St. John’s had won the 1963 NAIA national title with a startling victory over Prairie View A&M. This made the Johnnies very large news in Minnesota and expectations were substantial once again in Collegeville.
The Johnnies had a seven-game schedule, with all games in the MIAC. They whipped St. Thomas 24-0 in the opener and then went to Hamline on Oct. 3 for their second game.
I was working as a copy boy in the sports department at the Minneapolis Morning Tribune. When the score, Hamline 8, St. John’s 6, surfaced on that Saturday afternoon, the staff of reporters was as surprised as it had been on Feb. 24 of that year, when Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title.
Dick Mulkern was Hamline’s coach. Fifty years later, Hamline brought back Mulkern to have a new outdoor facility – the Mulkern Sports Court – unveiled in a ceremony on Friday, and to flip the coin before Saturday’s homecoming game vs. mighty Bethel.
Mulkern will turn 90 in January. I went to interview him before Saturday’s game, but did so with this warning:
Late this summer, I was at Augsburg to write a column on Edor Nelson, who was having a new football scoreboard dedicated to him on his 100th birthday.
“Edor died nine days later,’’ I said, sadly. “I hope I’m not a jinx.’’
Mulkern said: “I hope that, too.’’
Mulkern was the football coach from 1962 through 1973. He spent 29 years in total at Hamline, coaching track and field long after he was done with football. He had 34 All-Americas and 12 national champions in track.
The football victory over St. John’s in ’64 was the best moment of all, right Dick?
“No, it was a win over Gustavus in 1966 that gave Hamline a conference title for the first time in 45 years,’’ Mulkern said. “We beat St. John’s that year, too.
“When I was hired after the 1961 season, I told the Hamline president, ‘If I don’t win in five years, you should fire me, because I’ll work harder than anyone to make it happen.’ ‘’
Mulkern smiled and said: “I just made it. When we won in ’66, that was my fifth season, so I just made it.’’
Dick was like most every coach who went against St. John’s John Gagliardi from 1953 through 2012: He lost much more often than he won. But he did have the privilege of getting John’s post-defeat handshake a couple of times.
“Here, I’ll show you John’s handshake after a loss,’’ said Mulkern, allowing his right hand to droop like a wet rag.
Then, Dick extended his hand in a firm fashion and said, “But when John won, he shook your hand like a soldier.’’
How did the Pipers win that game in ’64 … against the defending national champs?
“The Johnnies were running a wing-T and giving the ball to a great running back,’’ Mulkern said. “We told our best players to concentrate on stopping that run. We had Duane Benson at linebacker, and he played 10 years in the NFL, and Dave Stensrud, a tremendous lineman.
“So, we had players who could stop a runner. And then there was a safety – on a bad punt, I think – and that’s how it was 8-6. It was a nice upset.’’
A few miles away, in the Morning Tribune’s sports department, it was shocking.