Ex-Gopher recounts football memories

by V. Paul

In a 1965 football game against Washington State, the Gophers’ Aaron Brown was tackled hard and took an elbow to his jaw from the Cougars.
He continued playing anyway, and it wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that officials discovered Brown, coughing up blood and having trouble breathing, played the game with a broken jaw — a jaw held in place by his chin strap.
“That was the greatest courage I’ve seen in a football player,” said George “Butch” Nash, who holds the longest tenure as a football coach at the University. “(Brown) went and got it set and played the next week.”
Nash recounted this and many other stories of his five-decade involvement with Minnesota football Thursday to Dr. Jim Larson’s kinesiology class.
“I live and die with the Gophers,” Nash said. “I’m so happy that this year there’s a spark that seems we’re on the road back.”
Considered the dean of the Minnesota coaching staff in a University biography of him, Nash played defensive end for the Gophers from 1936 to 1938 and was an assistant coach from 1947 to 1991.
“I want you to be aware that history is real and history is live,” Larson said to his class. “Secondly, I want you to have a Minnesota connection.”
Nash’s career lived through the hiring and firing of seven head coaches. He saw firsthand all five of the University’s bowl games and the evolution of a game he has a passion for.
He arrived at the University in 1935 with a recommendation to play for the basketball team, but he tried out for football because he loved it.
“You’re a heck of a lot better coach if you’ve got guys who could play,” Nash said. “I’ve seen great coaches and great people get fired.”
Nash, whose football career was interrupted by military service in World War II, had positive words for former coach Bernie Bierman. He listed Bierman’s coaching record season by season for the 70 students in the class.
“One of the saddest things I saw was the day he resigned,” Nash said. “He had one bad year in 1950 and we didn’t have much talent.”
One of the game changes Nash recounted for the class was how players before 1950 played both defense and offense. Substitution of entire teams was not allowed then and substituted players could not re-enter a game until the next quarter. It was common for players to play 60-minute games, Nash said.
Football strategy also changed, from the closely-jumbled formations of Nash’s team to the spread formations and option plays in use today. He said players feared thrown footballs because so much could happen while they were in the air — everything from interceptions, fumbles and bad tosses.
Student-athletes had to work through college during Nash’s student days. Nash worked in the Memorial Stadium ticket office on lunch breaks between classes to earn a living and received student financial aid that was available to all students, not just athletes. There were no special scholarship programs geared toward athletes.
The bulk of his income, however, came from scalping the free tickets players received for more than double their face value — $7-10 prices for $3 tickets.
“It was probably illegal as heck,” Nash said. “We all sold our tickets. In my last year, I made good money.”

V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected]