The Gophers were 6-0, rated No. 3 nationally and preparing to play Iowa, rated No. 1 and also 6-0, on Nov. 5, 1960 in Memorial Stadium. The Hawkeyes had won five straight vs. the Gophers, by a combined 140-26.
This Iowa team was so strong that when college football author Bill Connelly, from Football Study Hall and SB Nation, released a book in 2017 selecting the 50 greatest college teams of all-time, those Hawkeyes were included.
So, yes, we were very apprehensive on the prairie of southwestern Minnesota as to whether the Gophers could keep up with Forest Evashevski’s swift Hawkeyes. And then late in the week, came those reassuring words from Gophers coach Murray Warmath:
“The hay is in the barn.’’
To a just-turned 15-year-old Fulda boy this meant that all available preparations had taken place, the best possible plan had been developed to slow down the Hawkeyes, and the Gophers had a chance.
That’s all you want, right, when your team is playing a big-shot opponent … a chance?
Not in front of the sports writers, at least not for public consumption that could raise the temperature of Iowa’s players a couple of degrees, Murray might have been more aggressive in his remarks.
From what I heard through the years, Murray might have said to his athletes: “We’re going to go out there and eat ourselves a big slice of Hawkeye pie.’’
For us readers of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune and the afternoon Star, though – there was praise for the fine leadership of Evashevski (in what was his last season as the football coach) and the talent oozing from the Hawkeyes’ roster. As for the Gophers, we settled for Murray soothing our souls with the old reliable about the hay and the barn.
It turned out to be a wonderful, fulfilling crop: Gophers 27, Iowa 10.
Impressive enough to have the 1960 Gophers voted No. 1 by the wire services in the final polls (that came out at the end of the regular season), even after a post-Iowa upset loss to Purdue.
The Gophers’ drubbing of Iowa remains one of the five greatest moments in my lifetime of following Minnesota sports, right there with Games 6 and 7 of the 1991 World Series, Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, and watching Denny Green and Randy Moss leave the field in Giants Stadium after 41-doughnut.
I’m guessing it was Murray, and maybe that Iowa game, that turned me into an opponent of the hard sell to the public by coaches.
Pro rasslin’ -- loved the hard sell. Boxing – fine with it, once Cassius Clay, the “Louisville Lip,’’ the young champ who became Muhammad Ali, got us used to it.
Non-stop babbling filled with juvenile sayings from coaches ... creeps me out.
Tim Brewster gave me a headache in the first 15 minutes of his opening sales pitch. P.J. Fleck came in a decade later and at least had the good taste to say that, with the hard sell of himself and the program, he was “not for everybody.’’
Brewster’s pitch to Athletic Director Joel Maturi was as an excellent recruiter. He recruited Vince Young, which apparently led Joel to believe the next Vince-type superstar would want to come to Minnesota, not a place like Texas.
Fleck’s resume was stronger for Athletic Director Mark Coyle: a quick rebuild and an unbeaten regular season at Western Michigan. Thus, it was my tradition to add the disclaimer, “Fleck can probably coach, but’’ before getting to the, “... he reminds me of Brewster.’’
Juvenile sayings. Hard sell. That was the comparison.
We’ve also had a bit of misunderstanding on Fleck being named as the winner of the TAT – The Authentic Turkey – award last Thanksgiving morn.
Terrible timing, the public tells me, because two days later Fleck and the Gophers went to Wisconsin and regained Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 14 years.
Actually, it was the only timing available, since the selector rightly figured this was the last chance to get Fleck on the Turkey list, where he will belong as perhaps the greatest bull slinger of all in Minnesota sports.
OK, runner-up to The Crusher, but P.J. as Turkey in 2018 ... it had to be done for posterity.
Now, one November later, the Gophers are 8-0 and Penn State is 8-0, and Fleck’s Gophers are playing a game Saturday that is No. 2 on the national scene, behind only LSU at Alabama, rated 1-2 in the Associated Press poll.
Minnesota’s own Rachel Bachman called me this week trying to contact Sid Hartman for a couple of Gophers’ quotes. She was working on a story on the Gophers’ revival slated for strong play in the notable publication for which she works, the Wall Street Journal.
For its part in the hype, the Star Tribune broke out a peach-colored sports section front for Friday’s edition, as a reminder of the days when Gophers football was king (win or lose) and the Tribune's Sunday sales pitch in the autumn was, "Reach for the Peach.
Biggest home game since Iowa-Gophers, Nov. 5, 1960? It’s close to that.
For sure, it’s a big enough game to allow bygones to be bygones: I’ve decided to forgive Heather Fleck, P.J.’s missus, for ripping me in aggressive fashion on Twitter back in early 2018.
Who knows? Maybe a small degree of fault was mine. Anyway, that sure feels good to be settled, and with two November unbeatens going at it, what else is there to say:
Go, Gophers. HIB*. Ski-U-Mah.
*Hay In Barn.