It certainly helped the Gophers football team in a 40-17 victory at Illinois on Saturday that the visitors turned three Illini turnovers into two touchdowns and a field goal. However, any time you rush for 171 yards and hold the opposition to 89, you have a good chance to win.
The Gophers might have been a nine-point favorite in this game, but there was still plenty of doubt, given their 34-32 home victory a week earlier over Rutgers, a team Illinois beat 24-7. The Gophers also have had their troubles in Champaign over the years, although they have now won there in four of their past five visits to improve their all-time record at Illinois to 16-17-1.
This same Gophers team was fortunate to beat Oregon State 30-23 — a team that ranks as one of the worst in the Pacific-12 — and mediocre Colorado State, with both those games at home. However, this is now the Gophers’ second consecutive impressive road game, after they beat Maryland 31-10. And in their first road game, the Gophers should have beaten Penn State but lost in overtime.
The Gophers have clinched a bowl bid for the fifth year in a row, although this fact didn’t particularly excite coach Tracy Claeys, whose team should dominate Purdue — a 62-24 loser at home to Penn State on Saturday — next week before proving how good it is over its three final games, against very good teams in Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
“It’s a win on the road and that is hard to do,” Claeys told the Big Ten Network after the game. “Defensively we are playing well and offensively we are scoring points off turnovers, and that is giving us a chance.”
But Claeys added, “We haven’t put together a complete game on offense yet.” And that is something the Gophers will have to do over that last stretch.
Halas helped Vikings
The fact that the Vikings visit Chicago on Monday reminded me of how big a role Bears founder George Halas had in getting an NFL franchise for Minnesota.
A close friend locally had an insurance business in Chicago and introduced me to famous Bears quarterback Sid Luckman, and through Luckman I got a chance to spend time with Halas and Luckman on several occasions.
This story is how big a part Halas played in convincing the Vikings to leave the American Football League after they had accepted a franchise in that league in August 1959. At the time, the ownership group had gone so far as to have a big celebration at the old Nicollet Hotel.
But by January 1960 the Vikings departed from the AFL, choosing the NFL instead. Their decision resulted in the creation of the Oakland Raiders.
My involvement was this: While the Vikings had the AFL franchise, Max Winter — who pushed to move to the NFL and was later president of the Vikings — needed a connection with Halas to keep in contact about switching to the more established league.
Winter knew that if AFL owners discovered he had negotiated personally with Halas or anybody with the NFL, they could be facing a big lawsuit. So the Vikings owners appointed me as the contact, because I knew Halas.
I can’t even recall how many messages I passed on from the Vikings owners to Halas regarding where they stood and how the vote was going among the five Vikings owners to leave the AFL and join the NFL, if and when a franchise was offered.
Big meeting held
During the period in 1959 that the Vikings had the AFL franchise, there was a big meeting held at the offices of H.P. Skoglund to decide whether to leave the AFL if there was a reasonable chance of getting in the NFL.
I was included in the meeting, which was held with the five owners: Skoglund, Winter, Bill Boyer, Bernie Ridder and Ole Haugsrud. It lasted from 8 p.m. one night until 3 a.m. the next morning. It was tough getting a unanimous vote. Ridder and Boyer were very firm on not taking a chance of leaving the AFL. Also present was attorney Sheldon Kaplan, who played as big a part as anybody in getting the partners to switch franchises.
Finally at 3 a.m., I was told to call Halas the next morning and see if he could say whether the Vikings would get an NFL team for sure if they left the AFL. Halas couldn’t give me a definite yes, but he said he would talk to the commissioner — eventually Pete Rozelle, who started on the job in January 1960 — when the vote was taken.
Halas was convincing enough that he told me to tell Winter that he should attend the next league meeting, talk to some owners on the QT and make up his own mind.
Sure enough, on Jan. 28, 1960, in Miami, the NFL awarded franchises to the Dallas Cowboys for 1960 and to the Vikings for 1961. While the franchises are now worth billions of dollars, they were sold for $600,000, with $60,000 down and the rest paid out over a number of years.
The AFL did sue the NFL in federal court. Halas was called to the stand, and he told me my involvement was brought up. But the NFL was eventually cleared.
Whenever I would see Halas in Chicago, he would always bring up the fact that I almost got him thrown into jail.
• While the Vikings were handed their first loss of the season by the Eagles last week, and coach Mike Zimmer has been very critical of the team, three players had good days: cornerback Xavier Rhodes was responsible for two of Philadelphia’s four turnovers; wide receiver and kickoff man Cordarrelle Peterson hauled in seven passes for 67 yards and downed a Jeff Locke punt on the Eagles 2-yard line; and Locke kicked two of his four punts inside the Eagles 20-yards line.
• Las Vegas oddsmakers had the Patriots at 3-1 last week to make the Super Bowl, and they are 11-4 this week. The Vikings were 7-1 last week to make the big game, and after the loss at Philadelphia they dropped only to 9-1. The Packers were 12-1 last week and improved slightly to 11-1. The Vikings were 4-9 favorites to win the NFC North before dropping to 2-3 after the loss to the Eagles.
• The announced attendance for the first five Gophers football games at TCF Bank Stadium last year went: TCU 54,147, Kent State 52,823, Ohio 53,917, Nebraska 54,062 and Michigan 50,709. The announced attendance for this year’s first five games went: Oregon State 44,582, Indiana State 41,026, Colorado State 44,584, Iowa 49,145 and Rutgers 46,096. True, the schedule was more attractive last year, with TCU a top opponent and Nebraska and Michigan also coming to the Twin Cities. One other fact is that with the Vikings no longer using the stadium, the temporary bleachers were removed, and the total number of seats there is now 50,805 instead of the 52,525 last season.
• East Carolina is 3-5 after beating UConn 41-3 at home on Saturday. Former Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson continues to have a very good season for the Pirates. He has thrown for 2,377 yards, completing 68.5 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He entered Saturday ranking 16th in the nation in passing yards.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org