The victors in the Minnesota-Iowa football game get more than a win in the standings. They get the honor of hoisting a bronze statue of a pig onto their shoulders as they march off the Metrodome field. "Floyd of Rosedale" goes home with the winning team in a college football rivalry that dates back nearly a century. One of the most memorable "Floyd" showdowns occurred 40 years ago, in Minnesota's last national championship season.
IN 1960, a year after the University of Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten, a Gopher team with many of the same players won a national championship. Looking back on the accomplishment after four decades, All-American guard Tom Brown notes the Gophers lost several close games in '59. In the fall of 1960, Brown says, he and his teammates learned that just a little extra effort could turn a losing team into champions.
"Maybe a little more emphasis, collective goal-setting, overcame that thin line between winning and losing," Brown says. "We did play a team, I think it was Nebraska, that was rated pretty high in the pre-season ratings. Once we beat them, we felt we did have it and gained confidence as we went from there."
Football 40 years ago was played very differently than it is today. The modern game is specialized, with each player filling a very specific role on either offense or defense. Back then, the starting lineup stayed on the field for the whole game and was the offense, the defense, and the kicking team.
Joe Salem, a 1960 senior who later returned to campus to coach the Gophers, says there was also much less passing.
"In '59 Tom Moe, the new athletic director, I think he was our leading pass receiver; I think he caught nine passes for the year. So the game was totally different than it is today. It was more of a power running, push-and-shove football, which Minnesota people were pretty cut out for that brand of football."
Sandy Stephens led the Golden Gophers to a win over UCLA in the '62 Rose Bowl.
Through the 1950s most of the players on the Gophers' roster were Minnesota-born and raised. That was beginning to change, though, as head coach Murray Warmath started recruiting high school athletes from out of state. At that time, a number of universities around the country refused to recruit African-American players and Warmath found several talented student-athletes ready to come to Minnesota for a chance to earn a degree and play Big Ten football.
Three of the starters on the championship team hailed from Pennsylvania, including rushing leader Judge Dickson and the late Sandy Stephens, who became the first black quarterback to earn All-American honors. The university is retiring Stephens' jersey.
Men's Athletic Director Tom Moe, who caught 10 passes in 1958, says it was inspiring to play for Coach Warmath. After graduation, Moe went on to become head of the state's largest law firm. He says Warmath helped instill values and a work ethic that Moe came to appreciate years later.
"Maybe the most valuable part of my whole four years over here was being exposed to Murray Warmath, who I thought in retrospect was just a fine leader," Moe says.
Coach Murray Warmath took the team from last place in the Big Ten Conference in 1959 to a national championship in 1960.
Warmath led Minnesota to the Rose Bowl at a time when the state had no pro-sports team. Basketball's Lakers had just left for Los Angeles and the Vikings and Twins didn't arrive until 1961. Joe Salem says the attention of Minnesota sports fans was focused on the football games in Memorial Stadium with a singularity that wouldn't happen today.
"It was the only show in town. The only thing to do on a weekend was to go to the Gopher game. Then in '61 when the Vikings came, the crowds and everything still went along pretty good. Then about 1965 was when they started to fade and it became tough to sell out the stadium," says Salem.
In 1960 the national champion was crowned at the conclusion of the regular season, so Minnesota won the title before going to the Rose Bowl, where they were defeated by the University of Washington, 17-7.
For most fans, the highlight of the season came when the Gophers, ranked number two in the nation, hosted number-one ranked Iowa. At the end of Minnesota's 27-10 victory, a beaming Tom Brown rode on his teammates' shoulders carrying Floyd of Rosedale around Memorial Stadium.