Sports legends remembered during

Maggie Hessel-Mial

The leaves are turning color and crepe paper is appearing on Fraternity Row.
It’s time once again for an age-old American tradition: Homecoming.
Homecoming is traditionally the time when alumni return to their alma mater to watch the big football game against the rival school.
However, it has evolved from its original purpose with more emphasis on current students. Parades, huge paper Goldies and royalty mark the Homecoming festivities of today.
But, the tradition of cheering on the school’s team is still a very important part of Homecoming.
This year, the University honors its past with a yearlong 150th anniversary celebration. So it is fitting to look back on the legendary athletes of yesterday.
Bud Grant
Many considered Bud Grant the all-American boy.
Not only did he play many sports growing up in Superior, Wisc., but he also played inter-collegiate football and basketball for the University after World War II.
Before coming to Minnesota, Grant played for the Great Lakes Naval base.
University football coach Paul Brown had his eye set on Grant from the start. In a Star Tribune profile of Grant, Brown bragged that Grant was the best 18-year-old football player he had ever seen.
His dedication to football was not music to the University basketball coach’s ears. According to a 1948 Daily article, the coach described the pressure he felt while he waited for Grant to finish his football season.
Today it would be next to impossible to play two major sports back-to-back.
Not only did he balance two sports and school, but he also did it well. In 1948 and 1949, the 196-pound left end was named All Big End for the Big Ten.
His love of sports led him to a career revolving around football. Once Grant left the University, he played in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles. He left for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and at the age of 27, he coached the team.
It was as the Blue Bomber coach that Grant’s talent at leading a sports team became clear.
In 1967 he became the coach of the Minnesota Vikings football team, for 11 years. He pulled the team through a lot of close calls and tough games and led them into the Super Bowl tournament four times.
Many have said that Grant was the best coach the Minnesota Vikings have ever had. In 1994, Bud Grant was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for coaching.
Katrien DeDecker
Katrien DeDecker came to the University from Belgium in 1993 to play volleyball. Little did she know that one day she would become a legend in her field.
Former assistant coach Vivian Langley visited DeDecker in Belgium and offered her a scholarship right away. DeDecker said she didn’t hesitate — she took it right away.
“The way she talked about the University, the team and the pople gave me a good feeling,” DeDecker said. “And it proved that it was a good choice.”
DeDecker, a 6 feet 2 inches tall left outside hitter, came into her senior year just 307 kills shy of the Minnesota all-time record. DeDecker had an assertive attitude and playing skills on the court.
“I always want to get the last kill of the game. You have to be aggressive all the time, and the last point I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to put this ball away,’ and I did,” DeDecker said after a 1996 match against the Purdue Boilermakers.
DeDecker’s final season brought excitement and energy back to the women’s volleyball program. Not only did DeDecker reach her goal of beating the Minnesota record, but her 2,300 kills also broke the Big Ten record. This total is now the fifth highest in NCAA history.
The 1996 team’s success was not based on DeDecker alone. Strong players like Sarah Pearman, Tara Baynes and Becky Bauer helped the team and DeDecker attain their goals.
“Success was always due to the team and not because of one single person,” DeDecker said.
DeDecker’s record could be in jeopardy this year. Senior Nicole Branagh approached this season with less than 500 kills shy of breaking DeDecker’s record.
Neal Broton
Neal Broton showed dedication to Minnesota Hockey in 1980 when he returned from the Olympics to play for the Gophers with a gold medal.
Most of his Olympic teammates who had gone to play with him went straight to the pros after the Olympics. But Broton decided he wanted to spend a little more time increasing his skills.
“I needed to work on the weights and get a little stronger before I start the pros,” Broton said in a 1980 Daily article. “Besides I thought it would be fun to play with Aaron (Broton) and Butsy (Erikson) again.”
Broton grew up, with brother Aaron, in Roseau, Minn., and was considered the best prep hockey player in the country his senior year of high school.
He came to the University in 1978 and led the Gophers to the NCAA hockey championships. In 1980, at age 20, he was chosen to play for the U.S. Olympic team and helped to overcome Russia and win gold.
When he returned to play once again for Minnesota, Coach Brad Buetow put the Brotons and Erickson on the same line. They dominated the ice and became legendary in Gopher Hockey.
Erickson discussed the vital role Broton played on the unstoppable line in a 1980 Daily article.
“Neal is magic,” Erickson said. “Whatever is the easiest place for you to be, wherever you can get open, Neal will get the puck there.”