- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
I've always thought that if you tried hard, things would work out all right. This football team has tried hard, they have busted their butts, but things haven't worked out. Stick your nose to the grindstone and things will pan out. For the first time in my life, my beliefs are being tested.
When you sit here with the fear of losing your farm, you live in a different world. There was a time when I felt that if you worked hard enough, you could have anything. You had dreams and you could obtain them. Now the circumstances don't give you that freedom. No matter how hard you work, it's not enough. This farm is our dream. It's all we want, if we could only hang on to it.
It was the time of year when folks in southeastern Minnesota usually savor the coming of Indian summer—that heavenly interlude when crisp leaves paint the sidewalks yellow and brown, and bright green combines are out harvesting corn and the summer sun pays one final call.
But not here, in the first days of October of this year, not in the farming town of Glenville (pop. 851). It had been raining and misting off and on for days running, keeping the combines out of the muddy fields, while bone-chilling winds blew fitfully from the Dakotas. Farmers paced and waited for a break, and the town banker was uneasy. "If they don't harvest this year, they could pull us all down," said Fred Friedrichsen, president of the Citizens State Bank of Glenville.
The weather notwithstanding, this had already become Glenville's gloomiest autumn. On Aug. 17, workers struck George Hormel & Co., the large meatpacking firm in nearby Austin, and that was keeping a number of local citizens out of work. There was a threatened strike looming day after day at nearby Farmstead, another packinghouse on which many Glenvillians rely for work. Worse, grain and pork prices remained depressed and the cost of production high. "I'd say 20 percent of our farmers are near bankruptcy," said Friedrichsen. "I've been in the business [here] for 16 years, and it's the worst I've ever seen it."
It was against this gray, colorless backdrop of cold rain, labor disputes and failing farms that the Glenville High varsity football team played out the most touching drama of the year in these parts. The Trojans came into the '85 season bearing a legacy that both hounded and mystified the team, the school and the town itself. Since Sept. 8, 1978, when Glenville beat Minnesota Lake 18-6, the school had not won a single game.
The Trojans were 0 for 60 through 1984—32 of the defeats were shutouts—and the opposition had outscored them 1,584-237. And the drought that the farmers suffered in these parts in July was matched only by the one that struck the Trojans in September and October. After Waterville thumped Glenville 43-0 on Oct. 16 in the last game of the season, the Trojans were 0-8 for '85—and the streak stood at 68. By then, or so it seemed, just about everyone in Minnesota was counting.
Before the season's first game against Morristown, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, the state's largest daily, had run a lengthy story beginning on the front page of the sports section, headlined, 0 AND 60/WHEN WILL THERE BE JOY IN GLENVILLE? The story pointed out that Glenville was closing in on the national high school record for consecutive defeats, 72, set by Iberia, Mo. in the seasons between 1965 and '74. The inevitable then happened. The wire services picked up the story and sent it nationwide. Soon afterward, a representative from ABC's Good Morning America telephoned the school from New York, making inquiries. By early October townsfolk and school administrators were beginning to circle the wagons.
"There's so much pressure on the kids," said Larry Knutson, 30, head of the Glenville Booster Club, who had played for the Trojans in the days when the team held its own in football. "Radios, magazines, newspapers. Too much pressure on them to win a football game. That shouldn't be their main goal in life. It's not fair. When the streak began in 1978, some of these kids [the seniors] were in the fifth grade. They had no control over it. The kids should be having a good time as members of the team, win or lose, competing and showing good sportsmanship."
That may be true, taking the long perspective on things, but Glenville is small-town Middle America, sitting out there in the embattled grain belt, and the win ethic is as pervasive as the wind and as clinging as the cockleburs that stick to the pants legs as one walks the fields. With all the problems the farmers were having, the football record, and the attention it was drawing, was simply another discomfiting presence, one that evoked a potpourri of reactions—from Knutson's concern over what the boys were going through to embarrassment over being the brunt of jokes to bewilderment, sadness and pity.