The first Gophers football game I attended was in November 1954, a month after turning 9. Bob McNamara was the hero of the Gophers' 22-20 victory over Iowa.

That gives me six decades as a Gophers observer, and the greatest player in that time was Bobby Lee Bell of Shelby, N.C. Bell was a star tackle on back-to-back Rose Bowl teams (seasons of 1960 and 1961).

The coverage of Bell's graduation last week from the university — 52 years after he left for his Hall of Fame career with the Kansas City Chiefs — got me thinking:

How great were the '60s for big-time athletes around here?

Tom Brown was the Outland Trophy winner as the nation's outstanding lineman in 1960. Bell was the winner in 1962. Carl Eller was the runner-up in Outland voting to Texas' Scott Appleton in 1963.

There was Sandy Stephens as the pioneering quarterback, and the great two-way back Bill Munsey, and later in the decade, Aaron Brown as a tremendous end and Jim Carter as a Gophers all-timer at fullback.

The last gasps of segregated schools in the South also enabled the Gophers to bring in Lou Hudson (1963-66) from North Carolina as the school's greatest basketball player ever. And his running mate, Archie Clark, belongs on any Gophers' top 10.

The Twins arrived in 1961 and four of the top five players in franchise history played at Met Stadium in that first decade: Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew and Jim Kaat. Only Kirby Puckett was missing in the '60s.

The Vikings also date to 1961, and 1967 changed the franchise — when GM Jim Finks was able to draft defensive tackle Alan Page. He became the greatest player in Purple history.

The North Stars arrived with NHL expansion in 1967, and Bill Goldsworthy could be the right wing on the top line on the state's all-time team (Stars and Wild).

We even had greatness in pro basketball for a fleeting moment in 1960: Elgin Baylor averaged 29.6 points and 16.4 rebounds in his second season in Minneapolis, then moved with the Lakers and made his legend in Los Angeles.

Plus Three from Patrick

The Gophers and Clemson will play in Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Memorable past moments:

March 20, 1997: Gophers win 90-84 in two OTs. Bobby Jackson's 36-point effort brought the Gophers from behind and to the Midwest Regional final.

Nov. 29, 2006: Gophers lose 90-68 to Clemson at home. That dropped them to 2-5 and coach Dan Monson was forced to resign the next day.

Dec. 28, 1974: Gophers win 66-52 in Pillsbury Classic final. MVP was Mark Olberding; both coaches, Bill Musselman and Tates Locke, soon were gone due to NCAA investigations.