It was a time of discrimination. African Americans were banned from the NFL. The University of Minnesota enrolled blacks but enforced segregationist policies. The key player behind the Floyd trophy was an African American who refused to yield to discrimination.
THE MINNESOTA-IOWA RIVALRY
It's late afternoon on Saturday, Oct. 27, 1934. A sportswriter from the Des Moines Register is hard at work while a cold north wind howls outside.
"Iowa Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa," types the reporter.
His story is that day's Iowa-Minnesota football game. Minnesota, bound for the school's first ever national championship, trampled Iowa 48-12.
"Lashed by a human fury even greater than the roaring gale which swept the field, Iowa's football team crumbled before the cyclonic drives of Minnesota's power brigade," the reporter wrote.
The writer's intensity reflects the role of college football in the nation's culture in the 1930s. It was much more popular than its professional counterpart. The rising Minnesota football dynasty was national news.
Herman Schneidman was on the Iowa team that year. He's 93 now. He'd hurt his shoulder in an earlier game, so he watched on the sidelines while his teammates lost ground against Minnesota.
"We hated to play them," says Schneidman. "They were the toughest. They were national champs, I think four years there, or close to it."
The reporter referred to the Gopher team in mythical terms.
"The wild attack of the rampaging Norsemen struck without warning in the opening minutes of the battle. The vicious Vikings ran amuck, leaving destruction in their wake as they plowed and pounded through the Iowa defense," he wrote.
OZZIE SIMMONS, A RARITY IN THE '30S
One Iowa player took the brunt of the Minnesota attack -- Ozzie Simmons. Simmons was a rarity in that era, a black player on a major college football team.
Simmons was a distinctive runner. He liked to grip the ball palm down, waving it hypnotically at the end of his outstretched arm like a magician's wand.
High above the field, a young broadcaster described the action to his radio audience. Fifty years later, after a career in the movies, that announcer, Ronald Reagan, would be president.
In October, 1934, Reagan was an Ozzie Simmons fan. He described a trademark Simmons' move during a telephone interview with Jim Zabel of WHO Radio, Des Moines.
"Ozzie would come up to a man, and instead of a stiff-arm or sidestep or something, Ozzie -- holding the football in one hand -- would stick the football out," said Reagan. "And the defensive man just instinctively would grab at the ball. Ozzie'd pull it away from him and go around him."
There were no dazzling runs against Minnesota. Simmons was knocked out three times, leaving the game for good in the second quarter. The Gophers overwhelmed Simmons and the rest of the Iowa team.
Robert Johnson of Anoka got to know some of the 1934 players when he entered the Minnesota football program the next year.
"We had two fullbacks who were very, very good -- Sheldon Beise and Stan Kostka," says Johnson. "And what happened was, they broke loose through the line and the only player between them and the goal line was Ozzie Simmons, so they just ran over him. And they carried Simmons off the field."
By halftime Minnesota led 34-0. But the Gophers didn't let up. At the head of the Minnesota attack that day was running back and team captain Francis "Pug" Lund. Johnson says Lund was one of the nation's top runners.
"He was a driver," says Johnson. "Nothing fancy about Pug. 'Here I come,' that was Pug."
Lund came to symbolize Minnesota's physical toughness and do-anything-to-win brand of football. The Wisconsin native even had his little finger amputated because it interfered with catching and gripping the football.
"It was broken and it healed crooked, so he had it cut off," says Johnson. "And he had trouble then for a while fumbling, because he didn't have all his fingers to catch the ball."
During the game, Iowa fans grew more upset with each hit. Cutting through the roar of the wind came the sound of boos. They grew louder. One Minnesota coach said later no college team should hear booing like the Gophers did that day in Iowa City.
Some speculated fans were so upset because Minnesota had ruined Iowa's homecoming. Some blamed the crowd's reaction on alcohol. Prohibition ended the year before and one Iowa newspaper called the game a "drunken orgy."
But most felt the crowd was unhappy with Minnesota's play against Ozzie Simmons. They thought Minnesota deliberately roughed Simmons up. Some said it was because he was black.
What happened in Iowa City that day became a long-running sore point between the two states. Ozzie Simmons became the public face of the dispute.
SIMMONS CROSSES THE COLOR LINE
Ozzie Simmons came far and traveled hard to be in Iowa City that day.
He originally came to Iowa from Texas by hopping a freight train. His brother and several friends rode along. Simmons died in 2001, but he described the trip in a 1988 interview with Star Tribune newspaper reporter Jay Weiner.
