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MINNESOTA'S MIRACLE
William Oscar Johnson
October 31, 1977
Much about the game smacked of a 19th century penny-dreadful melodrama. Underdog Minnesota rose up out of deepest adversity to smite the unbeaten favorites from Michigan 16-0—but only after an emotional act of pregame evangelism by an assistant coach and only after an untried quarterback was picked to start the game, and finally because all the winning points were scored by two young men from Michigan who felt they had to vindicate their decision to play for Minnesota. To top off the aura of a game played by heroes in moleskins and leather helmets, Minnesota won on a field of grass—something the flashy runners from Michigan seemed unable to cope with.
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October 31, 1977

Minnesota's Miracle

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Much about the game smacked of a 19th century penny-dreadful melodrama. Underdog Minnesota rose up out of deepest adversity to smite the unbeaten favorites from Michigan 16-0—but only after an emotional act of pregame evangelism by an assistant coach and only after an untried quarterback was picked to start the game, and finally because all the winning points were scored by two young men from Michigan who felt they had to vindicate their decision to play for Minnesota. To top off the aura of a game played by heroes in moleskins and leather helmets, Minnesota won on a field of grass—something the flashy runners from Michigan seemed unable to cope with.

The Wolverines came to Minneapolis with a 6-0 record and a No. 1 ranking. They had outscored their opponents by a 193-42 margin. The unranked Gophers had a 4-2 record; they had upset UCLA but subsequently had looked so bad in losing to Iowa 18-6 and in barely defeating Northwestern 13-7 that sportswriters had begun to call for Coach Cal Stoll's scalp. Moreover, Minnesota had not beaten Michigan since 1967.

In the week before the game, an angry Stoll made his discouraged Gophers go back to fundamental drills on blocking sleds. Tempers wore thin, and fights broke out. No one knew who the starting quarterback would be. The Gophers' placekicker, Paul Rogind, whose soccer-style kicks had produced the winning points in three of Minnesota's victories, was badly crippled by a pulled hamstring.

Ah, but then the spirit of Bruce Smith and Pug Lund and those other fabled Minnesota heroes of the legendary past rose among the Golden Gophers and life began to look beautiful. It all started on Friday night when Stoll called a team meeting, put a replica of the Little Brown Jug—a trophy for this game dating back to 1903—before his players and called on Butch Nash, a hero from the Minnesota national champions of 1936 and an end coach at the school for the past 30 years. Nash waxed eloquent about tradition, pride and the importance of giving "110%." When he finished, players were weeping.

The next morning Stoll met with his three top quarterbacks to decide who would start. "I kept looking in their eyes when I talked to them." he recalls. "Mark Carlson was looking right back into my eyes. I made a gut decision right then that he would be my quarterback." Carlson, a sophomore, hadn't played one minute all season.

It was not until the pre-game warmup that Stoll became certain that Rogind was hale enough to kick off. But he was, and he was also hale enough to put Minnesota in front 3-0 with a 41-yard field goal in the first quarter. It was all the sweeter for Rogind, for he grew up less than an hour's drive from Ann Arbor. Then Michigan Quarterback Rick Leach made a sloppy pitchout, and Minnesota recovered the ball on the Wolverine 12. Four plays later freshman Marion Barber scored from the three. Barber, too, grew up in Michigan but was so intensely recruited by Wolverine coaches that he felt "they were hassling me" and went to Minnesota.

With Rogind's extra point, it was 10-0 and the first quarter was only 6:25 old. The Wolverines were flat, but the turf was also playing havoc with their offense, which relies on speedy cuts and dashing pitchouts. (The two games Michigan lost last season—Purdue 16-14 and USC 14-6 in the Rose Bowl—were played on grass.) In addition, the Wolverines lost the ball five times to the Gophers on fumbles or interceptions, and the Minnesota defense was magnificent in containing them, allowing Michigan just 80 yards on 33 rushes while Carlson guided Minnesota to 190 yards on 61 attempts. And in holding the Wolverines scoreless, the Gophers were merely miraculous; not in the previous 111 games had Michigan failed to score.

Rogind added two more field goals to wrap up the victory. When the game ended, the entire Gopher team dashed to the Michigan bench to pick up the Little Brown Jug. Later they voted unanimously to award the game ball to Butch Nash. It all made for an ending so happy it was almost impossible to believe. Now, if those old Minnesota ghosts will just hang around for awhile....

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