Halfback Bob McNamara (44) and coach Murray Warmath exulted during a victory ride after an exciting Gophers home victory over Iowa in November 1954. McNamara, who rushed for 113 yards and had a thrilling kickoff return for a touchdown, remains one of the program’s most passionate supporters.
There was a Twin Cities radio show in the 1980s that went by “Monday Night Sports Talk” that included a degree of irreverence. A popular item was the Sid Rules, which promoted the idea that if listeners followed a list of 15 rules they could write a reasonable version of a Sid Hartman column.
The most vital rule was this: The columns written in advance of an important event (mostly football games) should both “set up the loss and provide a ray of hope.’’
Mr. Hartman was young at his trade in 1954, but as I looked at the Minneapolis Tribune’s coverage in advance of the Nov. 13 showdown between the Gophers and Iowa, there were vivid examples of this rule.
One November morn, Sid told readers “Hawks Better Than ’53,” a melancholy statement in view of Iowa’s 27-0 thrashing of the Gophers and superstar Paul Giel in 1953 in Iowa City.
On the next, Sid informed that the returning Gophers had made this pledge after the drubbing in Iowa City: “Beat Iowa in ’54.”
Bob McNamara, who had succeeded the graduated Giel as the No. 1 back, told Sid: “We may get beat, but we’ll be ready.’’
Earlier this week, McNamara recalled that buildup to the long-ago Iowa game and said: “The people around here were really into it. We put over 65,000 into that old stadium.’’
I couldn’t resist telling McNamara: “It was my first Gophers game … a 9-year-old kid in the front row of the overflow standing in an end zone. I’ll never forget the kick return.’’
McNamara smirked a bit and said, “Me neither.’’
Game 6 vs. Atlanta in ’91 was the Kirby Puckett Game. If you’re a card-carrying Minnesota golden ager, Iowa in 1954 was the Bob McNamara game.
The Gophers’ first possession concluded with a 36-yard touchdown burst by McNamara. Iowa came back with a touchdown drive to make it 7-7.
The kickoff traveled to McNamara at the 11. He received some blocking to get near midfield. Then, he disappeared into a cluster of Hawkeyes, and somehow came out the other side, and went the distance — 89 yards.
Murray Warmath, Minnesota’s first-year coach, said it was the “greatest example of one man against 11’’ that he had seen in his football life.
“My brother Pink didn’t see it that way,’’ McNamara said this week. “He threw two blocks on the play. And through the years, Pink had himself throwing four blocks on that play.’’
The Gophers won that day 22-20, and McNamara played 60 minutes. He rushed for 113 yards from fullback or right halfback in Warmath’s split T formation. He was credited by the Tribune’s Dick Cullum for stout play at linebacker against Iowa’s swift backfield of Jerry Reichow, Earl Smith and Eddie Vincent.
Reichow headed the Vikings scouting department for years. McNamara ran the bar across the river in northeast Minneapolis that was a gathering place for sports people of his generation.
“Reichow and I are friends,’’ McNamara said. “He had one rule of friendship: ‘I don’t want to talk about that [darned] game.’ ”
Almost six decades after that game, darned to Hawkeyes, unforgettable to Gophers, there remains no one more devoted to the maroon and gold than Bob McNamara.
He is 82 now, and has gone through chemotherapy for cancer “in the lower region’’ (Bob’s description), and he’s moving slower … but still moving in support of the Gophers and football.
He has started a “Locker Legacy’’ fund — making daily calls in a push to get 100 former Gophers to donate $2,500 to sponsor the locker with their number on it in the Gibson-Nagurski Building.
“We’re trying to raise $250,000 that Jerry Kill can use for whatever need he sees,’’ McNamara said. “We kept the number low, $2,500, so it’s affordable for most of our guys.’’
McNamara’s brother Pinky died in 2011. He was extra successful in business and a huge donor to the Gophers.
“Pink told me in 1998 he was going to give ‘some money’ to the university,’’ McNamara said. “I was driving in the car, listening to ’CCO [of course], and they announced ‘Former football player Richard McNamara has donated $10 million to the University of Minnesota.’ I almost drove off the road.’’
McNamara will be at the on-campus stadium Saturday for another important game vs. the Hawkeyes.
“I haven’t missed a home game in, I don’t know, 30 years,’’ he said. “This should be a good one. I like our chances.’’
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. email@example.com
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