Simmons described his first meeting with Iowa football coach Ossie Solem. It was a moment Simmons clearly relished. Simmons arrived on campus and asked for directions.
(Iowa coach Ossie Solem) looked at me like he was just stunned, for about two minutes.
- Ozzie Simmons
"They told us where the stadium was, and so we went to the stadium and finally we found Ossie Solem's office," said Simmons. "So I walked in and I told him who I was. So he looked at me, like he was just stunned, for about two minutes -- I guess to say, 'What the hell are you doing here?'"
One possible reason for the coach's stunned silence is that Ozzie Simmons had just crossed the color line. Even at Iowa, known by African Americans as a liberal institution, black football players were rare. To have one simply walk into the head coach's office was almost unheard of.
Some alumni, though, had recommended Simmons, and coach Solem agreed to give him a tryout. He was impressive, running a kick back for a touchdown. The coach put him on the team, along with brother Don.
On the field, his breakaway runs quickly attracted media attention. Newspapers soon ranked him as one the best running backs in the nation. Writers called him the Negro halfback, or nicknames like "the ebony eel." He became a symbol for young people.
Near Wheaton, Illinois, there lived a black teenager who met Ozzie Simmons later in life. She had the memorable name of Eutopia Morsell. She says in her teenage years she cheered Simmons' long runs, but fumed at the newspaper coverage.
"They'd always call him 'ebony eel' and everything that meant black," Morsell says. "And I'd get so mad I'd stomp my foot. Why do they have to talk about black? Why don't they just tell it like it is, that he was good and that's it? Why do they have to put this black in there?"
The Iowa running back wasn't the only one getting this treatment. Those were the days of widespread discrimination in college sports.
A MIRROR OF SOCIETY
"College football mirrored society," says Donald Spivey, a history professor at the University of Miami. "The same lines of discrimination, inequality that existed in society in general. The color line is real and it's very difficult to penetrate."
America in the 1930s included Jim Crow laws in southern states, which segregated blacks from whites. In northern states no such laws existed, but discrimination was still widespread.
In college sports, Ozzie Simmons was the exception who proved that discrimination was the rule. History professor Donald Spivey says black players who were stars were allowed in. Everyone else need not apply.
"It was very easy to screen any player out. First of all, the difficult thing was to even get a tryout," says Spivey.
Ozzie Simmons suffered for his unique talents. During a run against Northwestern University, he was punched. In another game, a newspaper account says a player "rammed his locked hands into Simmons' face."
Ronald Reagan told WHO's Jim Zabel that Simmons and other black players of the era routinely faced unfair play.
"The problems were when you played another team that did not have a black, for some reason or other, then they would pick on this one man," said Reagan.
Reagan remembered an incident in a game with Illinois, when Simmons was roughed up.
"I saw Dick Crayne and Ted Osmaloski walk over to the Illinois huddle during a timeout," says Reagan. "They walked over and they said, 'Do that to him once more, and we're going to run you right out of the end of your stadium.'"
There were racial slurs. In his interview with Star Tribune reporter Jay Weiner, Simmons says most teams taunted him.
"'Let's get that nigger over there. Come on nigger, you're not going to run today,'" Simmons recalled. "I didn't say anything, because I learned the best way to do it is just play your game and don't say anything."
Simmons got some of that treatment in the 1934 Minnesota game. Among other things, it was alleged a Gopher player deliberately drove a knee into Simmons during a punt.
Minnesota coaches vigorously defended their team. Head coach Bernie Bierman said the allegations of dirty play were themselves "dirt." He said they treated Simmons the same as any other player.
Minnesota players say they were also roughed up; several said they were punched and kicked in the game.
Ozzie Simmons was asked by a newspaper reporter if he thought Minnesota had played dirty. Simmons replied, "No, sir, I don't."
University of Miami historian Donald Spivey says it's probably the only answer Simmons could give. White administrators controlled college football. There was little chance they'd support a complaint by a black player against a white player.
Fifty-plus years later, in a changed racial climate, Simmons said there was, indeed, rough stuff. He told the Star Tribune the Gophers hit him late and piled on after plays were over. Simmons said he always felt he was targeted because he was good. But he said the racial issue probably added some "oomph" to the hits.
The game may have ended with the final whistle on that October day in 1934, but some matters were far from settled. As the Gophers and the Hawkeyes left the field that day, neither side knew the game was just a scene-setter for a tumultuous confrontation the following year.
