What happened: University of Minnesota football coach “Bernie” Bierman stood on the sidelines for the last time.

 

When: Nov. 18, 1950.

 

Coming home: The Springfield, Minn., native had bounced around the circuit for a few years, coaching in Montana, Mississippi and Louisiana. In 1932 he came home to his alma mater, where he’d played Gopher football from 1913 to 1915. In his two stints as football coach, he had a 93-35-6 record, won seven Big Ten Conference titles and five national championships, and led his team to five perfect seasons.

 

Down at the half: The 1950 season was not one of the better ones.

Bierman was coming off a good year; 1949’s record was 7-2. But this year, the team had managed nothing better than a tie, with six losses. His last game was against Purdue, and the Gophers were trailing 14-0 at halftime.

Hell of a way to end the run.

At the half, he was showered with testimonials and tributes, and given a new car as a sign of everyone’s esteem. The photographer asked him to get in and pose for a shot. “No, I can’t do that,” Bierman replied. “We’ve got a football game to play.”

 

Out with a bang: The Sunday Tribune recounted what happened next: “His boys, maltreated all season by opposing teams and apparently beaten again, came back with as irresistible a surge as Memorial Stadium has ever seen to beat Purdue 27 to 14 before a Dads’ Day crowd of 43,715.

“Bernie Bierman didn’t have to walk the Last Mile Saturday. He was carried. Wild with victory, Minnesota’s hollering horde of football players flung themselves at the man who was about to walk off Memorial Stadium field for the last time. The Grey Eagle struggled a little, but it was no use. The boys who had ‘won this one for Bierman’ held him fast and high.”

It was the only game the Gophers won that year. Bierman never took a coaching job again, and you can hardly blame him. There’s no better way to go out.

James Lileks