, playing the greatest defensive game of his career, and George Franck must go the credit for saving this game …’’

Johnson also said Bruce Smith came into his own for the first time that season by scoring two touchdowns. Smith became the Gophers’ lone Heisman Trophy winner a season later.

OCT. 15, 1949—GOPHERS 27, OSU 0, Columbus.

This was only the fourth year of the Big Ten’s agreement with the Rose Bowl to send a representative to Pasadena, Calif. to face a team from the Pacific Coast Conference. Illinois, Michigan and Northwestern had been the first three teams to officially represent the Big Ten (although it was the Big Nine for a couple of years after Chicago dropped out).

There was considerable optimism in Minnesota the Gophers had the talent to make the journey to Pasadena after the 1949 season. Linemen Clayton Tonnemaker and Leo Nomellini were named All-Americans, and end Bud Grant was the team’s MVP.

The Sunday Tribune’s underline on the headline blaring the score said it all about the mood in Minnesota after that immense road victory: “Bye, Gregory Pace Gophers in Drive Toward Rose Bowl.’’

Charley Johnson again wrote the game story and announced the following:

“Crippled Billy Bye showed the Gophers the way to pay dirt in the first quarter and Dick Gregory carried on in relief as Bernie Bierman’s big boys completely overpowered the hitherto unbeaten Buckeyes before 82,111 disappointed home fans.’’

Not only do not see 27-0 victories for the Gophers in Columbus anymore; you don’t see much of “hitherto’’ in game stories.

Sadly, both Grant and Sid Hartman will tell you that Bierman decided to practice the Gophers too hard in the wake of the great victory in Columbus, and they were a tired team the next week in Ann Arbor in a loss to Michigan.

And Minnesota’s chance to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl would not arrive until the 1960 season.

OCT. 29, 1966—GOPHERS 17, OSU 7, Memorial Stadium.

The Gophers and Ohio State did not play from 1951 to 1964. When the rivalry was renewed in 1965, Ohio State squeezed past the Gophers 11-10 in Columbus. That Gophers team finished 5-2 in the Big Ten.

A year later, the Gophers surprised Woody Hayes and Ohio State by breaking out an I Formation offense, with fullback Denny Cornell blocking for I back John Wintermute, and with quarterback Curtis Wilson as a big running threat when he kept the ball. Wilson rushed for 138 yards and Wintermute for 98 – big totals for that era of Big Ten football.

NOV. 7, 1981—GOPHERS 35, OSU 31, Memorial Stadium.

The Gophers had started playing in Memorial Stadium in 1924 and this was the last great victory in the Brickhouse. The decline of the Gophers’ standing with the public had started in 1968, when Bud Grant took the Vikings to the playoffs for the first time, and it was evident on this November day when the 18th-ranked Buckeyes came to Minneapolis:

The crowd was announced at 42,793, to see Joe Salem’s wide-open offense featuring quarterback Mike Hohensee. The Gophers fell behind 14-0 and then 21-7 at halftime, and Hohensee started throwing and never stopped.

Jon Roe, writing in the Sunday Tribune, described it thusly:

“Hohensee threw 67 passes. He completed 37 of those throws. For 444 yards and five touchdowns. And the last throw, although it may not have been his best throw, was certainly the sweetest.’’

It was a touchdown pass with 2:38 to go to put the Gophers in front, and it came when Ohio State defensive back Kevin Bell had it pop off his hands and to Jay Carroll. The Gophers’ tight end corraled the ball for his third touchdown catch of the long afternoon.

The Gophers moved into the Metrodome in 1982. They started 3-0, were ranked No. 19 in the country and had 63,000 people show up for the season’s fourth game vs. Illinois, featuring quarterback Tony Eason and tight end Tim Brewster.

The Gophers lost that one, and overall, 18 of Salem’s last 19 games as coach – meaning, the tipped pass to Carroll was pretty much the last break of Smokey Joe’s five seasons at his alma mater.

OCT. 14, 2000: Gophers 29, OSU 17, Columbus.

Ohio State was rated No. 6 in the country and Glen Mason’s fourth Gophers team was an 11 ½-point underdog. Quarterback Travis Cole, running back Tellis Redmon and receiver Ron Johnson were the playmakers for an offense that put up a solid 381 yards against what had been the nation’s No. 1-rated defense.

You have to rank it as the No. 1 victory of Mason’s decade in Minnesota, considering it was in the stadium where he played and was an assistant coach for eight years, and it was the Gophers’ first victory in Columbus since 1949.

Also: The third victory all-time in Columbus and it remains the last.

Yet, before you despair and think unkind thoughts about the Buckeyes, remember this:

If it was not for the Faculty Senate of Ohio State voting (allegedly for academic reasons) not to allow Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes to go to the Rose Bowl after the 1961 season, the Gophers would not have been invited to Pasadena for a second consecutive year, and our boys would not have had the chance to defeat UCLA 21-3 on Jan. 1, 1962, and Minnesota would still be waiting to win a Rose Bowl.

Thank you, pompous OSU Faculty Senators of three generations past.

Reusse: One Johnnie's first question. 'How do they win here?'

Steve O’Toole received an appointment to the Naval Academy in the mid-1980s. He went from Little Falls to Annapolis to become a Naval officer and also the play football for the Midshipmen. He left the academy after one year due to a medical issue.

