Editor’s note: This story appeared on a special “Peach” page in the sports section of Friday’s Star Tribune. Pick up any edition of Friday’s paper to check it out.
Longtime newspaper subscribers might remember “The Peach” — the Sunday sports sections in the middle of last century printed on peach-colored paper. They were incredible, and they heavily featured college football.
Maybe the most famous Peach section the Star Tribune ever ran (just the Tribune then) was on Nov. 25, 1962.
The Gophers were playing at Wisconsin in the final game of the regular season with both teams 5-1 in Big Ten Conference play. A chance to go to the Rose Bowl was on the line and the Gophers held a 9-7 lead into the final moments of the contest.
Late in the fourth quarter, Gophers defensive back Jack Perkovich intercepted a pass by Wisconsin quarterback Ron Vander Kelen that seemed to seal the victory. A victory would have moved the Gophers to 6-1 in the conference and dropped the Badgers to 5-2.
But the referees called a roughing-the-passer penalty on All-America linebacker Bobby Bell, saying he hit Vander Kelen late, then added an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Gophers coach Murray Warmath after he protested the call. Wisconsin got a first down at the Gophers 13-yard line, drove for a touchdown and a 14-9 victory.
The Peach section at that time was doing world-class work with photography and reporting.
The Star Tribune was so proud of the Peach that we had a big neon sign on top of our building boasting of our circulation number of over 600,000.
We would send reporters to every Big Ten contest. For the Gophers game, we would send multiple reporters and at least three photographers to shoot “play of the game” photo spreads that showed readers exactly how the game’s biggest moment happened.
After that 1962 Wisconsin loss, the front page of the Peach displayed five photographs showing the crucial play when Bell hit Vander Kelen and Perkovich grabbed the pick.
The photos left no doubt: Bell had hit Vander Kelen clean, when he still had the football in his hands, and dragged him to the ground.
I was in the locker room after the game as players openly cried and raged that a Rose Bowl berth had been stolen from them. Warmath told his team: “You’re still the champions in my book. You outplayed them all the way and deserved to win.”
When I asked Warmath about the penalty, he told me, “The facts were evident to everybody. You interpret it any way you want.”
Bell told me there was no way to interpret his hit as roughing.
“I asked the official why he called the [penalty],” Bell said. “His answer was that I roughed Vander Kelen on his way down. This is a new one.
“Vander Kelen had the ball when I hit him. I always tackle high because it’s natural for you to go for the arm and the ball. The result was evident when he threw the bad pass that Perky intercepted after I hit his arm.”
Yes, the Peach was wonderful. At the time, I was working under Charlie Johnson, the sports editor and one of the most important people in my life.
When the publisher came to him to propose the idea for the Peach, he asked Johnson how many pages he wanted.
Johnson wanted to take a risk and said a big number: “How about 10?”
The publisher replied: “How about 12?”
It was a different era for both the Gophers, who were routinely competing for Big Ten football championships, and the Star Tribune.
Back then we had our own private plane on call for traveling to Saturday football games.
We would get on the plane, fly to either a Gophers road game or another big contest, and fly home the same day.
To think that the Gophers once again have a chance to reach a Rose Bowl or win a Big Ten title is incredible, and that deserves a return of the Peach.