Hartman: Cowles family led major league push

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 19, 2012 - 6:32 AM

They invested untold time, energy and money into building stadiums and attracting pro sports franchises.

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John Cowles Jr., and wife, Sage, in 2011.

Photo: Sara Glassman, Star Tribune

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The late John Cowles Sr. and his son, John Cowles Jr., who died Saturday of lung cancer at age 82, made so many contributions to make the Twin Cities a better place to live.

Having known them through their involvement in sports, I know that without their leadership and their contributions of millions of dollars, we wouldn't be a major league city today.

John Cowles Sr.'s office was in the southeast part of the third floor of the Star Tribune building. And more than once, I've told my friends here who now use that space as a board room that if those walls could talk, they would tell many stories about how Cowles Sr. and eventually his son helped get stadiums built and attract pro franchises to town and make this a big-time sports city.

I was in most of those meetings. Today that would be a conflict of interest, but in those days, the Cowleses were going to do anything to make this a major league area.

Without getting Met Stadium built in Bloomington, we never would have lured Senators owner Calvin Griffith here with the team that became the Twins. Cowles Sr. not only made a big contribution to get Met Stadium built, but when Griffith moved here, Cowles gave up ownership of his stock in the stadium to Griffith so the owner could pay the Dodgers and the Red Sox for their minor league franchise rights in this area. And we would have never gotten an NFL franchise without Met Stadium.

John Jr. followed in the footsteps of his father in being a big backer of keeping this a major league town. The Metrodome would have never been built and opened in 1982 without the leadership of the younger Cowles. He was the dominant person to make it possible, because John Jr. and the Star Tribune donated land to help get the Dome built and the result was we were able to keep major league baseball and football in this city.

Several in the newsroom considered Cowles Jr.'s efforts a conflict of interest and even ran an ad in the paper expressing their feelings.

And don't forget John Jr.'s wife, Sage Cowles, who has been involved in many civic affairs and donated to charities, including making it possible to build Jane Sage Cowles Stadium in 2000 so Gophers softball players could have an outstanding place to play.

Nobody will ever know the complete number of charities John Jr. and Sage supported because they were a humble couple who never sought recognition for their contributions. You want my opinion: One of the greatest things that happened in this town was when John Cowles Sr. moved here in 1938 after his family bought the Star in 1935.

My close personal friend Wheelock Whitney Jr., also a great contributor to making this a major league city, has talked a lot about all the leadership the Cowles family showed to make this a great city. Yes, without the leadership of John Sr. and John Jr., this city would be a cold Omaha.

Changes for Gophers

When the Gophers football team opens spring practice Thursday, there will be some position changes, according to coach Jerry Kill.

"Kendall Gregory[-McGee] is a young man that played defensive end and really never played it in high school and has struggled. He's a young man that we've moved to tight end, and I think that's going to be good for him. I think it fits his personality better and I think he's excited about that move.

"Then [quarterback] Moses Alipate is also going to move to tight end. Those are going to be two big additions physically to the tight end position, because Kendall is probably 260-265 and pretty athletic and Moses is probably 290-295 and has got some athleticism coming in at that position. I'm excited to see how both of them do, to be honest with you, see how they do in the new positions.

"Then in the secondary we loaded up with some kids that can run and we have to get them in the right place. We're going to take Derrick Wells, who was a corner for us as a true freshman that was about 170 pounds when he came and is about 205 right now and has not lost speed, probably gotten faster.

"We're probably going to work with him at safety and teach him some safety things. We may do that with a couple other corners that are a little bit bigger. I think that in the secondary, we'll play some guys at safety and corner to build some depth."

Jottings

A number of local players were involved in the first weekend of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Among them:

• Jordair Jett, who played at St. Bernard's, scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in two games as St. Louis defeated Memphis 61-54 on Friday and lost to Michigan State 65-61 on Sunday.

• Former Hopkins star Royce White played a tremendous game for Iowa State in an 87-71 loss against No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday with 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block.

• Minnesotans Jared Berggren, Jordan Taylor and Mike Bruesewitz played key roles for Wisconsin as the Badgers advanced to the Sweet 16 with victories over Montana and Vanderbilt. Over two games Berggren, from Princeton, scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and he had seven blocks in the first-round victory over Montana. Bruesewitz, who played at Henry Sibley, scored 18 points in two games, and Taylor, the former Benilde-St. Margaret's star, had 31 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and two steals in two games.

• Former St. Cloud Tech star Nate Wolters had 19 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals in South Dakota State's 68-60 loss to third-seeded Baylor.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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