I won’t take credit for Barry Alvarez being hired as football coach at Wisconsin and turning the program around, after first going 1-10 in his first season after being hired by athletic director Pat Richter in 1990.
At the time that Alvarez was offered the job, I was in Miami covering the 1990 Orange Bowl between Colorado and Notre Dame. Alvarez at the time was Lou Holtz’s No. 1 assistant on the Notre Dame staff.
A group of us, including Alvarez and Holtz, were going out to dinner one night, and early in the afternoon I got a call from Holtz to come to his suite. When I got there, Alvarez was there and Holtz said, “Barry has just been offered the Wisconsin job. You’ve been around the Big Ten for a long time, what do you think of the Wisconsin job?”
Wisconsin had struggled for a long time, hiring a number of coaches and not being able to put a consistent winning program on the field. When Alvarez asked me about the position, I told him “You have to have a hole in your head to take that job.”
I called the Star Tribune office to find out the records of the previous coaches. They were 9-36 combined the previous four seasons under Jim Hilles (one year) and Don Morton, who had just been fired after three seasons.
Alvarez didn’t listen to me, of course. He made the right decision, even though he was 1-10 his first season, he then took the team to three Big Ten titles and three Rose Bowls before retiring after the 2005 season.
The Gophers and Badgers have played a lot of crucial football games over the years, just like this Saturday’s meeting where the winner will go to the Big Ten title game.
The teams met in 1962 when Murray Warmath had one of his best teams, and the Gophers were headed for the Rose Bowl – at least until they lost to Wisconsin 14-9 in Madison. There were two crucial 15-yard penalties on the Gophers in that game – one on Bobby Bell for roughing the passer, and the other on Warmath. The Badgers, ranked No. 3 at the time, went to the Rose Bowl ahead of the Gophers, who were ranked No. 5.
Bell was called for roughing Wisconsin quarterback Ron VanderKelen on a play late in the game, with the Gophers leading 9-7. Bell hit VanderKelen to cause a fumble, which the Gophers recovered in midair. The referees penalized Bell for some unexplainable reason, and Warmath protested the call and got another penalty, giving the Badgers the ball on the Gophers’ 13. The Badgers scored with two minutes left in the game for the victory.
Then you have probably the biggest upset by the Gophers in the series when they beat Wisconsin in Madison 17-14 in 1984, when Lou Holtz was coaching the Gophers. The Badgers that year had three first-round draft choices in wide receiver Al Toon, defensive end Daryl Sims and cornerback Richard Johnson, and a second rounder in lineman Scott Bergold. In all, they had 11 players who would be taken in the 1985 NFL Draft – and 14 others who would drafted over the next three years.
During a practice the week before the game, Holtz called me to the middle of the field and said, “I’m going to give you a little scoop, just between us. Minnesota is going to beat Wisconsin, and Doug Mueller, one of our defensive tackles, is going to make 12 or 13 tackles.”
Well, the Gophers went into Madison and beat that good Wisconsin team. Mueller, a freshman, made 12 tackles and was instrumental to that victory.
There is going to be strong competition for a soccer team in Minneapolis, and I believe the area will get a Major League Soccer franchise.
Two groups are in New York City today to try to persuade MLS that Minnesota should get a team. Las Vegas and Sacramento are also trying to be the 24th franchise in that growing league.
The Minnesota groups have different agendas. A group representing the Vikings would have the team play at their new stadium. A group representing Bill McGuire, who runs the Minnesota United; the Twins; and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is also making a pitch. Their group would likely have its team play at a smaller stadium that would be built down by Target Field.
The one negative about pro soccer coming to Minnesota is there already is a market of four professional teams where people buy season tickets for ones they prefer. The soccer boosters claim there will be a market for season tickets for their sport. The question will be if having five popular pro teams would cost one of them as far as season ticket sales goes.
If the team played in the new Vikings stadium, they would cover many of the seats to keep the attendance smaller than it would be at Vikings games. The MLS prefers to have its teams play at outdoor, soccer-only stadiums, however. So that brings up the question of whether building another pro stadium in this city would be feasible, an question McGuire's group must face.
The Vikings have been fairly open about their plans to bring in an MLS team. The other group has been fairly secretive. But I think both groups will have strong bids.
Yes, this is definitely a vibrant major-league sports area. It has been amazing to watch the popularity of all these sports grow over the years. In the 1950s, when the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers were the only team in town, who could have predicted that we’d get an NFL team and that the NFL would become as wildly popular as it has become? And who could have known that the love of hockey by people in this state would enable us to get successful NHL franchises? Or that the Twins would capture the imagination of the fans once they came here in 1961? It has really been amazing to see all this happen during my career.
Analyzing the Minnesota-Nebraska game coming up this Saturday, it’s tough to figure out how the two teams will react to what happened to them in their previous games.
Nebraska suffered one of the worst defeats in their history, 59-24 at Wisconsin on Saturday, something that was not expected. Earlier this season, Wisconsin was having quarterback problems. But they have found a quarterback in Joel Stave, although against Nebraska only threw for 46 yards.
Melvin Gordon ran for an NCAA-record 408 yards for the Badgers who, as usual, have a great ground game.
So the question is can Minnesota, which lost a one-touchdown margin game to Ohio State, bounce back against the Cornhuskers? And can David Cobb duplicate, to a point, the rushing totals of one Melvin Gordon against Wisconsin?
The Gophers have taken some awful beatings at Nebraska. But I think it will be hard for Nebraska to bounce back, and I think the Gophers, who performed so well against Ohio State, will play their best of the season.
Of course, it could be the opposite. Nebraska could take it out on the Gophers, because it is tough to win at Lincoln.
This was the second time that the Badgers have handed the Cornhuskers a big, lopsided loss in a big game. They beat them 70-31 in the Big Ten title game two years ago.
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