BLACK ATHLETES KNEW THEIR PLACE
In November, 1935, the Gophers boarded a Rock Island train for Iowa. A scheduling change had the team returning to play at Iowa for a second year in a row.
There were many new faces on the Minnesota team that year, including Dwight Reed of St. Paul. He was the first African American on the Gophers team in several years. Like many northern colleges of the time, Minnesota had black football players from time to time.
Bill McMoore of Plymouth got to know Dwight Reed well. In the 1950s, Reed hired McMoore to his coaching staff at a college in Missouri.
"He loved football," McMoore says of Reed. "Dwight would call me in the morning, at three o'clock in the morning. 'Mac, what are you doing?' I said, 'What the hell you think I'm doing? I'm sleeping.' 'Come over to the office -- let's talk about the defenses next week.' He was just a football nut."
He was also a star end on some very good Minnesota teams in the 1930s. The university Dwight Reed attended was far different from the U today. Only about 50 black students were enrolled. School officials were proud of that. They felt progressive, especially compared to southern schools which banned African Americans.
Mark Soderstrom teaches at Empire State College in Syracuse, New York. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on race relations at the University of Minnesota. He says he was surprised to find how much discrimination black students faced in the 1930s at the university.
"The men's dormitory is segregated at the University of Minnesota, maintained as a white-only space. The women's dormitories are maintained as white-only spaces. Here at the University of Minnesota, we maintain a white-only nursing program. Dances to be racially pure at the University of Minnesota. University employees are white only," says Soderstrom.
At the time, then University President Lotus Coffman claimed "the University of Minnesota has never discriminated against colored students." But Soderstrom calls Coffman the main actor in creating the school's segregated order.
What made the discrimination even more bitter was that it completely ignored Minnesota state law. Mark Soderstrom says state anti-discrimination law was broad and straightforward.
"No person shall be excluded on account of race or color from full and equal enjoyment of any accommodation, advantage or privilege furnished by public conveyances, theaters, or other public places of amusement, or by hotels, barber shops, saloons, restaurants or other places of refreshment, entertainment or accommodation," the law said.
As with Ozzie Simmons, black athletes like Dwight Reed quickly learned their place in the system. When Minnesota played Tulane in 1935, Reed watched the game from the press box.
Like many northern schools, Minnesota honored an unwritten agreement with segregated Southern colleges. They refused to play against African Americans, so northern schools left their black players at home.
Bill McMoore was the final Minnesota athlete to experience this injustice. In 1951, his coach delivered some bad news as the boxing team prepared to travel south.
"We were going to fight the University of Miami. And I was the light-heavy on the team. And the day before we left, Chisolm said, 'Bill, we can't take you. You can't go because they don't have any integrated matches in the South,'" recalls McMoore.
When the university's president at that time, James Morrill, found out, he apologized to McMoore. Morrill said it was the last time Minnesota would honor what they'd once called the gentlemen's agreement.
THE STAGE IS SET
The racial politics of the time were mainly a distant argument for the Gopher players as they rolled into Iowa on that November day in 1935. They were immersed in football. Once again the team was undefeated, hoping for a second straight national championship.
Bob Weld, now 90, was on the Minnesota team that year. He said as the team settled in, one Iowa player was on their mind.
"Ozzie Simmons was one of the great stars of Iowa," says Weld. "Everything that he did was sensational."
The Minnesota coaches were also concerned, but for a different reason. Minnesota head coach Bernie Bierman received a flood of threatening letters from Iowa fans. He requested and received special police protection for the team when it detrained in Iowa a couple days before the contest.
As the game drew closer, the situation deteriorated. Rumors flew. One was that fans were organizing to storm the field if Ozzie Simmons was roughed up. The day before the game, Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring seemed to funnel all the state's unhappiness into one statement, and the process he appeared to legitimize the rumors.
"Those Minnesotans will find 10 other top-notch football players besides "Oze" Simmons against them this year," said Herring. "Moreover, if the officials stand for any rough tactics like Minnesota used last year, I'm sure the crowd won't."
The news quickly reached Minnesota. Coach Bernie Bierman threatened to break off athletic relations. Minnesota Attorney General Harry Peterson practically accused the Iowa governor of thuggery.
"Your remark that the crowd at the Iowa-Minnesota game will not stand for any rough tactics is calculated to incite a riot," said Peterson. "It is a breach of your duty as governor, and evidences an unsportsmanlike, cowardly and contemptible frame of mind."