Bob Verkuilen, from Little Falls and a St. John’s booster of the highest order, was aware that O’Toole was returning from Annapolis and started making frantic contact with Mike Grant, a St. John’s football assistant.

“Veek was saying, ‘O’Toole’s great, he’s great … we have to get him,’ ‘’ Grant said.

O’Toole came to Collegeville to check the campus and to meet coach John Gagliardi.

“I was coming out of a situation where you were awake every morning at zero-400, your bunk was made so tight that you could bounce a quarter off it, and every thing you did was at double time,’’ O’Toole said.

O’Toole talked with Grant and others and then went to Gagliardi’s office. “When I walked in, I called him ‘sir’ and stood at attention,’’ O’Toole said. “He was sitting there with his feet up on the desk. He looked at me and said, ‘Steve, sit down and relax. Call me John.’

“And then he said, ‘What position do you play? From what I’ve heard, you could really help us on the defensive line. I’ve been looking at ways we could use you there.’ I hadn’t met him, I hadn’t said I was coming to St. John’s, and he already had some ideas on what I might be able to do in the Johnnies defense.’’

O’Toole warmed Verkuilen’s heart by deciding to become a Johnnie, and after a couple of weeks of practice he was wondering about the decision.

“I was going full speed in practice, banging into people, being physical,’’ O’Toole said. “After one of those plays, John came over and said, ‘Steve, we don’t do that here; we don’t want to get anyone hurt in practice. Tone it down, OK?’

“I remember thinking, ‘How do they win around here?’ I didn’t get it. And then the players who had been in the program – juniors and seniors, including some who didn’t play that much – started explaining it to me.

“It was preparation. And much of what we did was self-taught; upperclassmen explaining plays and what to do on defense. It was all about have a plan for a season, for the next game – and it was done with an amazing support system within the team.’’

Once O’Toole started to get the concept, there were still oddities to deal with – including Gagliardi’s intolerance for inconveniences presented by nature at practice time.

“One clear memory is walking toward practice on a late fall day when it was 45 degrees, maybe 50, with a little wind, and I was thinking, ‘This is a great day for football,’ ‘’ O’Toole said. “And then John pulled up next to me in his car, wearing a winter hat, a parka and thick gloves and said, ‘Steve, do you want a ride to practice?’

“I said, ‘No, I’m good. I’ll walk 150 yards.’ ‘’

O’Toole has taught grade school and also coached as an assistant with Mike Grant for 26 years at Eden Prairie. Grant played for Gagliardi in the late ‘70s and was an assistant in 1987 and 1988. Gagliardi died at age 91 early on Sunday morning.

All conversations about Gagliardi include laughs over his desire to have 66 degrees and partly cloudy with a slight breeze every day for outdoor practices.

 “In August, John didn’t like being on the practice field in the morning because of dew,’’ Grant said Sunday. “He hated dew. And gnats. Gnats drove him crazy. And he didn’t like rain. He didn’t like it when his glasses were wet.’’

And, of course, the No. 1 enemy – cold.

Gagliardi was the hockey coach at St. John’s soon after he arrived at Collegeville in 1953. He had never seen a hockey game, so he read a book and started coaching.

Except, the rink was outdoors, next to the small building that housed some small athletic offices, the gymnasium – “Rat Hall’’ – and a locker room. John’s routine was to crack a second-floor window and offer instructions from inside to his hockey players practicing outdoors.

Gagliardi’s office door always was open a crack, if a player or anyone else, wanted to stop in. Early in his Johnnies career, O’Toole decided to stop by to see the coach on a winter day, looking for suggestions as what he could do over the next several months to get ready for another season.

“John was in there with a feet up, watching a Western on TV,’’ O’Toole said. “I said something about that and John said, ‘What should I be watching? It’s February.’

“I asked anyway – ‘What can I do to improve? -- and he said, ‘Well, let’s see,’ and he looked in a drawer, and pulled out an index card that said ‘O’Toole’ and rattled off a litany of specific mistakes I had made during the previous season, and I should try to eliminate those.

“That was John: He saw everything, in practice or a game.’’

The last game O’Toole played as a tremendous defensive lineman for the Johnnies came in the Division III semifinals in Dayton, Ohio in 1991. The Dayton Flyers were then a D-III power (before being moved to Division 1-AAA), but the Johnnies were loaded and with a big chance to win on the road.

And then they had 10 turnovers and lost 19-7. It was an old and dank stadium going back to the days when Dayton played football at a major college level.

There was a large, empty anteroom outside the locker room. John was sitting there on a folding chair. He was all-timer at suffering after any loss, but this was three times the usual angst considering the stakes and all those turnovers.

"I figured if we could beat this team, we should be able to win another title,’’ Gagliardi said.

Then, he looked toward the locker room and said: "Every time I see one of these great players come out of there, he's a senior. It sounds callous, but I've always said, 'We're all replaceable.' "

The next player out was O'Toole, the tremendous defensive tackle.

"Except him,'' Gagliardi said. "We won't be able to replace him.''

Or John Gagliardi.

I talked to Mike Grant and he said: “There was only one John. There will never be another.’’

And then I talked to Steve O’Toole and he said: “There was only one John. There will never be another.’’