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Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Brackin retiring as a last link to a crew of sportswriting legends

My first job as a sports writer was as a 20-year-old at the Duluth News Tribune in 1966, where I remained for four months before going to work for my friend Mike Augustin at the St. Cloud Times.

That’s where I got to know some of the sports writers from what were termed the small-town dailies throughout Minnesota. For the most part, they were afternoon newspapers, and we usually had them in our possession the next morning in the Times newsroom.

The emphasis there would be on “room,’’ because that is where the Times reporting staff was located … in one room.

There were some great characters (Augie among them) at these afternoon dailies. My hat trick in that category would be Cliff Morlan at the Bemidji Pioneer, Jim Wallace at the Brainerd Dispatch and Morgan Brandrup at the Mankato Free Press.

Cliff was also a barber and had what could be termed a folksy style of prose. My favorite item was when he was complaining about improper signage while trying to get to an event in rural Bemidji, and wound up getting stuck in “Moberg’s swamp.’’

There was also the time that a Cliff family member needed the car on a weekend, and his column included the note, “Have two tickets to Sunday’s Vikings game and am looking for ride down.’’

A Morlan anecdote also made a Jim Klobuchar book on the early days of the Vikings. Norm Van Brocklin was the coach from 1961 through 1966, and through those first six seasons, the Vikings trained in Bemidji.

The Dutchman developed a fondness for Morlan. He was allowed a prime location when the coach held his postgame press session in a small office at Met Stadium.

The Vikings had taken a narrow defeat on this Sunday and Van Brocklin was suffering. In an attempt to make the Dutchman feel better, Morlan told him of a heartbreaking defeat that Bemidji had suffered against rival Brainerd only a couple of nights earlier.

“Oh, for (bleep) sakes, Cliffy, this is the NFL,’’ the Dutchman said, or something along those lines.

Wallace was more of a grumpy fellow. I remember him being bitter in the late ‘60s when the junior college basketball team from Willmar had fully integrated, and came to town and put a whuppin’ on the non-diverse Brainerd JUCOs.

There was also the legend of a crucial game between Crosby-Ironton and Brainerd, when both schools were basketball powerhouses. C-I had ended Brainerd’s tournament hopes with a blowout victory ... 30, 40 points.

Jim’s lead the next afternoon concerned the opening tip, which Brainerd had won and immediately scored. The referees then noticed the clock had not started. They wiped out the basket and re-did the opening tip.

According to Wallace’s game story, Brainerd lost much momentum with that nullified basket, and it was an important reason for the C-I blowout that followed.

Then there was Brandrup in Mankato – also known as the “Golden Palomino’’ in state sports writing circles. Starting in 1967, the Vikings moved to Mankato, and all we media visitors would rub elbows with him.

This was particularly true at lunch or dinner, which were open to the media after the Vikings had finished filling their trays. The photographer at the Free Press was Bill Altnow, an affable fellow of such ample size that he was known as “The Group.''.

By many accounts, The Group and the Palomino had close to perfect attendance at the Gage Hall dining room during the Vikings’ stay.

We are losing a sports writer and editor of long standing here at the Star Tribune on Oct. 31 with the retirement of Dennis Brackin. He’s the only guy left I know who worked with any of the Big Three: Morlan, Wallace or Brandrup.

Brackin was hired at the Minneapolis Star in 1980 as a reporter for the community sections and then moved to sports with the merged Star Tribune. Prior to that, he worked with Brandrup in Mankato.

“I covered Gustavus football and Morgan did Mankato State,’’ Brackin said Friday. “I came back to the office one Saturday to write a Gusties gamer and Morgan was finishing his story.

“The problem was Mankato was playing at Moorhead. I asked Morgan what he was going to do about quotes. He said he had an agreement with the coach that he could invent a few quotes, as long as he called when the coach got back to Mankato and read them to him.’’

Brackin shared an office with the Palomino in the 1970s, when cigarette smokers were not discriminated against.

 “Morgan was never without a cigarette,’’ Brackin said. “It was a tiny office and so full of smoke that I could barely see him a few feet away.’’

Brackin covered a variety of beats at the Star Tribune before becoming an assistant sports editor. He had Clem Haskins for a while, and that was a hilarious relationship.

Dennis and Clem were at constant war over Haskins' modest winning percentage in road games – the greatest battle of which was Clem’s insistence that three NIT victories split between Target Center and Met Center should be celebrated as road wins for the Gophers.

There was good humor in the Clem-Brackin brouhahas. "Dennis!'' was a familiar sound of alarm from Clem in his media sessions.

The humor portion was missing when Brackin was assigned to cover Twins games at the start of Tom Kelly's tenure as manager.

This was 1987, when the Twins were dominating at the Metrodome and losing on the road – a trend that remained all the way through a World Series championship.

I was covering a road trip for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Dennis had the duty for the Star Tribune. He always liked to get a topic in the notebook. This time, he had talked to Harvey Misel, our celebrity hypnotist in the Twin Cities, about the possibility of putting the Twins into a mass trance to get over their fear of the road.

Nobody was less likely to play along with a goofy angle than Kelly.

This was the first of three games in late June in Milwaukee. I begged Brackin not to bring up the hypnotist, knowing it would put the manager in a bad mood for the whole 72 hours.

Dennis could not be deterred. He asked Kelly about the possibility of using a hypnotist.

