Dick Mattson loved Zubaz pants, Captain Black tobacco in his pipe and Gophers sports teams. Not necessarily in that order.
As Gophers equipment manager for nearly five decades, the man known as Matty became a beloved character who provided colleagues a vault of tales, some too colorful for print.
Mattson died last week at age 73 and one of his last requests was that nobody wears formal attire to his funeral on Wednesday. And so his friend delivering the eulogy plans to wear shorts. A pallbearer is wearing Zubaz.
“He would be very disappointed if people wore a shirt and tie,” said former co-worker Todd Stroessner, who will handle the eulogy.
Mattson was a legend inside the Bierman athletic complex, serving as equipment manager for 48 years, including 32 seasons with the football program. His title didn’t come close to capturing the many roles he held. He was a father figure, counselor, motivator, boss and above all else, a cheerleader for athletics.
“He was the ultimate Gopher,” said John Blackshear, one of many former student managers.
Ultimate character, too. Everyone who knew him has a story.
“If you knew Matty,” former co-worker Harry Broadfoot said, “life wasn’t going to be boring.”
A few recalled Mattson’s unique way of fitting freshmen with their shoulder pads. He would put them on the kid, adjust if needed, and then take a baseball bat and give the pads a hard whack. Did that feel OK, he’d ask.
“That was Matts’ way,” Broadfoot said, laughing.
Mattson wore oversized glasses that were roughly the size of “dinner plates,” said Tris Wykes, former student manager.
He always smoked his pipe and “his feet pointed outward at 45-degree angles,” Wykes said.
Mattson’s fashion in the late 1980s consisted of wearing Zubaz seven days a week. He owned every style, color and pattern imaginable. His equipment staff wore them on road trips, which drew stares when they walked into a Waffle House at midnight after setting up the visiting locker room.
One year, they stopped at a convenience store in rural Indiana late at night. His staff outfitted in funky Zubaz jumped out of the equipment truck.
“The [worker] thought he was being held up by a circus car full of clowns,” Wykes said.
Mattson was meticulous in his preparation and legendary for his overpacking. Each week, he had a three-page single-spaced checklist.
“You had to be prepared for the Apocalypse to happen,” Wykes said.
Once, he feared his equipment truck wouldn’t get to Colorado by his usual Friday deadline. Mattson pounded his desk with an epiphany. He would rent a cargo plane! His stunned assistant shrieked about the cost.
“We’ll worry about that down the road,” Mattson said.
Alas, they found a way to have the truck leave earlier.
In 1981, Mattson ended up in a celebratory pile of players on the field after a touchdown in an upset of Ohio State.
Two years later, he brought a red plastic baseball bat to the fire up the home crowd against Nebraska. He waved the bat furiously after the Gophers stopped the Cornhuskers’ powerful offense on the opening drive. The Huskers proceeded to score 21 points in each quarter in an 84-13 trouncing.
“In the third quarter he looked at me and said, ‘It’s all yours. I’m out of here,’ ” Blackshear said. “He went to the locker room.”
Mattson never abandoned the athletes, though, the ones he constantly referred to as “my kids.” He regularly worked 18-hour shifts so that uniforms were clean and equipment ready for the next day.
He wedged open his equipment room door so athletes could come in and relax or grab a soda from his refrigerator. He pulled homesick players aside for quiet pep talks. He barked at youngsters for not hustling or for leaving laundry on the floor. Then he would wink at them and smile.
He insisted that his student managers work hard, have fun and earn their degrees.
Stroessner learned under Mattson as a student and then replaced him as the main football manager years later.
“I was the guy that followed the legend,” Stroessner said. “The guy you don’t want to be.”
Those were big shoes to fill.
“And they were at impossible angles,” Stroessner joked.
He plans to use that line in his eulogy. Matty would get a chuckle out of that one.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org