Pinky McNamara started his football career at what was then known as the Stout Institute in Wisconsin. He transferred to Minnesota without getting a scholarship and wound up not only being great on the gridiron but also for likely giving more money to his alma mater than any other athlete in the history of the university.

McNamara, who was stricken with Alzheimer's disease seven years ago, died Monday at age 78 after having a very rough time.

"He was in a facility and they give him, I think, morphine to keep the pain down, and they just kind of fade away," said his brother, Bob McNamara. "It's kind of a sad deal."

Pinky was a sophomore left halfback on coach Murray Warmath's first Gophers team in 1954 with his brother, a senior, at fullback. The McNamaras played together on a team that went 7-2 that year.

In 1954, Pinky caught a team-high 12 passes for 117 yards. The following year, he led the Gophers with 498 all-purpose yards, including 185 rushing, 102 receiving and 166 in punt returns.

And once he graduated, he applied the lessons he learned in school and became a multimillionaire. He had the ability to take businesses that were floundering and turn them around. And he showed his appreciation to the university by donating millions.

In 1992, he was responsible for the construction of the College of Liberal Arts' advising center by donating $3 million to the project.

In 1998, he gave $10 million that was divided among the among the CLA, the Gophers men's athletic department and the alumni center that bears his name. The donation ranks as the largest gifts ever given to the university. More recently, he made a big contribution to the building of TCF Bank Stadium.

In 1997, he received the school's prestigious Outstanding Achievement Award. He was a trustee for the University of Minnesota foundation and also was a member of the Board of Regents.

Outside of the university, he gave $1 million to his Hastings church and contributed to numerous other things in his hometown, where his mother raised six children without a father.

"You know what? Pinky and I, both coming from Hastings, Pinky thought -- and I think he was right -- that because of that education, that he had a chance to be successful, and he thought that the reason that happened was because of the university, and he was more than willing to give back to the programs," Bob said. "That was his idea, and he thought that was the least he could do was give back to the program. He set an example, but not many guys have done that."

Yes, if you didn't love and respect Pinky, there was something wrong with you. He was something special, and he was always the life of the party.

Was nervous

Carl Platou, an inductee into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2009, is, like Pinky, a great giver and one of the outstanding leaders in the community. Platou told the story of how Pinky reacted nervously when he spoke at the announcement of his $10 million contribution to the university in '98.

"He said the situation was similar to once when he was running back kickoffs and something was running down his leg," Platou said.

That was like Pinky. He wasn't used to making speeches or taking any credit for anything. He just loved the University of Minnesota and felt he owed the school a lot more than it owed him.

Jottings

• The agent for Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith and the University of Minnesota attorneys are still in the negotiation stage of a two-year extension. Smith has a $2 million buyout if he left under his current contract, which has three years to go. But the new contract isn't likely to have a buyout if Smith decides to leave. ... Gophers football coach Jerry Kill still hasn't signed his contract, and baseball coach John Anderson is working on a contract that rolls over year after year. And the two-year extension for men's hockey coach Don Lucia is still being negotiated.

• Gophers associate athletic director Jason LaFrenz reported that 90 percent of football season-ticket holders have renewed. ... The Gophers athletic department will spend a total of $1.6 million this year on various facilities, and the school will pay for a $400,000 repair of the Williams Arena roof.

• Good news for the Gophers men's basketball team and Smith in that every player passed on his spring semester grades. ... Look for the Gophers' schedule to include a home-and-home opponent from the Pacific-12 Conference that begins this season. ... Blake Hoffarber, who hopes to play in Europe this season, worked out for the Timberwolves along with former Gophers teammate Paul Carter. Hoffarber plans to head to Las Vegas for workouts this summer. ... Dominique Dawson, a Gophers walk-on the past two years, left because he was given a full ride by Division II Kentucky Wesleyan.

• Jon Leuer, the former Orono High School standout who had a great career at Wisconsin, was as impressive as any draft prospect who worked out this week for NBA coaches and scouts at Target Center. ... Jordan Smith, the leading scorer in Orono basketball history, who sparked the Spartans and coach Barry Wohler to the Class 3A title, is going to walk on at Wisconsin. "[Smith] is excited to continue the lineage of successful Minnesota residents at Wisconsin," Badgers coach Bo Ryan told madison.com.

• Former Gophers defenseman Keith Ballard has played in only nine of 18 playoffs games with no points for the Vancouver Canucks, who advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals on Tuesday. ... Ryan Potulny leads the American Hockey League in playoff scoring with 14 goals and 11 assists in 17 games for the Binghamton Senators, who face the Wild's top farm club, the Houston Aeros, in the Calder Cup finals. Fellow former Gophers forward Jim O'Brien has two goals and three assists for Binghamton this postseason.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com