There was something special about that team. Camilo Pascual on the mound with Pedro Ramos, Kralick, and Kaat made a good rotation and we even had the token Gopher – Paul Giel on the squad. At bat all the sluggers were there – Lemon, Killebrew, Allison, Battey, Versalles, and the spark plug, Billy Martin. Our new team enthusiasm seemed to have some real validity. And it did.
In 1965 we went to the World Series and I spent hours in the Dayton’s break room on fifth floor watching the old black and white TV and wishing Sandy Koufax had more than one religious day that week. We battled and lost 2 – 0 on the final and seventh game – to Koufax, of course. But we were there in the big show and, of course, we knew we would be back the next year and for many years from then on.
The Minnesota sports fan needed this. I had been to the Minneapolis Lakers games at the armory and the Auditorium and watched players like Elgin Baylor before they moved to the lake-less Los Angeles [Yes I am bitter and will never root for them, just like the Atlanta version of my old Milwaukee Braves.] The Lakers had won SIX NBA championships during their time in the City of Lakes, but enough of that because we had something even better, the No. 1 football team in the country.
In the Fall of 1961 we had gridiron heroes at the University of Minnesota and in the NFL. In those days the Gophers were a powerhouse and the No. 1 team in the nation (1960). We had multiple Rose Bowl appearances because of Carl Eller and Bobby Bell – two NFL Hall of Famers – and Sandy Stephens at QB. In 1961 we were ranked 6th with a record of 10 – 2. We knew that Murray Warmath would be keeping us on top of the rankings for decades ahead!
The new show in town was the Minnesota Vikings, not a transfer team, but brand new and not too sparkling. In fact, they were expected to go 0 – 14, but this team drew the love of the Minnesota fans and shocked the football world by winning three games. They shocked the football world in the very first game against the old established Bears (who, along with the Packers, were one of the original professional teams). Maybe it was the ghosts of the Duluth Eskimos that were on the field that first game when old reliable and not that good quarterback George Shaw came off the field and unheralded draft choice Fran Tarkington came on. He threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth! We were undefeated. Well we did not end up undefeated, but what a memory and what a quarterback!
In 1964 Carl Eller came from the winning Gophers to the Vikings and life was looking up. In 1964 the Vikings were tied for second! Jim Marshall and Carl Eller – half the Purple People Eaters – were on the team.
In 1965 the Twins were in the Series and no one knew it would take 22 years to get back there, or that we would have only three world series appearances in 54 years. But this is a Twins site, so you all know that. It is Super Bowl time and it is the Vikings that we need to explore.
In 1967, the first Super Bowl was played. It was called the AFL/NFL championship and the Packers took on the Kansas City Chiefs. In those days the Packers were a mismatch for every team – NFL or AFL. Lombardi was so unbeatable they had to name the eventual Super Bowl trophy after him. And the Packers put Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Bart Starr in the backfield behind an all-star line with future HOFs and a defense which also featured future HOF stars and the game started out slow. It was only 14 – 10 at half time. Then the Packers took over for a 35 – 10 victory. In January 1968 the game was called Super Bowl II and the Packers were back and beat Oakland 33 – 14.
By the third game the upstart AFL or AFC now had enough and a brash QB from NY promised a victory over the old established Colts and delivered, making Joe Namath a household name and an over-rated star who followed up.
We knew who could get the glory back for the NFC/NFL – those mighty Norsemen from Minnesota. They did not even wear cloaks or use heaters in the frigid winters of Minnesota. In Super Bowl 4 the Purple People Eaters were taking center stage with stoic old Bud Grant at the helm and Hank Stram, with memories of his debacle with Green Bay, enthusiastically leading the Kansas City Chiefs back to the big game. The Vikings were ready after a challenging playoff set.
