There had been some interesting twists for the Eveleth Golden Bears during the 1973 football season. They had trailed 9-0 at halftime before rallying for a 14-9 victory over Hibbing, often the bully of the Iron Range. They also had to change playing fields in midgame when the lights went out against Grand Rapids.
“I had forgotten about that one,” Bob Lawrence said this week. “We lost the lights at our field, waited for a while, then both teams got in buses and went 18 miles to Aurora to finish the game.”
Dick Lawrence, Bob’s father, was in his 18th of what would be 28 seasons as Eveleth’s legendary football coach. Eveleth was among the smaller schools in the Iron Range Conference, yet not a favorable opponent in most seasons.
“That was because of the double-wing offense that my dad ran from the time he got here until he quit coaching,” Bob said. “We would start running that offense in the seventh grade and have it down pretty good as juniors and seniors. Even the teams we played every year could be confused by it.”
A dramatic change had come to Minnesota high school football in 1972. For the first time, there was a playoff to determine state champions in five classes — AA, A, B, C and Nine-Man — with four teams per class.
“The Iron Range was a Class A conference by average enrollment, and that meant we were a Class A team,” said Bob Pazzelli, the quarterback in 1973. “They had a mathematical formula to pick the four teams. We knew that it was close between us and Crosby [-Ironton] for the last spot.”
Once the playoffs arrived, conferences had started matching up their champions for games to be played after the nine-game regular season. As the IRC champion, Eveleth was matched against Duluth Denfeld in one such game.
“They called it the ‘Sea Range Bowl,’ ” Bob Lawrence said. “We beat Denfeld, and then waited to see what the computer was going to say.”
It had to be a large computer in 1973, but it spit out this as the final “rating average” in Class A: 1. Burnsville 157.5; 2. Willmar 142; 3. Hutchinson 141; 4. Eveleth 138; 5. Crosby-Ironton, 137 (left out with a 10-0 record).
The Golden Bears came to Robbinsdale’s Mielke Field to play Burnsville, the first-ever Class A champion in 1972, on Nov. 9. It was a Friday night, and in some asinine scheduling, Burnsville had played Park Center in a game of conference champions three nights earlier.
Bob Lawrence was a junior end on that senior-laden team of 1973.
“I’m not even sure we knew Burnsville was the defending state champion, or that it had a winning streak [23 games],” he said. “Once we got on the field, they didn’t know what was going on with our offense. It took Burnsville a half to figure out who had the ball.”
Dick Lawrence’s double-wing worked like this:
Pazzelli was positioned with his hands under the center. Fullback Duffy Novak was in what today would be shotgun position. The wingbacks were left and right, generally with "Chico'' Maki, Roger Parlanti or Jeff Perushek.
The snap would go through Pazzelli’s legs to Novak on most plays. Novak would charge forward, or spin and hand off to a wingback, or spin and follow the blocking of Pazzelli, a wingback and a pulling guard to the point of attack.
It was 26-0 for Eveleth at halftime. The final was 26-13 and the Golden Bears advanced to play Willmar (a 9-0 winner over Hutchinson) in the title game.
The snow was falling at Parade Stadium on Nov. 15. The unbeaten Bears had previously played in snow, but they were behind 18-0 with three minutes left in the half. Novak forced a fumble and on third down at the 50, Eveleth did the unusual.
Pazzelli hit Perushek for a 50-yard touchdown. Moments later, Novak scooped another fumble, ran it to Willmar’s 16, and Pazzelli threw another TD to Tim Boman to make it 18-14 at halftime.
“My dad made a Patton-like speech at halftime,” Bob Lawrence said. “And we went out and won the game.”
The final was 28-18. The Golden Bears stayed overnight in Minneapolis, rode back to Eveleth and were greeted by fellow students and townspeople for a celebration.
“Then we grabbed our hockey sticks and went to the Hippodrome for practice,” Pazzelli said. “The IRC Hockey Jamboree was the next night. That was a big deal.”