Reusse: Prep basketball, college football made 1960 wonderful

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2013 - 12:25 AM

Edgerton in basketball and the Gophers in football thrilled the state’s sports fans.

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Tiny Edgerton, led by a young coach named Richie Olson, made a Cinderella run to the State Tournament title and packed Williams Arena for all three of its games.

Photo: File photo courtesy of Dean Verdoes,

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We had another reminder last week that 1960 was the watershed year in the history of Minnesota sports. This came with the sad news that Richie Olson had died from injuries suffered in a fall at his lake place north of Virginia, Minn.

Olson had a long tenure as the basketball coach at Virginia, yet his name always has been attached to the Edgerton Dutchmen, the champions of the one-class boys’ basketball tournament in 1960.

The clarifications of one-class and boys were not necessary in 1960. It was the State Tournament. Period.

It wasn’t a better time; just simpler.

There were two days on that calendar that will live in the souls of Baby Boomer sports fans:

• On March 26, Edgerton with its 94 students in the top four grades, defeated Austin, a longtime basketball power, 72-61 to win the state title. There was a record crowd of 19,018 in Williams Arena.

• On Nov. 5, the football Gophers, rated No. 3, defeated No. 1 Iowa 27-10. There was a bulging crowd of 65,292 at Memorial Stadium. The Gophers moved to No. 1 and wound up there in the final ratings from AP and UPI (voting covered only the regular season).

This was a year when the best of our baseball came from the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints in the triple-A American Association, and when pro football fans in the Twin Cities watched the Green Bay Packers as their “home team’’ on Sunday afternoons.

The Minneapolis Lakers had announced officially they were moving to Los Angeles, after losing in the seventh game of the Western Conference finals to the St. Louis Hawks on March 26.

It can be claimed that this was a major league area starting in 1947 with the Lakers, but it would be false.

Tickets were tougher to get for the State Tournament in cavernous Williams Arena than for any of the Lakers’ five title runs (1949-50, 1952-54) in much smaller arenas. And the nine Saturdays on which the Gophers played a football game created more anxiety for more Minnesotans than all other sports events within our borders.

Edgerton put a Barn-busting 18,436 customers inside Williams when it defeated Chisholm 65-54 in the quarterfinals on Thursday night, and 18,812 when it defeated mighty Richfield 63-60 in overtime on Friday night, and then the 19-plus when it defeated Austin.

It couldn’t get any better on the Minnesota’s sports scene than that Saturday night, with Richie Olson’s high-pitched voice piercing through the din, and the lads named Veenhof, Kreun, Verdoes, Graphenteen and Wiarda bringing down the big boys.

And yet it did, 7½ months later, in the crispness of fall, when the great Tom Brown crashed into the Iowa center, forcing a bad exchange and a fumble — a crucial play that told us the Gophers’ toughness would be too much for the Hawkeyes’ talent to overcome.

March 26 and Nov. 5, 1960. I turned 15 that October and the events of those dates remain among the top few as a Minnesota sports follower.

And then the calendar turned, and our sports scene never again was simple. The Twins started play in April and Pete Ramos shut out the Yankees in the Bronx. The Vikings started for keeps in September and Fran Tarkenton came off the bench to lead a 34-13 rout of the Chicago Bears.

We were now big league … and today, as the Vikings open a season of hope, that’s true more than ever.

Anyone under the Social Security age of 62 could have noted the death of Richie Olson, and read a snippet of his Edgerton history, but there’s no way to have appreciated the full magnitude without living those three magical days of March 1960.

Anyone under that threshold could have heard of the Gophers’ upset of Iowa that fall and have checked the details, but there’s no way to appreciate it without having seen the manner in which Minnesotans greeted one another in the happy days that followed.

The Roman numerals IV, VIII, IX and XI insist that Minnesota has gone 0-for-4 in Super Bowls.

I dispute this. Gophers-Hawkeyes on Nov. 5, 1960, was the Super Bowl for Baby Boomers, and we won.

Minnesota might not have been big league in 1960, but Richie Olson’s Dutchmen and Murray Warmath’s Gophers had us living large.

 

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. • preusse@startribune.com

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