With that a bewildered group of State players was herded out for six-hour practices, the kind that would bring a bull elephant to its knees: sprints and calisthenics and sprints and more sprints. Then came the seven-on-seven drills—Nystrom's own version of the pit, only he calls it the blood box. From goal line to goal line the chosen ones clawed, butted and punched, and those who so much as breathed hard were attacked verbally, Marine Corps fashion. After one late-afternoon go-around, Nystrom announced that no one was going in until he saw blood. Freshly showered, Mundra wandered out and said, "When are you going to quit, Buck?"
"No one's bleeding, coach," said Nystrom. "Dig, damn you, dig."
State won three games Mundra's first year, but it was a loss in the last game of the season against Southern Illinois that made the coaches and team dream of national championships. "Southern Illinois was ranked way up there," said Erhardt, "about fifth or sixth, and we had them beat until we goofed late in the game. We knew then we could play with anybody."
How right Erhardt was. State roared through its 1964 schedule, losing only once—to North Dakota 20-13. That was the 12th straight loss to North Dakota and the "mooooos" were louder than ever. But instead of hanging their heads, State's players mumbled low oaths all the way back to Fargo. "Next year, baby, you're gonna catch yours."
North Dakota did, too. Slightly scornful but undefeated, North Dakota met unbeaten and vengeful State to decide which end of North Dakota was up. State was, 6-3, and the rest was easy as the Bisons won the remainder of their scheduled games, averaging 36 points in each and boasting the third best defense in the country.
Then Darrell Mundra quit to coach professional Montreal in the Canadian League. Disaster, some thought. The players, however, feared only that the rest of the coaching staff would follow Mundra. In an impassioned confrontation with Erhardt and Company, they pointed out that they were national champions and meant to stay that way, "with you."
The coaches stayed on, and Erhardt took over as head man. He even threw in a few wrinkles: the forward pass, for instance. Last year the Bisons won with grind-it-out persistence, mostly on the running of Little All-America Halfback Ken Rota. Then, last spring, Erhardt discovered that Quarterback Terry Hanson could throw a snappy pass from the roll-out and—presto!—the Bisons became the complete team. Going into last week's game, State had run for 2,000 yards and passed for another 1,000.
To say that tension began to build last Monday before the game would be wrong. It began approximately five minutes after the game last year. Up in Grand Forks, Sioux Coach Marv Helling, in his 10th season at North Dakota, was quietly preparing to correct the slight error of his last loss. His game is passing, and he has Corey Colehour, a wide-hipped senior, to do it. Colehour fumbled on his first play as a varsity quarterback, but more to the point were the two touchdown passes he threw in the same game after coughing up the wad of Doublemint chewing gum that had lodged in his windpipe. Helling was so impressed that he immediately began to consider a whole new offense. By Colehour's junior year flankers and ends were split all over the field, and if 50 passes were not gotten off in a game, then Colehour was ignoring the game plan. "He was all kneecaps and elbows," said Helling, remembering the early days, "but what an arm. And you couldn't shake him. Third and eight—zip—right on the button."
Still, Helling worried. All week long the weather was unusually warm—about 55�—and the wind was gentle. "We have," he said, "a great kicker [Errol Mann had six held goals], a great punter [John Conrad was averaging 42 yards a try] and a great passer. Now guess what kind of day I want Saturday?"
Late Friday night North Dakota welcomed in winter with sleet, snow and a 40-knot gale. The north goalposts toppled. "Thanks a lot," said Helling.