Reusse: McNamara brothers was love story in gold and pink

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 22, 2014 - 6:51 PM

Bob and Pinky McNamara were linked by their Gophers backgrounds, with Bob possessing superior football talent and, later, Pinky displaying tremendous business acumen.

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In this 1954 photo, Bob McNamara (44) received a triumphant ride from teammates after leading the Gophers to a victory over Iowa.

Photo: EARL SEUBERT, Star Tribune file photo

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Bob McNamara came to the University of Minnesota to play football in the fall of 1951. He was followed two years later by his brother, Richard.

They were the middle pair of six boys raised by their mother, Eva, in Hastings. The father was an alcoholic and contributed little to the family cause. This led to meager financial circumstances, and also to a nickname that Richard carried for life.

“He had a pair of red corduroys that were washed so often that they turned pink,” Bob said. “All the kids in the neighborhood started calling him ‘Pinky,’ and it stuck.”

Bob and Pinky were linked by their Gophers backgrounds, with Bob possessing superior football talent and, later, Pinky displaying tremendous business acumen.

Pinky died at age 78 in May 2011, after several years of dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. Bob died Sunday night at 82 from cancer.

I was a 9-year-old kid when seeing a Gophers football game in person for the first time on Nov. 13, 1954, and the hero of that 22-20 upset of Iowa was Bob McNamara. Last fall, I told McNamara that I would never forget that 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown vs. Iowa, and he smiled and said:

“Me neither.”

McNamara was a favorite Gopher from that moment, and the fondness for him would increase in interviews and chance meetings after I got into the sportswriting business.

Pinky threw himself into business and made millions. Bob was a master of conviviality, as the co-owner of a bar on Central Ave. near University on the northeast side of the river in Minneapolis. He was involved with that bar -- now Mac's Industrial --for 48 years. Bob also tried to rescue Duff's in downtown Minneapolis, and it didn't turn out to be his greatest venture.

Lunch at Mac's frequently turned into a reunion of Minnesota's great sports figures from the '50s, '60s and '70s, and of more current eras, if those people wanted to show up and hear the old stories.

McNamara was enthusiastic in fundraising for the Gophers, playing racquetball (at which he became a national champion) and telling stories, such as when he was asked last fall if his wife Annette was “a Minnesota girl.”

Bob showed his grand smile and said: “She was from Long Island. I was in Fort Lauderdale one spring and so was she. I was walking on the beach, saw Annette and said to the buddies I was with, ‘I’m going to marry that girl.’ ”

Annette wound up married to him for 55 years.

McNamara’s fundraisers for the Gophers included an annual “Legends Dinner” in which he would try to get 200 boosters to pay a goodly sum to attend.

The dinner would honor a local sports celebrity, while also getting that person to serve as the main speaker.

Bob Jr., McNamara’s son, volunteered to take over the organizational duties for this spring’s dinner.

“He said no, that he wanted to do ‘this last one,’ ” Bob Jr. said. “He wanted to be working for the Gophers right to the end.”

There are many accolades to be had for Bob McNamara from school officials and coaches at Minnesota, and yet it was another story that stood out during the previous decade:

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