The Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame was revived by the Star Tribune in 2018 after 12 years of dormancy, and Sid Hartman was the lone inductee. There were another half-dozen Minnesota legends inducted Wednesday night at the Minnesota Sports Awards presented by Sports Minneapolis, joining Sid and the 70-some inductees who preceded him in periodic induction classes from 1958 to 2006.
There was a quality beyond the norm to be found in all of this year’s half-dozen, a personality trait, a competitive gene, a motivating factor, something more than talent or training, that drove these five men and one irrepressible woman to their greatness.
At least, these are the driving forces I detected in covering these Hall of Famers in various degrees through the decades.
‘Agony of defeat’
John Gagliardi, St. John’s football coach for 60 years.
Gagliardi’s 489 wins are the most in college football history, and his record at St. John’s was 465-132-10. The number that made his stomach churn and his head pound was 132. He suffered defeat more seldom than most any coach, and suffered it more severely than any coach of my acquaintance.
Tom Linnemann was his starting quarterback for 30 games, 27 of those victories, and says: “For John, winning was a relief, not a cause for celebration.”
A snapshot that remains is Gagliardi sitting in a large room, cold and gray, adjacent to a dingy locker room at Dayton’s football stadium, after his tremendous 1991 team turned it over 10 times and lost 19-7 to the potent Dayton Flyers in the national semifinals.
He was sitting on a folding chair, and his fantastic seniors — Steve O’Toole and Jay Conzemius — were coming out of the locker room, in civilian clothes, and walking over to the coach for comfort.
Not their comfort … the coach’s. I think it was O’Toole after his last college game who said, “It’s going to be OK, John.”
‘Revenge against The Man’
Randy Moss, Vikings superstar receiver.
Moss was going to leave the small town of Rand, W. Va., and play for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame, until he took the fall for a race-driven fight at his high school and was expelled.
I don’t know what his view of life was before that, but Moss’ mistrust of authority, of the establishment (particularly the media), shone through from the get-go with the Vikings.
This was unforgettable: The Vikings were in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day 1998. Moss caught three fantastic touchdown passes. The national writers from the largest newspapers were in the group surrounding his locker after the game — ready to write glowing tributes to this rookie phenomenon.
Randy blew ’em off, in profane fashion. Don Banks from the Twin Cities said, “You talked to television.” Moss responded: “Y’all ain’t TV.”
And now Randy’s all on TV, an ultimate victory for the ultimate contrarian — a Pro Football Hall of Famer (“First ballot, home boy’’) who did it his own way from Day 1 at Winter Park.
Randall McDaniel, Vikings superstar left guard.
Randall Cornell McDaniel and Randy Gene Moss were opposites in personality, although not in performance. Mike Tice, McDaniel’s line coach in 1999, put it this way:
“Randall was our first Randy Moss … passed over by a lot of teams, came in and started dominating. The only difference between McDaniel then and Moss now is that Randall played an unglorified position.”
There was also a bit of difference in discipline. Randall never missed a day of school from kindergarten through graduation from high school. He missed only a couple of practices (knee injury) in 12 years with the Vikings.
And Tice once declared McDaniel to have been unbeaten in individual plays for a half-season of games.
‘It’s all in the preparation’
Willard Ikola, Olympic goalie, Edina hockey coach.
In his 33rd and last season at Edina in 1990, and with eight one-class state championships to the credit of his teams, Ikola said of coaching:
“We get most of the coaching done in practice. We want disciplined teams. We want to be the least-penalized team around. Maybe it’s because I’m an old goalie and never liked getting peppered on those power plays.
“We usually get better as the season goes along. By the middle of January, we want our power play set, our penalty killers set, our lines set, so our players react automatically.
“Coaching a game should be like sitting in a rocking chair.”
And rocking away with a bad hat on your head.
‘Ferocity of an underdog’
John Randle, Vikings superstar defensive tackle.
Twenty-eight teams, 12 rounds of the NFL draft in 1990. No one called the name of John Randle, an undersized defensive lineman from a school then called Texas A&I, tucked away deep in southeast Texas.
Richard Cundiff, an A&I assistant coach, said in 1997: “The scouts would come down to see him. They would pop in a film and say, ‘Look at that guy play … but he’s only 6-foot, 245 pounds.’ That’s all it was, over and over again.”
The Vikings signed Randle on a flier after he went undrafted. First he had to stick around, then he had to get a chance behind high-functioning, highly drafted players.
Nothing would stop this man. He brought so much to every moment on the football field you thought his head might explode under that helmet.
There were Sundays when John Anthony Randle couldn’t be blocked, over and over again.
Randy, Randall and Randle. All Pro Football Hall of Famers. Amazing, isn’t it?
‘Whatever it takes’
Lindsay Whalen, Gophers and Lynx star.
Andy Rostberg was Whalen’s basketball coach at Hutchinson High School. He also was an assistant coach to his father, Grady, and then head football coach.
The Tigers were getting ready to open the season a few years back. The Lynx also had a game that night. A half-hour before kickoff, Rostberg received a text, reading: “Kick some …” well, kick something.
It was from Whalen. Never forget your roots. And never forget what it takes to win.
Example A with Whalen, for me, always will be the NCAA tournament opener against UCLA in 2004, when 12,000 fans decided to come to Williams Arena to watch Whalen’s return to the Gophers after missing six weeks because of a broken right hand.
Whalen had a wrap on the right hand. She had such poor accuracy on her jump shot that one three-point attempt almost landed on the concrete beyond the elevated floor.
And she played 37 minutes and scored 31 points — to start that journey to the Final Four.
It was an impossible performance. It was also pure Lindsay. Whatever it takes.
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