Editor’s note: This story appeared on a special “Peach” page in the sports section of Friday’s Star Tribune. Pick up any edition of Friday’s paper to check it out.
In matchups like this, legends sometimes emerge.
Bruce Smith was a rising junior from Faribault, Minn., not yet a national star, when the No. 2 Gophers met third-ranked Michigan in a battle of two undefeated teams on Nov. 9, 1940.
The Armistice Day blizzard was coming that weekend. A cold, wind-swept rain fell over Memorial Stadium, but a crowd of 63,894 filled every last seat.
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Michigan’s Tom Harmon, that year’s eventual Heisman Trophy winner, threw a touchdown pass, but his missed extra-point kick kept it 6-0. That might have been it for the scoring that day, so stout were the defenses, if not for Smith.
He took a handoff from Sonny Franck on a reverse, burst through a hole heading left, eluded two linebackers, made a breathtaking cut to avoid another tackle and sprinted untouched for an 80-yard touchdown. The kick was good, and Bernie Bierman’s Gophers held on for a 7-6 triumph, leading to a national championship.
In the Minneapolis Star Journal, Bernard Swanson wrote that Smith ran “like a light-footed dancer scurrying over a field of brittle eggs.” Charlie Johnson added: “With his powerful legs he dug in with every step forward until he had cleared 80 of the slipperiest yards that any back ever trod.”
Smith won the Heisman the following year when “Minnesota’s majestic men of destiny” went 8-0 again for another national title. He remains the Gophers’ only Heisman winner.
So who will be the hero Saturday — 79 years to the day after Smith’s historic feat?