University of Minnesota
Warmath got caught in the midst of a 1956 quarterback controversy, one that had fans polarized. Dick Larson was consistent and conservative, always sticking to Warmath’s game plan. Washington transfer Bobby Cox brought grit, personality, and talent to the QB position but what was viewed by some as confidence and a knack for leading in an inspirational manner was seen by others as showboating and an overbearing cockiness. The squad responded well to both for an overall 6-1-2 record which came close to giving them a Rose Bowl bid. All American and Phi Beta Kappa Bob Hobert and big Frank Youso were the primary blockers and stoppers at tackle. Hobert later played for Winnipeg of the CFL. The year’s success came in large part to the stout defense that gave up but eighty-seven points. Fans noted that the helmet Warmath introduced upon his arrival was dressed up with three-inch black player numerals on each side. As the 1957 season began, the more astute observers realized that the player numerals on the helmet were still of the rounded font style but thinner than those used in ’56 and this helmet style would be the one most closely associated with Minnesota’s successful teams of the modern era. Hopes were high that the '56 team's success would now bring the 1957 squad to the Rose Bowl. No one expected the disappointment of a 4-5 season. Warmath was so enamored of his team's championship chances, he had turned down interviews with both Texas and Arkansas for their vacant head coaching jobs. A "Top 11 Pick" by Sports Illustrated, the Gophers began the year by running up over forty points on two of their first three opponents but the bottom fell out with losses to Illinois and Michigan and only a win against lowly Indiana kept them from losing the remainder of the schedule. Tackle Frank Youso remained terrific and went on to an eight-year pro career with the Giants, Vikings, and Raiders, but Cox was often ineffective due to injury. With the defense giving up a voluminous 188 points this proved to be Warmath's "most disappointing year as a coach" as he said thirty-five years later. A conscious decision was made to recruit nationally and Warmath gave voice to what Fesler had hinted at years before. “We didn’t lose any real good Minnesota boys over the years, we just didn’t have enough of them. It became obvious that we couldn’t win with just Minnesota boys, because of the small population of the state and the short season. In other areas there are more people playing football over a much longer season… We’ve had more fullback type runners who are strong but not really fast. You also have a hard time finding the players with one great individual skill, like a passer… The same is true of receivers. I think the emphasis on basketball here has screened off many of the good athletes who can throw and catch a ball well. We have size and strength in Minnesota but not speed and throwing ability.” Warmath went out to find what the program needed despite the outrage of many supporters.
The staff began to recruit heavily in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Illinois. Taking non-Minnesotans was considered scandalous and irritated many old-time boosters but Warmath realized that many African-American players had the talent needed to bring a winning team to Minnesota. As All American QB Sandy Stephens said about him, "Coach Warmath gave us opportunities not just on the football field, but in the classroom and later life that we would otherwise not have had" and his reputation for being absolutely fair was sterling as he was in the vanguard for the advancement of Black high school players into college football.
If '57 was disappointing, 1958 was an utter disaster at 1-8, the sole victory coming against Michigan State in the next to last game of the year. Captain and center Mike Svendsen was All Conference and there was help from linemates Tom Brown and Greg Larson, but only FB Roger Hagberg was consistently effective in the backfield. Warmath’s continuous defense of his team and each individual player continued through the off-season and this left the alumni howling going into '59. They continued to howl due to the 2-7 record and inability to beat anyone other than Indiana or Vanderbilt and it wasn’t evident to some that they played many games close and fell just short of winning. Except for the 33-0 loss to powerful Iowa, each of the six Big Ten losses was by a touchdown or less. Many fans also failed to notice that as soph QB Sandy Stephens of Uniontown, PA gave away the opener against Nebraska with four lost fumbles and an interception, he also returned an intercepted pass fifty-five yards for a TD and broke a punt return for seventy-eight yards. Teamed with powerful HB Judge Dickson who grew up literally minutes away from Stephens’, the potential for winning was present. Warmath's national-look recruiting had been excellent and there was a 6'4", 215-pound high school QB that caught everyone's attention. From a small, rural Black high school that offered no game film and no scouting reports it was only the word of Warmath's friend Jim Tatum, North Carolina's head coach that brought Bobby Lee Bell to Minnesota. Tatum described him as the best player in his state and emphasized that the Gophers should grab him. They did and he excelled as a QB, HB, and end on the frosh team and he was perhaps the best player on the ’59 varsity squad despite having learned to play his new tackle position only months before, without having ever before assumed a three-point stance. C Greg Larson and MG Tom Brown, who doubled as the Gophers’ shot put and discus star, continued to develop and an injured Hagberg was still the best back on the squad. Fans, in an unprecedented move, attempted to start a drive to solicit enough donations to buy out the remaining portion of Warmath’s contract but this just served to bring the players closer together as they witnessed the stoic and dignified response to the fan and media unrest that their head coach displayed. Warmath at least, was optimistic about 1960.
THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON OF 1960
Considering what was to come in 1960, the headline near the end of the '59 season seemed almost comical: "Fund Sought To Payoff Warmath Pact". Gopher fans were putting forth a collective sigh of relief as '60 found the team putting it all together and QB Sandy Stephens played a major role. This natural leader was also an outstanding baseball player and moved by Warmath’s non-wavering and public support of both him and all of the other players as the media rained criticism upon them, he sat out the baseball season in order to better prepare for spring football and the upcoming football season. Warmath got the critics off of his back with a huge 8-1 season and a Rose Bowl berth, winning the National Championship nod prior to the post-season classic. Beating number-one Iowa on November 5th was huge! Sandy Stephens was the team’s undisputed leader, running, passing, punting, returning kicks, and playing safety and All American, Big Ten MVP, and Outland Trophy winner Tom Brown was simply great as a two-way guard. After finishing second in the Heisman Trophy vote, the highest ever for an interior lineman, he spurned the Colts who had drafted him and instead sought an area that was more in tune with his outdoors lifestyle. Brown chose to play for the CFL and was a CFL Hall Of Fame performer until suffering a career-ending neck injury. He was All CFL three times as a DE and LB, was twice CFL Lineman Of The Year, and is still considered an all time great. Brown is also a member of the College Football Hall Of Fame. HB Bill Munsey, a high school teammate of Stephens, Dickson, and FB Roger Hagberg handled most of the backfield chores that Stephens didn't and Hagberg played well for CFL's Winnipeg before returning to the NFL Raiders for five seasons as a FB and TE. Hagberg had the distinction of being the first professional player to participate in both a CFL Grey Cup Championship game and an NFL Super Bowl. Back-up QB “Smokey” Joe Salem would return to Minneapolis as the Gophers' head coach in 1979 and often provided a change-of-pace when substituting for the starter, Stephens. Brown had a lot of help on the line from emerging great Bobby Bell who in a stroke of Warmath genius, had been moved to a two-way tackle spot, and All Big Ten C Greg Larson who then played for the Giants for a solid thirteen seasons. End Tom Hall was another All Conference pick who had an eight-year NFL career, primarily with the hometown Vikings at both wide receiver and DB. Despite losing the Rose Bowl game to Washington by 17-7, the defense had only given up seventy-one points and excitement was high for a repeat performance in '61. The critics were silenced as Warmath topped off a dream season by being named the College Football Coach Of The Year!
