Duane Blaska, a member of the only two Gophers football teams to play in the Rose Bowl, died Monday from complications of cancer. Blaska, from Anoka, was 79.
After backing up Sandy Stephens on the 1960 and '61 teams that advanced to the Rose Bowl, Blaska became the starting quarterback for the Gophers in 1962. A loss to Wisconsin in the 1962 season finale prevented the Gophers from a third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl.
Before the 1962 season, coach Murray Warmath told the Minneapolis Tribune that one of the keys to the Gophers' success was how Blaska developed at quarterback.
Following the season, Warmath told the Tribune's Sid Hartman, "Blaska did a terrific job and was the most improved player among our seniors."
Blaska was a three-sport star at Anoka High School, earning 10 letters in baseball, basketball and football. As a senior in 1958, Blaska was named to the Tribune's All-State football team. Academically, he was a National Honor Society Member and the student body president. He is a member of the Anoka High School Hall Fame.
After graduating from Minnesota in 1963 with a degree in business, Blaska worked for McKesson, a pharmaceutical company, for 35 years. He was a salesman for 10 years before moving into management.
"He had very fond memories of playing for the Gophers and he loved playing for Coach Warmath," said his wife, Joan. "He said he was tough but fair. He kept an active interest in Gopher football. He had season tickets and he and his former teammates would go to functions."
Joan Blaska said that besides football, Duane's "next love was hunting and fishing. And he was proud of awards he won for his work with the Anoka Lions organization."
The couple started dating in high school and in addition to his wife, Blaska is survived by sons Steve and Mike. Another son, David, died in 2008.