I was at the game with the Rams in a very cold Metropolitan Stadium. No one could measure wind child because the wind swirled around the bowl of the stadium like a wind-chill tornado. We were all trying to stay warm by clapping with our choppers (mittens) and creating a dull roar. But the Vikings were cold and listless and at half time they looked like a team ready for the showers. Yet the fans who had endured more than the players would not let it happen. As the team left the field the roar started, and it continued beyond the last Viking to leave the field and could be heard in the locker room. We did not come to suffer frost bite for a loss. The players heads went up and there was a noticeable change. We won 23 – 20.
Then on an even colder day we beat the Browns 27 – 7. There was nothing better than being in the bleachers where the wind could blow through our legs while the upper body was frozen from the stadium wind. In the Super Bowl, we knew we could take the Chiefs, but something went wrong, either they had too much fun on Bourbon Street the night before or they had taken a Bud Grant pill and did not know it was okay to be excited and emotional in the big game. Most Minnesota fans were at home where it was still cold. We were frustrated because we could not clap our choppers together enough to send a shock wave to New Orleans and the team stunk and lost 23 – 7.
We swallowed out disappointment because there is always next year, or rather there was four years in the future when this great team and great coach got to go to Houston to play in Super Bowl VIII.
We got to play the Miami Dolphins one year after their perfect season which was too bad. We lost 24 – 7 and once again our HOF coach did not have any emotions and neither did his team. If we had lost the year before at least we could have been part of a really historic undefeated year for the Dolphins. Instead we just stunk!
Then came the next year – when we lost to Pittsburgh 16 – 6 back in New Orleans. This was getting beyond embarrassing. We were never in these games.
Much as we feared, we still had another Super Bowl in us and two years later in Super Bowl XI we got whacked by Oakland 32 – 14. At least we scored in double figures.
That was Super Bowl XI and now it is LIII - 42 or XLII years later and we have not been back. We have memories like the Dallas push-off touchdown, the Knee, 41 – 0, Minnesota Miracle followed by a Philadelphia thumping, the famous Farve interception and Peterson fumbles… the Vikings are 0-4 and I do not want to comment too much on our playoff and league championship games.
In the meantime, the Twins have been in two World Series, in 1987 and 1991, and we won them both. Better to be a Twin than a Viking, I guess. Of course, I could end with stats, since they are so dominating in our world of sports right now. It is 67 years since the Twins and Vikings started. Collectively that is 134 sport years. We have been in 7 WS and SBs - .05% of the games. But to feel better there were not 67 Super Bowls – this is LIII not LXVII – so we will change our statistical role to 7 out of 130 chances – we have been in 5.3% of the championships.
Just to take the subject a little further – since two teams must be in each of these championships there are 16 teams that we compete with in the NFL and 15 in the AL. Our two teams are 2 out of 31 and if all things were equal we are 6.4% of the league possibilities and if we apply that to the 120 WS/Super Bowls that have been played since the 1961 debuts our fair share would be 7.68 and 4 wins – we are where we should be! But it would be nice if we had won one of the Super Bowls. Watch the game, relax and have a microbrew - SKOL
- Feb 02 2019 07:13 PM
- by mikelink45
I loved the Met, the big erector set in the distant community of Bloomington. This was the big leagues for both football and baseball (shortly after we added the soccer team – the Kicks) and it was in this rural suburb that we planted the seeds for this part of our community lore. Of course, they were not called the Bloomington Twins or the Bloomington Vikings. It might have been appropriate, but then Wold Chamberlain – our massive international airport (just joking) was also located nearby and no one thought to call it the Bloomington airport.
Of course, we had a sports history before this. In 1960, the Minnesota Gophers were named the No. 1 college football team in the country – yup, Alabama did not get that one. Playing under Murray Warmath with players like Sandy Stevens at QB (he then played in Canadian Football League), we were at the top of big time college football. Then we went to the big game – the Rose Bowl, where we set the precedent for the soon to arrive Minnesota Vikings – but lost the biggest game of the year to Washington 17-7. In the year of the Vikings and Twins, the Gophers ranked sixth in the nation and corrected their previous loss by winning the Rose Bowl against UCLA 21-3.
