My first job as a sports writer was as a 20-year-old at the Duluth News Tribune in 1966, where I remained for four months before going to work for my friend Mike Augustin at the St. Cloud Times.
That’s where I got to know some of the sports writers from what were termed the small-town dailies throughout Minnesota. For the most part, they were afternoon newspapers, and we usually had them in our possession the next morning in the Times newsroom.
The emphasis there would be on “room,’’ because that is where the Times reporting staff was located … in one room.
There were some great characters (Augie among them) at these afternoon dailies. My hat trick in that category would be Cliff Morlan at the Bemidji Pioneer, Jim Wallace at the Brainerd Dispatch and Morgan Brandrup at the Mankato Free Press.
Cliff was also a barber and had what could be termed a folksy style of prose. My favorite item was when he was complaining about improper signage while trying to get to an event in rural Bemidji, and wound up getting stuck in “Moberg’s swamp.’’
There was also the time that a Cliff family member needed the car on a weekend, and his column included the note, “Have two tickets to Sunday’s Vikings game and am looking for ride down.’’
A Morlan anecdote also made a Jim Klobuchar book on the early days of the Vikings. Norm Van Brocklin was the coach from 1961 through 1966, and through those first six seasons, the Vikings trained in Bemidji.
The Dutchman developed a fondness for Morlan. He was allowed a prime location when the coach held his postgame press session in a small office at Met Stadium.
The Vikings had taken a narrow defeat on this Sunday and Van Brocklin was suffering. In an attempt to make the Dutchman feel better, Morlan told him of a heartbreaking defeat that Bemidji had suffered against rival Brainerd only a couple of nights earlier.
“Oh, for (bleep) sakes, Cliffy, this is the NFL,’’ the Dutchman said, or something along those lines.
Wallace was more of a grumpy fellow. I remember him being bitter in the late ‘60s when the junior college basketball team from Willmar had fully integrated, and came to town and put a whuppin’ on the non-diverse Brainerd JUCOs.
There was also the legend of a crucial game between Crosby-Ironton and Brainerd, when both schools were basketball powerhouses. C-I had ended Brainerd’s tournament hopes with a blowout victory ... 30, 40 points.
Jim’s lead the next afternoon concerned the opening tip, which Brainerd had won and immediately scored. The referees then noticed the clock had not started. They wiped out the basket and re-did the opening tip.
According to Wallace’s game story, Brainerd lost much momentum with that nullified basket, and it was an important reason for the C-I blowout that followed.
Then there was Brandrup in Mankato – also known as the “Golden Palomino’’ in state sports writing circles. Starting in 1967, the Vikings moved to Mankato, and all we media visitors would rub elbows with him.
This was particularly true at lunch or dinner, which were open to the media after the Vikings had finished filling their trays. The photographer at the Free Press was Bill Altnow, an affable fellow of such ample size that he was known as “The Group.''.
By many accounts, The Group and the Palomino had close to perfect attendance at the Gage Hall dining room during the Vikings’ stay.
We are losing a sports writer and editor of long standing here at the Star Tribune on Oct. 31 with the retirement of Dennis Brackin. He’s the only guy left I know who worked with any of the Big Three: Morlan, Wallace or Brandrup.
Brackin was hired at the Minneapolis Star in 1980 as a reporter for the community sections and then moved to sports with the merged Star Tribune. Prior to that, he worked with Brandrup in Mankato.
“I covered Gustavus football and Morgan did Mankato State,’’ Brackin said Friday. “I came back to the office one Saturday to write a Gusties gamer and Morgan was finishing his story.
“The problem was Mankato was playing at Moorhead. I asked Morgan what he was going to do about quotes. He said he had an agreement with the coach that he could invent a few quotes, as long as he called when the coach got back to Mankato and read them to him.’’
Brackin shared an office with the Palomino in the 1970s, when cigarette smokers were not discriminated against.
“Morgan was never without a cigarette,’’ Brackin said. “It was a tiny office and so full of smoke that I could barely see him a few feet away.’’
Brackin covered a variety of beats at the Star Tribune before becoming an assistant sports editor. He had Clem Haskins for a while, and that was a hilarious relationship.
Dennis and Clem were at constant war over Haskins' modest winning percentage in road games – the greatest battle of which was Clem’s insistence that three NIT victories split between Target Center and Met Center should be celebrated as road wins for the Gophers.
There was good humor in the Clem-Brackin brouhahas. "Dennis!'' was a familiar sound of alarm from Clem in his media sessions.
The humor portion was missing when Brackin was assigned to cover Twins games at the start of Tom Kelly's tenure as manager.
This was 1987, when the Twins were dominating at the Metrodome and losing on the road – a trend that remained all the way through a World Series championship.
I was covering a road trip for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Dennis had the duty for the Star Tribune. He always liked to get a topic in the notebook. This time, he had talked to Harvey Misel, our celebrity hypnotist in the Twin Cities, about the possibility of putting the Twins into a mass trance to get over their fear of the road.
Nobody was less likely to play along with a goofy angle than Kelly.
This was the first of three games in late June in Milwaukee. I begged Brackin not to bring up the hypnotist, knowing it would put the manager in a bad mood for the whole 72 hours.
Dennis could not be deterred. He asked Kelly about the possibility of using a hypnotist.
And I was correct with the prediction about T.K.’s mood for the rest of the series