1960 champs invoke era of Gophers dominance

Andrew Baker

Gophers fans were reminded Saturday of the days when a win over Southern California wouldnâÄôt be an upset. The program honored the 50th anniversary of the 1960 national championship team, the GophersâÄô last title, before and during the teamâÄôs 32-21 loss. âÄúSome of these guys I havenâÄôt seen in 35 years, 40 years,âÄù said Bobby Bell, a star lineman on the team who went on to a Hall of Fame pro career, his voice cracking. The Gophers will retire his jersey at their homecoming game Oct. 2. Even their 97-year-old coach Murray Warmath made it to the game, still functioning despite being told in July by doctors that he had just days to live. But not everyone from the team is still alive, which Bell said added to the meaningfulness of SaturdayâÄôs reunion. âÄúCoach Warmath has been hanging on now for quite a while,âÄù Gophers head coach Tim Brewster said, âÄúand thereâÄôs not a doubt in my mind that he was hanging on because he wanted to be with his guys this weekend.âÄù Seeing the 1960 team provided some context to younger Gophers fans rooting for a team that hasnâÄôt come close to a Rose Bowl for a while, and it triggered pangs of nostalgia for fans old enough to remember those days and loyal enough to still attend. Tailgating before the game, Minneapolis native and University alumnus John Wise said he told his son-in-law that if the Gophers donâÄôt make it back to the Rose Bowl before he dies, to save his ashes and bring them to Pasadena if and when they do. âÄúIâÄôm getting very nervous,âÄù Wise joked, admitting he doesnâÄôt think it will happen in his lifetime, or indeed within the lifetime of his 40-year-old son-in-law. âÄúI think IâÄôm going to have to start talking to my grandson.âÄù Bell said he hasnâÄôt lost faith in Brewster. In fact, a season before the championship, WarmathâÄôs situation wasnâÄôt too far removed from BrewsterâÄôs. Despite being so unpopular with fans after a 2-7 1959 season that he was hung in effigy on Fraternity Row, Warmath kept his job. The next year he led his team to an 8-1 regular season record that included a win over No. 1 Iowa and a No. 1 ranking of its own (and though the Gophers lost the Rose Bowl game to Washington, they were voted national champions after the regular season in both the Associated Press and United Press International polls). âÄúCoach Warmath never looked over his shoulder,âÄù Bell said. âÄúThe next thing you know, what happened? They stopped burning trash in his yard and the next thing you know we win six games in a row and they want to make him president.âÄù Bell said he thinks BrewsterâÄôs story could also be one of redemption, if people give him the proper support. Though for people like Wise, that support is quickly drying up. âÄúI havenâÄôt seen the team get better throughout [BrewsterâÄôs] tenure,âÄù Wise said, âÄúso IâÄôm not very optimistic.âÄù The result of SaturdayâÄôs game favored WiseâÄôs assessment more than BellâÄôs. The Gophers showed flashes of brilliance, including a deftly placed, arcing 31-yard touchdown pass from Adam Weber to DaâÄôJon McKnight late in the third quarter, but lapses on defense and special teams caused the Gophers, as widely predicted, to fall short of the No. 18 Trojans. Weber said after the game that members of the 1960 team have visited the Gophers at practice and other functions. He stressed the importance of his team being aware of its own history and tradition, however far back in time they have to look. âÄúYou want to make [the 1960 team] proud, by how we represent the colors and how we represent the University,âÄù Weber said, later adding, âÄúI would hope that theyâÄôre proud of us.âÄù Gophers head coach Tim Brewster said he and his players were inspired by the 1960 team, and by Warmath in particular. Warmath proved that an ailing team or a gravely sick man can defy expectations and be made well again. However, time is running out on the Brewster/Weber era, and they have an ever-shrinking window of time if they want to recreate any of the magic of 1960.