(Note: Certain obligations are placed on a sportswriter when he becomes the senior scribe in the Twin Cities.)
Michigan fans went crazy when the school was able to bring back former Wolverines quarterback Jim Harbaugh as coach for the 2015 season, after he took the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl and Stanford to an Orange Bowl victory.
This was the biggest buildup for a new Michigan coach since Fritz Crisler was hired away from Princeton in 1938. Crisler had coached the Gophers for two seasons in 1930-31, but his contract included an out clause for one school — Princeton.
“We used to go in and out of our grade school to the Princeton Tiger March … I just couldn’t say no,” Crisler said, as he left Minnesota.
Harbaugh takes a solid record of 47-18 into Saturday night’s season-opening game against the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. However, they are unhappy in Ann Arbor because he’s 0-5 against Ohio State.
The rumors will fly that P.J. Fleck, with the connection from his big success at Western Michigan, and the unbelievable work that he’s done with the Gophers, will be the top candidate if Harbaugh loses to Ohio State again and gets tired of the criticism.
There’s no doubt there are advantages at Michigan, where it’s easier to get athletes in school and keep them eligible, but rest assured … Fleck is very happy here.
One thing that could be done to keep him would be a 25,000-seat expansion of TCF Bank Stadium. My sources in the Gophers ticket office tell me that excitement for this game was at a point that 100,000 tickets could have been sold, if the stadium didn’t hold half of that, and fans weren’t restricted from attending by the virus.
Bo changed ‘Jug’ series
The Gophers and Michigan played annually for the Little Brown Jug trophy until 2009. The schedule now bounces around, with the Gophers and Michigan in different divisions, but it once was a well-contested series before the Wolverines hired Bo Schembechler — a relative unknown — in 1969.
Starting a year earlier Michigan has won 40 of the past 44 vs. the Gophers, and Schembechler was 19-2. The Gophers’ first victory against Schembechler came in 1977, when the Wolverines came to Memorial Stadium rated No. 1 in the country and Cal Stoll’s Gophers shut them out 16-0.
The crowd on that October afternoon was only 44,165, so anyone who thinks it was a bad idea when the Gophers moved to the Metrodome in 1982 is as crazy now as that rabble-rouser Joe Soucheray was when writing all those anti-Dome columns.
Longtime coach Butch Nash made an inspirational speech before that game, and the Gophers defense responded with a big effort. One unforgettable play was defensive lineman Steve Midboe staying on the heels of Michigan quarterback Rick Leach as he retreated, dodging left and right, before he collapsed for a huge loss.
“Midboe would’a chased Leach all the way to Stub and Herb’s,” said Stoll, who probably shouldn’t have been fired after the next season because he was a good recruiter and could have taken the Gophers to a Rose Bowl if a great running back and great young man named Larry Powell from Ypsilanti, Mich., did not get sick with a disease called French polio.
There’s no doubt Fleck and the coaches will have the Gophers fired up Saturday, and with an effort like in 1977, the conversation about a Big Ten championship will get louder.
Not all Cousins’ fault
The Vikings trailed Atlanta 20-0 after the first half Sunday and the media and lots of fans were blaming everything on quarterback Kirk Cousins for throwing three interceptions in that time.
Cousins is not the Vikings’ big problem. He doesn’t have Stefon Diggs anymore. Some young receivers have been running less-than-perfect routes. Too often he’s facing pressure.
Yes, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that he only gets to pass against the Vikings defense in practice, not in games.
Minnesota legend dies
Sid Hartman passed away Sunday. Sid was 100 years old and 76 of those were as a Minneapolis sportswriter. I knew him for 57 years, and it’s very satisfying to have made such major contributions to his career.
He wouldn’t have had an autobiography if not for me, since I did all the interviews and got all those famous people to make endorsements … and, yeah, I wrote the dang thing in 1996.
Even more importantly, I remember in my third year as a Minneapolis Tribune copy boy in 1965, I noticed Sid had been looking down and took the initiative to walk into his office and say:
“Mr. Hartman, I’ve always felt that writers are a dime a dozen, but reporters are tough to find, and you, sir, are a reporter.”
And Sid looked at me and said: “Thank you, young man. I’ve never heard that before. I’m going to take that to heart.”
And that he did.
• The Twins had a good season, winning their division, but with a disappointing total attendance of zero. The Pohlad ownership is still paying the price among fans from Calvin Griffith firing Billy Martin as manager after the 1969 season.
• Coach Ryan Saunders is 100% certain the Timberwolves are much improved from two weeks of NBA-sanctioned team workouts. Saunders said the intensity of the younger players really picked up after star center Karl-Anthony Towns and his girlfriend checked in with Instagram posts from Cabo.