Gophers retiring Bobby Bell’s jersey Saturday

by Andrew Baker

The Gophers will retire the jersey No. 78 to honor Bobby Bell, the Pro and College Football Hall of Famer who wore it, at their homecoming game Oct. 2 against Northwestern. As a Gopher, Bell helped head coach Murray WarmathâÄôs team rebound from a 2-7 season in 1959-60 to an 8-1 record, a national title and a Rose Bowl berth in 1960-61. They would lose the Rose Bowl game to Washington that year, but the following season Bell and the Gophers again went to the Rose Bowl, and this time they won it. âÄúItâÄôs awesome, man,âÄù Bell said of having his jersey retired. Bell said he feels especially lucky because heâÄôs alive to see it happen, citing that athletes often receive this honor posthumously. Though he recruited Bell as a quarterback out of Shelby, N.C., Warmath soon converted Bell to offensive tackle and defensive end. âÄúI thought he was joking at first,âÄù Bell said of the decision. Bell proved a quick study though, and in 1962 he received the Outland Trophy, awarded to the top interior lineman in college football by the Football Writers Association of America. âÄúHe was like a great big sponge,âÄù teammate Judge Dickson said of BellâÄôs ability to adapt and learn new positions. As a pro, the ever-versatile Bell was asked to play linebacker for the American Football LeagueâÄôs Kansas City Chiefs, where he played his entire pro career. Bell is now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a linebacker and defensive end. In his 12-season career as a Chief, Bell received all-pro honors nine times, and in 1970 won Super Bowl IV over the Vikings. At the University of Minnesota, Bell walked onto the basketball team as its first African-American player and also wanted to play on the baseball team. âÄúA lot of people felt that I was a better baseball player than I was a football player,âÄù Bell said. As an African-American, Bell could not play Division I football alongside white players in North Carolina due to segregation and was forced to look out-of-state for a school to attend. Jim Taylor, an assistant at North Carolina, called Warmath and told him to consider recruiting the versatile Bell. BellâÄôs trip to Minnesota was the first time heâÄôd ever flown on an airplane. Bell said he did not know much about MinnesotaâÄôs football program at the time, but that playing for the Gophers proved to be the right decision. âÄúIf I had to do it all over again, I would not change one thing,âÄù Bell said. Dickson, who played fullback, said he and Bell were like brothers and that they still talk at least once a week. Bell was âÄúa principal ingredient,âÄù Dickson said, âÄúto take us from the team that had only won two games the year before to the team that eventually would go to the Rose Bowl.âÄù After college, Gopher fans thought, as did Bell, that he would stay in Minnesota for his professional career. âÄúAt that moment I wanted to play for the Vikings, because the University had been so good to me, and it would have been a natural fit for me to go right from the University over to the Vikings and play,âÄù Bell said, âÄúbut the deal could not be worked out.âÄù Bell said he does not know what he will be feeling when he walks onto the field Oct. 2 at TCF Bank Stadium âÄúI know one thing,âÄù he said. âÄúI am just blessed to be around and for them to retire my jersey and to share this with my family and friends.âÄù âÄúThe only thing I wish is that my dad and mom were still here,âÄù Bell said. Dickson said he is not sure if he will attend the game, but that he would like to be there. âÄúI have not missed any of BobbyâÄôs recognition ceremonies yet,âÄù Dickson said. âÄúIâÄôve got a streak going.âÄù Dickson had trouble thinking of a current offensive tackle or linebacker to which he could compare Bobby Bell, though he mentioned MichiganâÄôs versatile sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson, who currently leads the country in average rushing yards and total offense per game. âÄúThatâÄôs the kind of impact Bobby Bell made, [but] as a lineman,âÄù Dickson said.