Minnesota sports fans were more preoccupied with Gophers football in the 1950s than we are with the Vikings today.
One obvious reason for this was the lack of competition: The Minneapolis Lakers were the only team in a major league, and the NBA was iffy in that regard. There were minor league baseball and hockey teams in Minneapolis and in St. Paul.
The Gophers on the gridiron were kings, although there was basically a blackout for information throughout the summer. Starting from perhaps age 8 in 1954, I would mark late July with almost daily trips to Toussaint’s drug store in downtown Fulda in the hope that the college football annuals had arrived.
The two main publications were Street & Smith and Dell’s. I was a Street & Smith guy, because it was a thicker publication, with more information on each team and easier to read schedules in the back.
The optimism surrounding the Gophers in 1957 was such that the trips to Toussaint’s were doubled – one in the morning, another in the afternoon – until the annuals had arrived. I remember the excitement of seeing Gophers quarterback Bobby Cox on the cover.
I had imagined it was the cover of Street & Smith, the big book. Then, in 2003, Cox died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Plymouth, and I went on-line looking for a replica of that Street & Smith cover.
All I could find was a cover featuring Clendon Thomas, an Oklahoma running back. Cox was on a cover, but it was Dell’s, under the label of Stanley Woodward’s Football Annual. Woodward was a famous East Coast sportswriter.
I don’t know if the publications had enough sophistication in those days to have regional covers. Maybe there’s a Street & Smith out there with Bobby on the cover.
Mine was left in a pile of sports magazines and hundreds of baseball cards when we moved from Fulda to Prior Lake in 1962, What a dummy … meaning me.
There was a college football annual under the Street & Smith label from 1940 to 2007. It now can be found under The Sporting News' label.
Obviously, these are not the best of times for printed annuals, since more information on college football than anyone has time to consume is available on the Internet.
Athlon Sports now has a major presence in this minor market. Athlon comes out of Nashville, Tenn. It started in 1967 and publishes 15 magazines, including a national college football annual and also preseason publications for the BCS conference.
There’s also a Website, athlonsports.com, which I must admit is not on my daily browsing schedule. It took a Twitter buddy – not to be confused with a Thunder buddy – to make me aware of Athlon’s attempt to rate the 125 head coaches in Division 1A (or FBS, if you’re a stickler for nonsensical labels).
I thought it was new, but discovered Athlon’s Steve Lassan offered this up in early April. And even though finding reasonable criteria for such a list is impossible, we look at it anyway, right?
Heck, I’m upset about where Lassan placed our guy Jerry Kill, no matter that the small-yet-loud band of Gopher zealots has accused me of not being properly blown away by Country Jer’s efforts to this point.
What you should know is the last 50 coaches listed are mostly stuck in the fourth tier of Division 1A – dead-end jobs in low-budget programs in minor conferences.
Lassan also gave low marks for inexperience as a head coach, a fact that put Oregon’s Mark Helfrich (promoted from offensive coordinator) at No. 73. If Phil Knight and Nike signed off on Helfrich as Chip Kelly’s replacement, he’s either going to move up in a hurry or be unemployed.
Others of note rated in the bottom 50 were Illinois’ Tim Beckman (he’s a rival for Tim Brewster on the B.S. meter) at No. 80, Rod Carey of Wayzata (new at Northern Illinois) at No. 104, Kansas’ Charlie Weis at No. 106 and Tony Levine of St. Paul (in his second year at Houston) at No. 108.
As for Country Jer, he’s rated No. 61 overall and ninth of the current 12 coaches in the Big Ten. He also rates behind Maryland’s Randy Edsall (No. 51) and ahead of Rutgers’ Kyle Flood (No. 74), the programs that will be in the Big Ten in 2014.
It’s hard to argue with the Big Ten’s top five: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, Michigan’s Brady Hoke, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien.
Why Wisconsin’s Gary Anderson comes in at No. 6 and gets more credit for his work at Utah State than Kill does for his work at Northern Illinois, that’s a subtlety lost on me. Athlon also has Nebraska’s Bo Pelini and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz ahead of Kill, and I might take Kill over both – with Pelini flaming out in Lincoln and Ferentz worn out in Iowa City.
Whatever, it’s a list, and as ESPN and the NFL Network and the MLB Network show us on a daily basis, when in doubt, offer the sporting public a list.