Up to this point and despite the good will produced by the Rose Bowl appearance, the University was still very much anti-athletics, feeling that it detracted from the true purpose of the school. However Warmath had, in his time at Minnesota, produced a large number of student-athletes who were outstanding scholars, graduated on time, and were successful in professional or graduate programs. Unlike many big-time football programs, his players were seldom involved in activities that embarrassed the program or university. Stephens, who later played successfully in the CFL and was with the KC Chiefs for two seasons, before becoming extremely active in community affairs, set six school records in '61, including a total yardage count of 1151, leading the Gophers to another successful season and was named both All American, Big Ten MVP, and was fourth in the Heisman voting. Always encouraged to do as well academically as well as athletically by his parents, the former football High School All American and All State basketball player was also a fine student. As the first African-American to be named consensus All American at the quarterback position, he served as an inspiration to two generations of Black athletes who held him as their role model. With All American tackle Bobby Bell dominating the line of scrimmage and soph T Carl Eller playing well despite constant injury, the 7-2 slate wasn't far off their great National Championship season. Opening against Missouri, the 6-0 loss came from a fluke storm that brought freezing rain and snow in the midst of the September 30th game. The Gophers would not lose again until the season finale against Wisconsin by 23-21. HB Bill Munsey, Stephens' teammate at Uniontown High School (PA) remained solid running or receiving and Judge Dickson completed his career and became a highly successful attorney, eschewing the advances of the AFL and NFL who had both drafted him. With only a loss in the opener going into the seventh week of the season, the Gophers were ranked at number three and beat Iowa again, then Purdue. Losing to Wisconsin in an upset to close the year cost them the Big Ten title but political in-fighting on the campus of Big Ten Champion Ohio State resulted in a faculty refusal to accept the Rose Bowl bid and the Gophers got a chance to redeem their loss of the year before and they would be the first "repeat representatives" to the game. They did redeem themselves, blasting UCLA 21-3 to finish a terrific 8-2 season.
Replacing Stephens and other graduates for the 1962 season, even with All American and Outland Trophy winner Bobby Bell at one tackle and All American Carl Eller at the other was difficult. The 6-2-1 record built on scrappy play was epitomized by the effort put forth in the 28-7 upset of Michigan State whose top-rushing offense was held to only thirty yards. With the twin oaks of Bell and Eller leading the way, it was the defense that carried the season, holding seven conference opponents to an average of fifty-eight yards rushing per game. In nine contests, the scoring yield was but sixty-one points and thirty-four of those came in one game, against passing wizard Tommy Myers and his Northwestern squad. John Campbell was named All Big Ten at end for his defensive play and was a solid NFL linebacker for the Vikings and the Steelers in a seven-season career. Guard Julian Hook was most effective on the D-line and received All Big Ten notice. HB Munsey was the workhorse and finished a solid career at U Of M and then starred with the BC Lions in the CFL. A little known fact is that Bill is the older brother of former University of California and pro star running back Chuck Muncie who also starred for the Uniontown Red Raiders. Harry “Chuck” Munsey changed the spelling of his last name only after attending Cal. The Gophers still had a shot at the Conference title going into the finale against Wisconsin but the Badgers won 14-9 as Warmath and his troops were enraged by what many called a "phantom" roughing the passer call on Bell toward the end of the contest, leading one of the Gophers to strike an official with his helmet as the teams were leaving the field. The episode was made worse by the belief that "home town calls" throughout the game had given the title to the Badgers. Carl Eller led a group of players who pounded on the officials' locker room door attempting to get clarification of the day-long poor officiating and finally, Warmath stormed in and angrily confronted each official, telling them they had stolen the Big Ten Championship from his team. Warmath later admitted that for almost thirty years, he spent some portion of each day giving consideration to the possibility that the game had been "rigged" so that Minnesota would not repeat as Big Ten Champion! Still, the Gophers finished the season ranked at number ten, giving few clues to the disaster that awaited in ’63.