There was no NHL team in the cities (that still amazes me), but that did not mean that there were no sports memories to be had. When I asked a friend, John Helland, who retired from working at the state capitol about his impressions of that time he wrote:
“Hey, Mike, here's what I remember: Gopher baseball was great, winning the NCAA championship in 1960 over Southern Cal. Jim Rantz, longtime Twin's farm club director, and Tom Moe, also a good football player and much later Athletic Director, were on that team. They also won four years later. Some Gopher hockey players, including Herb Brooks, almost made the U.S. hockey team (he was the last player cut). The Saints vs. Millers was a great rivalry then, but don't remember names of good players. Jim Beattie was starting his pro boxing career as an up and coming heavyweight. This is going back almost 60 years now, so just a kid. The 1960 U.S. Olympic team featured Minnesotan’s John Mayasich, Jack McCarten, the goalie, and Warroad's Christian brothers who later developed iconic hockey sticks.”
We were excited about our sports legacy and we still had a professional team, the Minneapolis Lakers, in 1960. But Mikan retired – he was so good they changed the court, enlarging the lane so that he would not get every rebound. And we were champions – five times in six years with a roster of NBA Hall of Famers. In the 1958/59 season we drafted Elgin Baylor and the future looked bright. Sitting in the Minneapolis Armory where many games were played, there were no bad seats. Unlike the Timberwolves stadium where you need binoculars in the upper deck to watch seven-foot players, at the Armory the players towered over us and it was almost like being on the court. It was great, but attendance was not – how many can you get in the Armory? So in 1960, just as we were getting excited about our new teams, the Lakers were moved – to the West Coast, to Los Angeles, to a city that does not even know what a lake is!
We would have been depressed, but the Twins were coming. There were minor league teams still playing – the Minneapolis Millers were in Nicollet Stadium, just six blocks from where I lived, until 1956 when they moved to Metropolitan Stadium (who came up with that name for a stadium in the middle of a field in Bloomington?) where they played until 1960. In St Paul, the Saints were the farm team of the Dodgers, who were about to move to the West Coast. Who knew then that the Giants would be enticed to move with them? But 1960 would be the last year of this franchise until Mike Veeck and others created the new Saints in independent ball who would play at the same stadium – Midway – that the original Saints used in their final season.
In 1958, future Twins manager Gene Mauch was the skipper of the Millers – now a farm team for the Red Sox, having been associated with the Giants for years. Mauch led us to the championship and then we lost the Minor League World Series. We knew that major league baseball was coming, and Horace Stoneham of the Giants played us for country bumpkins, promising to move here and using the leverage to get to San Francisco. Our final year was pretty glorious – Carl Yastrzemski was here, as was future Twin Al Worthington.
This left an opening for a team which we had no association with – the Washington Senators, and their owner/GM – Calvin Griffith. But who cared? This team, so famous for the saying: "Washington DC, first in war, first in peace, last in the American League," was coming. Time to learn who they were. From Senators to Twins – what a transition. Some bonus player named Harmon Killebrew showed up and so did some Latin players like Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos. The Pirates were the reigning champions – they were FAMILY – we were in baseball heaven.
In the meantime, something else was brewing – the NFL was going to put a team in the state the same year and the same stadium. It was Viking time. And we would be playing outside like real Vikings. Norm Van Brocklin would be our coach, we would have a rookie QB named Frank Tarkington and no one expected him to do anything. As an expansion team, we were expected to be the tackling dummies for the rest of the league. The champions were from Philadelphia – a team called the Eagles, but we knew we would get even with them someday (we hope).