And I was correct with the prediction about T.K.’s mood for the rest of the series

Reusse blog: Minnesotans have long been strong in blaming defeat on officials

I would rate Minnesota fans as very strong in the area of tracing defeats suffered by the local teams to poor officiating. I also would give my colleague Sid Hartman credit for being a leader for our fandom in this category.

Sid was the state’s most-influential person in the sports media though the second half of the 20th Century, as we grew in major league status and generations of fans came to believe the referees were out to get us.

For instance:

You couldn’t really say a Gophers football game in the Metrodome had started until Sid took note of his beloved maroon and gold getting robbed, and went climbing over people in the press box to find Roy Tutt to verbalize a complaint.

Tutt was in the recreation department at the university, and also was the Big Ten’s “observer’’ of officiating for Gophers football games. He would sit in a nook in the second row of the Dome’s press box, shielded behind a large post, but poor Roy couldn’t hide from Sid.

Tutt’s location was next to the unisex one-holer that served as the Dome’s restroom in the press box. When making a stop at the relief station, I would always ask of Roy:

“How many visits have you received from the Great Man today, questioning the work of the gentlemen with the flags?’’

If it was the first half, Roy’s answer would be, “a couple.’’ If it was the second half and the outcome for the Gophers still was in the balance, the answer would be, “several.’’

The Gophers’ 27-season (1982-2008) stay in the Dome was mostly forgettable, but there was a show of persistence that lives in infamy for reporters lucky enough to have been in attendance that day:

Can’t remember the exact game, but you knew something was going on when Sid gathered up his belongings (including his still-in-use-today, 5-pound tape recorder) and made his way toward the steps leading to the Dome’s lower level.

A few minutes later, the Gophers’ hard-fought loss was complete, and Sid – pushing 70 by then – could be seen racing after the officials as they headed toward the stairwell required to get to the locker room level.

Those of us still in the press box cheered in tribute to Sid’s determination, as I recall.

It also should be remembered that it was Sid’s reaction to the most-notorious, we-wuz-robbed moment in Vikings history that caused a change in the manner in which the NFL allowed access to officials after a game.

The Vikings were playing Dallas in a playoff opener on Dec. 29, 1975 at Met Stadium. You might have heard about it.

The Cowboys scored in other-worldly fashion for a 17-14 victory. Drew Pearson’s push-off to make the catch and score the winning touchdown so outraged the fans that Armen Terzian, the nearest official, was struck in the head with a whiskey bottle tossed from the small, right-field bleacher.

Terzian’s head was cut. Postgame, he was in the officials locker room. There was a bandage around his noggin and it was swathed in blood.

Back then, reporters could knock on the door of the refs’ locker room and, if admitted, enter and ask a question. I’m not sure Sid knocked; I know that he did enter, not so much to ask a question but to state an opinion on the Pearson play.

Thereafter, the NFL created a system where a designated pool reporter might be permitted to ask a question, if the referee of the crew and the NFL’s on-site observer were of a mood to permit it.

What I’m saying here to Minnesota fans is Sid has been fighting for you through his remarkably long career, and I’m sure he is siding strongly with Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and her opinion that the defending champs were robbed on Thursday night at Target Center.

Yes, Cheryl did give it the traditional “I’m not taking anything away from [the winners],’’ as she complained vehemently about the LA Sparks’ bucket by Nneka Ogwumike that came at 1:14 and a fraction after the shot clock expired.

That not-to-take-anything-away disclaimer is always meaningless. Reeve’s real message to her team’s followers – and Minnesotans in general – was that her team deserved to be the winner.

Admittedly, I’ve done my share of pointing out flawed officiating and umpiring during 50 years of covering sports, but I’ve also come to understand this:

Teams pinning a loss on officiating usually had a chance to win said game and didn’t make the winning play.

The Lynx had that chance. They had a 76-75 lead in the final seconds. Ogwumike took a shot from the edge of the lane and was hacked.

There was no whistle. The no-call there – intentional or not – was the officials’ method of evening up things for Ogwumike’s jumper being counted at 1:14.

Ogwumike could have paused for a gesture of complaint to the nearest official. She didn’t. She determinedly got the ricochet and put it in for a game-winning field goal with 3.1 seconds remaining.

Get the loose ball -- get one of the numberous rebounds on the Lynx defensive board lost to the Sparks -- and the home team is the champ again.

“It’s unfortunate we’re having this discussion (about the officiating),’’ said Reeve, who was more responsible than anyone for making the officiating Topic A after what the league’s hardcore followers were telling us was the finest “Finals’’ in the 20-year history of the league.

Hey, at least none of the three officials got beaned with a whiskey bottle as they escaped the Target Center court, so our decorum in defeat has improved in the past four decades.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Gophers men's hockey at Clarkson

    6 pm on 1500-AM

  • St. Cloud State at Gophers women's hockey

    7:07 pm on BTN PLUS

  • Gophers football at Illinois

    11 am on BTN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers men's hockey at St. Lawrence

    6 pm on 1500-AM

  • New York at Minnesota United FC

    7 pm on Ch. 29

  • Dallas at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Sacramento

    9:30 pm on FSN/NBATV, 830-AM

  • Vikings at Chicago

    7:30 pm on ESPN, 100.3/1130

  • Memphis at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Buffalo at Wild

    7 pm on FSN PLUS, 100.3-FM

  • Denver at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Bemidji State at Gophers men's basketball

    7 pm on 1500-AM

  • MSU Mankato at Gophers women's hockey

    6:07 pm

  • North Dakota at Gophers men's hockey

    7 pm on FSN, 1500-AM

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