SPOTLIGHT ON BOBBY BELL
Considered to be one of the greatest college and professional players of all time, Bobby Lee Bell began his football career on the six-man team of small, segregated Cleveland High School in Shelby, North Carolina. When the team moved to the eleven man game, Bell became All State quarterback. Knowing he could not bring the talented Bell to the University Of North Carolina, their head coach Jim Tatum encouraged Minnesota head coach Murray Warmath to recruit the talented athlete. He played QB when he first arrived as a member of Minnesota’s freshmen team but it was obvious his outstanding athleticism would allow him to contribute at any position. Needing help at tackle, Bell, who had never before been in a three-point stance, was an immediate starter and stand-out his sophomore season. The 6’4”, 217-pound two-way player was faster, at 4.5/40 than most backs and became feared as the hardest hitter in the Big Ten. His ability was such that he also played for the Gopher basketball team, becoming the first African-American to play a varsity game for the hardwood squad. Bell was even recruited by the hockey coach though as a native of North Carolina, he had never before witnessed a hockey game! He became a two-time All American and in his senior year won the Outland Trophy and was third in the Heisman Trophy vote while being named the UPI Collegiate Linemen Of The Year. He led the Gophers to two Rose Bowls and a three-year record of 22-6-1. Convinced that Bell would sign with the longer established NFL, the AFL Kansas City Chiefs drafted him only in the seventh round but he became one of the plums of the process as the upstart league won him over. Bell became one of the greatest pro linebackers of all time, beginning his professional career as a defensive end who often dropped off into pass coverage and then in 1965, becoming a full-time outside linebacker. At 228-pounds he was still faster than most backs and in his twelve-year pro career, was All AFL or AFC nine times. Versatile and athletic, he served as the Chiefs long-snapper and could have excelled at a number of offensive positions. He completed his career with twenty-six interceptions and ran six of them back for touchdowns. He was named to the All-Time All AFL team and The Pro Football Hall Of Fame, a fitting complement to his membership in The College Football Hall Of Fame. The Chiefs retired his number 78 and he remained a beloved figure in the state. After retiring from football he opened Bobby Bell’s Bar-B-Que restaurant chain and was successful as a sales representative for a manufacturer. Since retirement from business, he has dedicated himself to motivational speaking and raising money for former NFL players in need of medical care. His son, Bobby Lee was a linebacker at the University Of Missouri and played for the Jets and Bears in the mid-1980’s.
In keeping with their recent tradition of having two outstanding tackles, All American Carl Eller, who went on to a Hall Of Fame career as one of the Purple People Eaters of the Vikings and team captain Milt Sunde who also enjoyed a lengthy, twelve-year stint with the Vikings at offensive guard, bulwarked the 1963 line with soph ends Bob Bruggers and Aaron Brown but the offense could muster but ninety-five points in a 3-6 downer.
SPOTLIGHT ON CARL ELLER
as Head Coach Murray Warmath had been fortunate to more or less stumble
upon the opportunity to bring Bobby Bell to campus from North Carolina,
the process was once more repeated with Carl Eller. Paul Amen had been
on the West Point staff of Colonel Earl “Red” Blaik with Warmath before
becoming the head coach of Wake Forest from 1956 through 1959. He
continued to live in Winston-Salem and worked as a scout for the Dallas
Cowboys. As a true football man, Amen not only knew the details on all
of the collegiate players in his home area, but was also aware of any
high school players of note. He knew quite a bit about Carl Eller, a
dominant lineman who lived in Winston-Salem and played for Atkins High
School. The “word on the street” was that Eller was signed, sealed, and
delivered to play at Ohio State. What Amen also knew but most others
didn’t, was that Eller truly wanted to play with his high school
teammate Jay B. Sharp who had not received an offer from the Buckeyes.
When he informed his long-time friend and professional associate Warmath
about Eller and Sharp, Minnesota stepped in and scooped up the both of
them and Eller was an immediate force on the gridiron. Teaming with All
Everything Bobby Bell as “the other two-way tackle” his first two
seasons, he also teamed with Bell as an All American, both being awarded
the top honor as tackles in 1962. Eller repeated the honor after Bell
graduated, during the 1963 season, and was runner-up for the Outland
Trophy. He was also known as a player who would go all out on the final
play of practice or a game, just as he would on the first. Despite the
Gophers’ poor record, “The Moose” at 6’6”, 247 pounds, stood out and was
the Vikings number-one draft choice and he put in a Pro Football Hall Of
Fame career for them, appearing in six Pro Bowls, named All Pro five
times, the NFL Defensive Player Of The Year in 1971, and a member of the
NFL 1970 All Decade Team. In a sixteen year career, fifteen with the
Vikings, he helped the team to ten Division titles in eleven seasons and
he appeared in four Super Bowls as part of the famous “Purple People
Eaters” defensive line. Known for his sartorial splendor, a personal
tradition he maintained since showing up on a game day at the University
Of Minnesota in the fine suit he had worn to his wedding the day before,
Eller was also honored with entry to The College Football Hall Of Fame
and the University presents the Carl Eller Award to their Defensive
Player Of The Year each season.