FLOYD STEPS IN
At this point, the only politician in the bunch wearing a smile entered the dispute. Minnesota Gov. Floyd B. Olson knew he had to lighten the mood. He sent a telegram to Iowa Gov. Herring on game-day morning.
"Dear Clyde, Minnesota folks are excited over your statement about the Iowa crowd lynching the Minnesota football team. If you seriously think Iowa has any chance to win, I will bet you a Minnesota prize hog against an Iowa prize hog that Minnesota wins today," wrote Olson.
The Iowa governor accepted, and what became known as the Floyd of Rosedale prize was born. Herring apparently followed Olson's cue. He joked it would be hard to find a prize hog in Minnesota, since they all were so "scrawny."
Word of the bet reached Iowa City as the crowd gathered at the stadium. Things calmed down and the game was untroubled. Minnesota won 13-7. Minnesota player Bob Weld says the Gophers were happy to leave with a win.
"We beat the team, but we didn't beat Ozzie," says Weld.
Weld says Simmons impressed Minnesota with a strong game. Simmons himself praised both teams for their clean, crisp play.
The following week Iowa Gov. Herring delivered. He brought a live pig to the Minnesota Capitol building in St. Paul and took it inside to Gov. Olson.
The hog was dubbed "Floyd" after the Minnesota governor, "Rosedale" for the animal's Iowa birthplace. Floyd of Rosedale started out as a game trophy, but he ended up a normal farm animal in southeast Minnesota.
"It was a handsome hog, handsome Hampshire with the white belt," says Donald Gjerdrum. "Yea, it was a special hog, you bet."
Donald Gjerdrum, now 84, remembers seeing the original Floyd. The pig came to this farm when Gjerdrum was a teenager. Gjerdrum says his father bought the pig from the University of Minnesota for $50, a handsome price for a handsome hog.
Within weeks of winning the pig, Gov. Olson gave him away in an essay contest titled "Opportunities for life on the farm." The winner gave Floyd to the University of Minnesota. The school then sold Floyd to the Gjerdrums.
"He bought it as a stock hog, as a breeding hog," says Gjerdrum. "Because they were pedigreed, these are pure-bred Hampshires."
"It's kind of a surprise to people to learn that hog is here," says Gjerdrum. "Every year when the two football teams clash, well then this thing comes up," says Gjerdrum.
Walking past a plot of native grasses and flowers he planted, Gjerdrum leads the way to a special spot on the farm, near a grove of spruce trees.
"We're here," says Gjerdrum. "This is where he came to rest."
Gjerdrum says Floyd died of cholera in July 1936, about eight months after he made the front page, and was buried near the trees.
"People were vaccinating their hogs and somebody said, 'Well, surely that hog's been vaccinated, coming from the U up there,' so Dad let that go. But it was too bad," says Gjerdrum. "Dad said Floyd 'just leaned up against a straw pile and died.'"
The location was appropriate. Six miles from Iowa, almost exactly halfway between the two schools. A bronze statue has since replaced the animal as the annual prize.
The real Floyd, Gov. Olson, passed away less than a month later. He died of cancer in August 1936.
Ozzie Simmons said he never took much interest in the Floyd of Rosedale trophy, in part because of the racial era it recalled. Simmons was denied a chance in pro football, because the NFL banned black players at the time. He played some minor league ball, joined the Navy and eventually became a Chicago public school teacher.
In the 1950s he met an early fan of his, someone who followed his career at the University of Iowa in the newspapers. Eutopia Morsell, the Wheaton, Illinois, teenager who fumed at media nicknames like "ebony eel," was introduced to Ozzie Simmons by friends. Simmons was moonlighting as a stockbroker.
"He sold stock all right, and he sold himself too," says Eutopia Simmons. "And by 1960 we were married. And don't think I don't miss him. Oh, boy."
The Floyd of Rosedale trophy is most of all about football, a celebrated college rivalry. But look a little deeper and it's also about American history. It began in an era when racial discrimination was widespread, and protected at the highest levels of government.
When Ozzie Simmons stepped onto the field in October, 1934, to play Minnesota, he entered a national drama that's still playing out today. All Simmons wanted was a chance. The trophy is an ever-present reminder of how precious that right is.
Thanks to Bob Reha, Rich Besel, Arlen Foss and Bruce Kness for providing the voices of historical characters.