Hartman: Taylor's death brings back memories of riot

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2012 - 10:12 PM

The death of Corky Taylor brought back memories of that riot, which brought fans onto the court and into the fight.

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Corky Taylor of Minnesota is pulled away by an Ohio State player after Taylor kneed Luke Witte of Ohio State (on floor) with 36 seconds left in Ohio State's 50 - 44 basketball victory over Minnesota at Williams Arena. Jan. 25, 1972

Photo: Charles Bjorgen, Startribune

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The NHL All-Star Game was held at old Met Sports Center on January 25, 1972, but I chose to attend the Gophers-Ohio State basketball game instead.

While I didn't expect the riot that ensued when the Gophers' Corky Taylor kneed the Buckeyes' Luke Witte in the groin near the end of the game, I had talked to then-Indiana coach Bob Knight a couple of days before the game. His old coach at Ohio State, Fred Taylor, hated then-Gophers coach Bill Musselman.

The death of Corky Taylor on Wednesday brought back memories of that riot, which brought fans onto the court and into the fight. Despite two Gophers starters -- Taylor and Ron Behagen -- being suspended for their involvement, the Gophers still won the Big Ten title.

Musselman had been basketball coach at Ashland College in Ohio before being named Gophers coach before the 1971-72 season after Cal Luther first accepted the job, then reconsidered the next day.

Fred Taylor and Musselman were bitter enemies while Musselman was at Ashland and Taylor at Ohio State. Taylor said he had evidence of Musselman cheating and they clashed over a couple of players both were recruiting.

Future baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, who was asked by Musselman to try out for the Gophers after dominating intramural league basketball games, got in some good swings right in front of me in press row, but he was not suspended.

Musselman had aroused the ire of all the Big Ten coaches when he signed Behagen after all the coaches agreed not to recruit him because he had an agent out of Southern Idaho Junior College. Musselman also had financial help in recruiting Clyde Turner and Bob Nix, two other junior college players.

Jim Brewer, who was the subject of an NCAA investigation, Taylor and Keith Young were already at Minnesota when Musselman arrived.

Riot started

The riot started with Ohio State leading 50-44. Witte, who had been pushing people around the entire game, was driving in for an easy layup and got clobbered by Turner. A flagrant foul was called, as I remember, and Turner was ejected. The next thing we knew, Taylor kneed Witte after Taylor first extended his hand to help him up, then Behagen stomped on Witte's head. Then Buckeyes guard David Merchant and Brewer were going after each other.

The game was called with 36 seconds to play because the Williams Arena floor was full of fans.

Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke was at the game, but before he could take any action, Gophers athletic director Paul Giel suspended Corky Taylor and Behagen.

Fred Taylor and Musselman never talked for a long time after the riot, and it was years later until I brought Knight and Musselman together.

It was customary for Knight and me to sit on some steps going down from the court to the locker room and talk before games.

"How is that jerk coach of yours?" Knight once asked. I remember saying to him that they had been enemies long enough and it was time for them to get together.

"Go get him," Knight said. I went and got Musselman and they shook hands. The two of them ended up being friends the rest of the time their teams faced each other.

Lefties still a puzzle

Justin Morneau, who is hitting a mere .096 against lefthanded pitchers this season, never has hit this low against southpaws. He has a career average of .250 against them, and in his best years, he hit over .300 against lefties twice -- .315 in 2006 and .325 in 2010.

The Twins first baseman, who was the American League MVP in 2006 and finished second in voting in 2008, hit .201 vs. lefthanders in 2005, .228 in 2007, .284 in 2008, .277 in 2009 and in 2011, when he batted only 90 times against lefthanders, hit .144.

He has been somewhat more consistent against righthanders, with a career .294 batting average. In 2005 he hit .256, .325 in 2006, .294 in 2007, .310 in 2008, .272 in 2009, .358 in 2010 and .270 last season.

Given his lack of success against lefties this year, it's somewhat baffling that he's hitting .298 against righties this season. That means that while he's at a career low against lefties, he's actually posting his third-highest career average against righthanders.

Morneau is aware of the problem, having said recently that he is "searching for solutions right now. It's something that I kind of know what I'm doing. I'm just having trouble correcting it."

Jottings

• The Gophers football team has four commitments for the 2013 season, according to rivals.com. They are Tartan defensive back Keelon Brookins; Alex Mayes, a offensive lineman from Van Alstyne, Texas; Owen Salzwedel, a defensive end from Beaver Dam, Wis.; and Chris Streveler, a quarterback from Marian Central Catholic in Woostock, Ill.

• Since the NBA draft went to a two-round format, two Gophers have been selected only once, in 1997. Guard Bobby Jackson went 23rd overall to the Seattle SuperSonics and center John Thomas went 25th to the New York Knicks. But in looking toward 2013, nbadraft.net has two Gophers being taken by pro squads. Forward Trevor Mbakwe is projected as going to the Sixers with the 15th selection, while swingman Rodney Williams is slated at 40th overall, going to the Wolves.

• Nemanja Bjelica and Henk Norel, the Timberwolves' two European draft picks who are in the Twin Cities this week working out for the club, recently finished their seasons in Liga ACB in Spain, the same league Ricky Rubio was in before coming over. Bjelica, playing with Caja Laboral, averaged 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.3 minutes per game. He shot 51.4 percent from the field and 70 percent from the free-throw line. Norel, playing with FIATC Joventut, averaged 6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game.

• Tanner Vavra, the son of Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra, is fourth in batting average in the Northwoods League, hitting .397 through 19 games with the Alexandria Beetles. Tanner has been blind in his right eye since 2000 after suffering a detached retina, but he continues to play at a high level. Vavra also posted a .332 average at Valparaiso this year with 52 runs scored and 20 RBI. He posted the 11th-highest batting average in school history in 2011, when he hit .421.

• Mo Walker, who missed most of the past two basketball seasons with the Gophers because of knee and ankle injuries, saw his first action in the Howard Pulley League on June 25. He tweaked his ankle again in the game, but indicated he would be ready to play for the Gophers this season.

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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