In 1964 Warmath was the only Big Ten coach who did not platoon and stayed with two-way players like All Conference end Aaron Brown who stepped up his game on both sides of the ball. He caught twenty-seven passes with end Kent Kramer getting seventeen on the other side as Warmath used QB John Hankinson to emphasize the passing game. The running game was weak with only 1134 yards although T Gale Gillingham had plenty of push up front and All Big Ten RB Kraig Lofquist blossomed. The 5-4 finish looked like a decent jumping-off point for the following season when an influx of excellent frosh would join the varsity. The 20-20 tie with USC in the opening game of '65 set the tone for the season; some good, some bad, and a middle-of-the-road 5-4-1 finish. However, the Gophers were 5-2 in-conference, good for second place. Warmath still remained the last of the Big Ten coaches who did not platoon his players, preferring two-way performers in an age of increasing specialization. OG Gillingham provided the protection and then went on to the Packers as their number-one pick and played for eleven years. QB Hankinson broke most of legendary Paul Giel's records, setting a school record 1583 total yards. End Kramer was a favorite target and had a good pro career at TE from '66 through 1974 with four teams, as was Kenny Last, but the strength of the team was in the defense. All American DE Brown was great and most often played both ways. He continued to play at a very high level with the Chiefs for seven years, finishing his NFL career with the Packers. On the other side DE Randy Staten headed to the Atlantic Coast Football League for some seasoning and weight-training induced muscle gains and made it with the Giants at LB for 1967 and '68 while LB Bob Bruggers played solidly for the Vikings, Dolphins and Chargers from '66 through '71.
Entering 1966 Warmath switched to an I-Formation to try to kick-start the offense but the 4-5-1 record stemmed from what was once again a noticeable lack of offensive production. Part-time QB Curt Wilson was the leading rusher with only 546 yards while flanker Hubie Bryant, small at 156-pounds, picked up a lot of return yardage. Charlie Sanders was a fine wide receiver target when the QB's could get the ball to him, as was Ken Last. Tackle McKinley Boston powered the defense and it was obvious that big John Williams could play well on either side of the ball but Warmath felt that a lack of motivation hurt the team throughout the year and made changes in the coaching staff to alter that problem for 1967. The new staff also shuffled the line-up and used a three quarterback rotation that included Sandy Stephens’ brother Ray, with outstanding results that produced a turnaround 8-2 season. At 6-1 in the Big Ten, the Gophers tied Purdue and Indiana for the title but saw the Hoosiers get the Rose Bowl bid. Charlie Sanders, originally recruited as a HB, continued to grow and was moved to TE. Williams had been a highly recruited FB out of Toledo, had grown in stature as he earned more playing time, and was placed next to Sanders at offensive tackle where he was All Big Ten and these two made for a successful offense and both went on to outstanding , All-Pro careers. Sanders was a perennial star for the Lions from ’68 through 1977 and Williams was Baltimore’s first-round draft choice, putting in twelve successful, star-studded years with the Colts and Rams before becoming a successful dentist. Soph FB-LB Jim Carter was one of Warmath's two-way players but still led the team with 519 rushing yards. Flanker Hubie Bryant received more experience in the Continental Football League before hooking on with his hometown Steelers and then the Patriots for a few seasons and followed his NFL play with two years in the WFL. A success story, he was inducted to the Semi-Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 2006 and has been the O-coordinator at St. Paul's College (VA). McKinley Boston finished his college career as an All Conference DE, played with the Giants for two seasons at LB and completed his pro time with the Long Island Bulls of the Atlantic Coast Football League. However, he became Dr. Boston when he earned his PhD from New York University and ascended through the academic ranks to lead a $75 million fundraising drive as VP Of Student Development at Minnesota. He served as AD at New Mexico State, and became CEO of his own successful consulting firm. The secondary was led by All Conference choice Tom Sakal. Bob Stein returned from an injury-shortened 1966 year as an All Big Ten DE opposite Boston and received votes to some All American teams. The season ended with a chance to go to the Rose Bowl but the victory in the finale with Wisconsin wasn't enough to overtake upstart Indiana and ended in a major brawl with Badger players and fans.
If interested in any of these Minnesota helmets please click on the photos below.