Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
Sandy Stephens, who quarterbacked the Gophers to their only Rose Bowl appearances a half-century ago and became the first black quarterback selected to an All-America team, has been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
"They're jumping for joy in Minneapolis, and back in Uniontown," said Judge Dickson, who went to high school in the small southwestern Pennsylvania town with Stephens and was his roommate at Minnesota. "Nobody would have been prouder of it than Sandy, and I'm just ecstatic about it."
Stephens, who died in 2000 at the age of 59, will become the 19th Gopher to be inducted into the South Bend, Ind., museum, and the fourth from Minnesota's 1960 national championship team. That team played in Pasadena on Jan. 2, 1961, losing to Washington 17-7 but fulfilling Stephens' boyhood ambition to play on college football's biggest stage.
"He wanted to be the best quarterback in the country, but when we were kids, we really dreamed more about the Rose Bowl. That was everything to us," Dickson said of Stephens, who guided the Gophers to a return trip -- and a 21-3 victory over UCLA, with Stephens in a starring role -- 12 months later. "The Hall of Fame, though -- I think this one would surprise even Sandy."
Stephens threw for 75 yards and rushed for 46 yards and two touchdowns in that game, his final one as a Gopher, and was named the Player of the Game. He was elected to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1997.
But Stephens' legacy was about more than excellence on the field. He broke a barrier by becoming the first black quarterback at Minnesota, and one of the first in the Big Ten, and his berth on the All-America team in 1961 made him a national figure. The University of Minnesota, where he passed for 1,475 career yards, rushed for 791 and scored 32 touchdowns, retired Stephens' No. 15 shortly after his death in 2000.
"I remember we used to get comic books with pictures of all the Hall of Fame guys on the back. To be on those comic books was the greatest thing we could imagine. Those were our heroes," said Dickson, who lives in Sanibel, Fla. "Sandy would be so delighted to know he's one of them now."
Stephens is one of 16 players and coaches -- and one of three from the Big Ten, including Michigan State receiver Gene Washington and Ohio State running back Eddie George -- who will be inducted in South Bend on July 16. Also selected for the Class of 2011 was Florida receiver Carlos Alvarez, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, Texas defensive tackle Doug English, Oregon State fullback Bill Enyart, Alabama defensive lineman Marty Lyons, Miami defensive tackle Russell Maryland, Florida State cornerback Deion Sanders, Georgia defensive back Jake Scott, Nebraska guard Will Shields, West Virginia linebacker Darryl Talley, Oklahoma halfback Clendon Thomas and Arizona defensive end Rob Waldrop.
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