There will never be a year to compare with 1960 when it comes to the evolution of sports in Minnesota.
Sixty years ago, we tortured our souls over Gophers football, cherished the "State Tourney" (one-class basketball, boys only) and took considerable pride in the exploits of Dick Siebert's Gophers baseball team.
We had one big-league franchise, the Minneapolis Lakers, in an eight-team NBA and with the team playing second fiddle to circuses, music shows, ice shows and car shows to get dates in the Minneapolis Auditorium.
We were Wisconsin's bumpkin cousins, taking fan buses to Milwaukee to see the Braves, and watching Packers games as the NFL's Sunday TV entertainment in the Twin Cities.
Then 1960 arrived. Old met new. And our outpost in the sports world was set to change dramatically.
Jan. 28: Minnesota awarded an NFL expansion franchise
The NFL was a 12-team league and a third-rate attraction behind big-league baseball and college football well into the 1950s.
Then came a 1958 championship game featuring the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants on Dec. 28. It went to sudden-death overtime, with the Colts and Johnny Unitas winning 23-17.
The label became "The Greatest Game Ever Played," and that clearly was the case for creating a historic increase in national hunger for the NFL. That game also triggered a movement in 1959 for a new league to include Minneapolis-St. Paul. The American Football League's eight-team organizational meeting was held in December 1959 at the Pick-Nicollet Hotel in Minneapolis.
An amazing, unsigned opinion piece — written by Charlie Johnson, executive sports editor of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune — appeared during that meeting, basically stating:
We don't need your minor league, AFL. We can get an NFL expansion team.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul group pulled out of the AFL. Max Winter and others went to the Miami for an NFL owners meeting in January 1960.
Winter stayed for eight days, parked in the hotel lobby waiting for the expansion announcement. Finally, it came — Dallas in 1960, the Twin Cities in 1961. Minnesota was back in the NFL for the first time since the Duluth Eskimos folded after the 1927 season.
March 26: Our "Hoosiers," Edgerton, win state tourney
The "Greatest Game Ever" label can be debated for Colts-Giants in 1958. What isn't worth arguing is that Minnesota has had a high school event to challenge the madness created by Edgerton, with 94 students in the top four grades, winning the state basketball tournament.
A monthlong playdown for more than 500 high schools. One class. For boys, with Title IX a dozen years in the offing.
As described above, 1960 was the meeting of what we had long embraced fanatically (including the state tourney) and what would become our sports future.
Edgerton defeated Chisholm 65-54 in Thursday night's semifinal session in Williams Arena. Attendance: 18,436.
Edgerton defeated Richfield, the Twin Cities power, 63-60 in overtime in Friday night's semifinal foul fest. Attendance: 18,812.
Finally, Edgerton defeated Austin, a perennial state power, 72-61 on Saturday night. Attendance: 19,018.
Four Dutchmen made the 10-player all-tournament team: Dean (Deuce) Verdoes, Darrell (Swish) Kreun, LeRoy (Slug) Graphenteen and Dean (Pee Wee) Veenhof. Bob Wiarda was the solid fifth starter.
Years later, Slug was standing in front of the Edgerton trophy case, with a reporter, plus Swish and Deuce, and said: "I saw that movie, 'Hoosiers,' and I said, 'That's our story.' "
June 20: Gophers beat Southern California to win second College World Series title
The College World Series started in 1947 and moved to Omaha in 1950. Siebert's Gophers had won the title in 1956. Rod Dedeaux's Southern Cal Trojans had won in 1958.
The Gophers and Southern Cal played three extra-inning games, starting with a 12-11, 10-inning Minnesota win on June 17. USC stayed alive with the next one, 4-2 in 11 innings, on June 19. And then the Gophers won the title 2-1 in 10 innings.
Siebert was out of starters and went to reliever Jim Rantz. He pitched the distance, losing a shutout in the ninth, then winning it when Cal Rolloff walked with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th.
We were reminded of this epic effort for decades in the Twins press box, as Rantz worked his 50 years in the team's front office, and Sid Hartman greeted him with a uniquely Sid nickname:
"Eight Ground Balls in Omaha."
Oct. 26: Major League Baseball heads to Minnesota
The main reason sports editor Charlie Johnson fought against the AFL was a feeling it would give the Twin Cities a "minor league" image and deter a baseball team from moving here.
As dominant as the NFL is today in America's sports universe, Major League Baseball was more so in 1960. Trying to follow the example of Milwaukee, Minneapolis forces built Met Stadium in Bloomington to land a baseball franchise.
The Twin Cities were rejected by Cleveland, lost out when the New York Giants moved to San Francisco. And then at the American League meeting in 1960, it was announced Calvin Griffith's Washington team would move here, Washington would get an expansion team of Senators, and the Angels would join the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
Again, Mr. Hartman: "For Minnesota to get a major league team after all the work we had done was the greatest feeling in the world. Baseball was what made you big league."
Nov. 4: Gophers throttle Iowa, wind up in the Rose Bowl
Coach Murray Warmath had been hung in effigy on campus at the conclusion the Gophers' 2-7 season in 1959. A year later, the No. 3 Gophers and No. 1 Iowa were both 6-0 and attracting a record crowd of 65,610 to Memorial Stadium.
Tom Brown tipped over the Iowa center and won the Outland Trophy. Sandy Stephens led the victory and became the first Black quarterback to be an All-America pick.
And Roger Hagberg, the Rochester fullback, steamed 42 yards for a touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter to clinch a 27-10 victory.
There was an upset loss to Purdue, but a throttling of Wisconsin in the finale gave the Gophers the coveted trip to a Rose Bowl. Plus, the wire-service voting took place at the end of the regular season, and the Gophers stand eternally as national champs for that season.
All because of that afternoon when Murray went from an effigy to being served a large helping of what he termed "Hawkeye pie."
March 26: Lakers wrap up state stay
The Minneapolis Lakers were 25-50 and still made the Western Conference playoffs by finishing third. They beat Detroit 2-0 in first round and took the St. Louis Hawks (46-29) to seven games in the West finals.
The last game as Minneapolis for the Lakers was a 97-86 loss in St. Louis — and we paid little attention since it was also the night Edgerton beat Austin.
Elgin Baylor, in his second season, had 33 points in the loss. Three weeks later, it became official: The Lakers would move to Los Angeles, with Elgin and also the player selected by "Minneapolis" in the April 11 draft — Jerry West.
As far as 60th anniversary celebrations go, the Lakers in 2020 did win their 12th NBA title since moving the Los Angeles.
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