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.
When I told my Grandpa Fritz that I was switching to the Gophers football beat, it gave me a chance to reach into his memory bank. He’s in his 80’s now, so he grew up at a time when Gophers coverage dominated the sports pages. We’re from Faribault, hometown of Minnesota’s only Heisman winner, Bruce Smith.
Fritz told me the only time he ever saw the Gophers play in person came in 1951. He was in the Navy, and his ship was docked in San Francisco, while the Gophers were out there playing California.
I’ve been to Cal’s Memorial Stadium with my wife, so it’s neat having that connection with my grandpa. He remembered the beautiful setting, in Strawberry Canyon, but he couldn’t recall much about the game. On a slow day last month, I went back into our microfilm and looked it up.
The Minnesota/Cal game came three days after Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers. Minneapolis Tribune baseball correspondent Halsey Hall was at the Polo Grounds for the Giants’ triumph and wrote, “I have witnessed victory scenes bordering on sheer lunacy, but never have encountered anything like this.”
The rest of the Tribune sports staff, seemingly, had eyes on the Gophers. It was the team’s first season under Coach Wesley Fesler, who replaced Bernie Bierman with the program in a down cycle. After a hard-fought, 25-20, loss to heavily favored Washington in the season opener, the Gophers found themselves in Berkeley on a beautiful day, with temperatures approaching 80 degrees.
But the results weren’t pretty.
The second-ranked Cal Bears pummeled the Gophers 55-14. Using microfilm, I found a story in the Minneapolis Tribune that opened with this quote: “It was like an inexperienced Golden Glove fighter meeting Joe Louis in his first fight.”
The quote was from Coach Fesler. The byline was from a hotshot young reporter at the Tribune -- Sid Hartman.
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