Book celebrates local sports heroes

by Michael Rand

Ross Bernstein does not claim to be a great novelist. From conversations with him, it seems that his priorities fall in the following order: sports fan first, marketing specialist second and writer a somewhat distant third.
He relied on that combination when he self-published his first book, “Gopher Hockey by the Hockey Gopher,” in 1992. In his second book, “Fifty Years, Fifty Heroes,” released in mid-November, he banked on the same things.
If early sales are any indication, Bernstein will be banking often.
“Heroes,” which contains biographies and tributes on 50 of Minnesota’s most revered sports legends, has done well in its initial printing. Consequently, Bernstein has been on a blurring stretch of book signings — the latest of which will be Saturday at Mariucci Arena before and during the Gophers-UMD hockey game.
Bernstein, a 1992 University graduate, said he would like to think the book’s style — a concise, factual format with each of the past 50 years broken down into a separate chapter with its own sports hero — has made it well-received in the area.
“I wanted to make the book sort of Reader’s Digest-esque, or should I say Cliff Claven-esque,” Bernstein said in reference to the “Cheers” character with a penchant for obscure information. “Sports fans don’t like to read huge books.”
The driving force behind the book is Bernstein’s research. He interviewed hundreds of athletes, coaches and their families and friends for information and testimonials. He said he also spent dozens of hours immersed in microfilm to research some of the older athletes.
But what turned into a “monster,” was also a labor of love, Bernstein said. His interviews and research reaffirmed his belief that every Minnesota sports fan should know the state’s history. It also brought him the perk of meeting many of his own heroes, many of whom have requested copies of the book to give to friends.
“To interview all those people was an incredible task,” Bernstein said. “But it’s really a rush when Rod Carew or Jim Marshall says to you, ‘I need you to deliver some books to me.'”
The effort put into “Heroes” is particularly apparent during the early chapters. Sections on former Minneapolis Laker George Mikan and ex-Gopher hockey great John Mayasich contain a greater depth of information than other works do.
Bernstein’s Gophers ties are also prevalent throughout the book. Nearly half of the 50 featured Minnesotans have ties to the University.
Appropriately enough, it was school — or rather a school-related activity — that gave Bernstein his first chance at writing.
After being Goldy Gopher for the hockey team in 1990 and 1991, he was approached by a publishing firm that wanted him to write a book about his experiences as a mascot. Their interest was based on the fact that, “I got in so much trouble as Goldy,” Bernstein said.
He liked the idea of writing the book, but decided to self-publish it. After that book’s success, Bernstein worked in various capacities in New York and Chicago before settling back in Minnesota last year. That’s when he began in earnest with “Heroes,” which he said took him about a year to complete.
The success of Bernstein’s current book has produced offers to write children’s books and biographies. While he’s looking into those offers, Bernstein also is quick to reaffirm that he doesn’t write flowery prose. His main interest is in the history, the events and particularly the people.
“The underlying picture of this book is that it’s about heroes,” Bernstein said. “That’s what it’s all about.”