April 11, 1961 the Twins played the very first major league game in Minnesota. There were 39,615 fans, a sellout, and I was an usher. We were so new to this that we still did not know who those players were, but they were ours, so we cheered. Metropolitan stadium with its three decks had never felt the feet of so many people and when they got their coordination together, they would stomp their feet and rock, or should I say – sway, the stadium. Unaccustomed to the rules of the major leagues I remember being booed by thousands of people when I would go to make sure someone was not hurt by a foul ball. They were sure I was there to take the ball back!
We loved the fresh air, the breeze coming in from right field, the uniforms and excitement of the game, even if we had no idea who manager Cookie Lavagetto was. We had Billy Martin, a future manager at 2B, Harmon Killebrew, a future HOF player, at 1B, Zoilo Versalles at SS and Bob Allison in the OF. With Pascual and Ramos were Jack Kralick and Jim Kaat in the rotation. This was so heady we hardly noticed that one of our own – Roger Maris – was hitting the baseball out of the park more than anyone in history. Actually, we knew but it was not as important as the fact that we won 61 games! Of course, we also lost 100, but who cared? This was the majors and our guy Harmon hit 46 home runs. When the season was over, the Twins had drawn 1,256,723 fans, the third highest total in MLB and we were in seventh place, not last (10th).
Now it was Viking time! The Senators were an established team that moved, but the Vikings were an expansion team and they were not supposed to win. After opening with an exhibition in Sioux Falls, SD the team came home to a rousing welcome. Like good Minnesotans, the fans were all on time, the parking lot was full and the ushers helped people find their seats quickly. It was an excited crowd, but everyone knew we would lose, that is, everyone but Fran Tarkington who had not read that script. He came off the bench to replace the wily old vet, George Shaw, and beat the mighty bears 37-13 on opening day!
For a week we had a perfect record in the NFL. True, we had the Minneapolis Marines and Duluth had the Eskimos, but that ancient history hardly makes a dent in our professional football story. Even if the Eskimos had Ernie Nevers, the first superstar.
We got a franchise in the American Football League, but never played a game. The fact that we got awarded this new team meant the NFL (which was not merged with the upstarts) decided to put a team in Minnesota if we gave up that first AFL franchise, which subsequently became the Oakland Raiders. The new owners included Ole Haugsrud, who had given up the original Duluth team to the league with a provision that he would be allowed ownership in any future NFL team. It took forty years.
Playing outside, the Viking fans became the new version of the Packers – standing in the cold, breath frozen in the air, a unique sound of clapping gloves and a rabid excitement that would continue right up today’s softer indoor fans. The opening win shocked everyone, and the roar was similar to the playoff games of the future, but the shock wore off with seven straight losses and a final 3-11 record.
Being in the stadium at the end of the season, no one minded that we were packed in tightly. It just made us warmer. Thermos’ went from coffee to slightly stronger beverages and the sounds of the stadium faithful echoed across the frozen prairies of Bloomington. An average of 34,586 people attended the games, many of them lopsided contests. Norm Van Brocklin, the ex-quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, was the grumpy head coach because the quiet man of the north – Bud Grant – would not cancel his contract with the Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League. Eventually we would get him.
I only ushered for one year, but that was enough to create a love for sports that continues today. Only baseball remains with as much passion, but that dates back to my childhood when the only vacation my parents would take was a trip to County Stadium in Milwaukee to watch the Milwaukee Braves in their championship seasons. My career would take me in many directions, including one-year writing for the short-lived Midwest Spectator, a Twin Cities sports publication, and finally into my career in the Outdoor/Environmental Education.
Like many people, I was moved by the events that I witnessed when I was young. Even though I attended all the 1991 World Series games at home, nothing will be as lasting as that first night when the sun was setting, and the stadium lights came on, when the green of the stadium grass seemed to turn luminescent and the players uniforms sparkled in the light. There was the smell of the concessions, the sound of the bat and the collective anticipation that something good was going to happen – something good that would continue for the next 57 years and who knows how long into the future.
- Feb 03 2018 10:38 PM
- by mikelink45