When big slow rural kids were pitted against swift lithe urban kids, even Bierman couldn't win. In 1950, his 16th and last year at Minnesota, his record was 1-7-1. He quit and never coached again. The best seasons since Bierman's tenure occurred in '60 and '61 under Warmath, and they were sort of strange. Those winning engines were driven mostly by black power, none of it from Minnesota. With the help of Carl Rowan, a highly respected reporter on the Minneapolis Tribune who's now a nationally syndicated columnist, several superb black athletes came to Minnesota, including Sandy Stephens and Bill Munsey of Pennsylvania, Aaron Brown ( Texas) and Carl Eller and Bobby Bell ( North Carolina). For once, the Gophers were ahead of the crowd: The major Southern schools still hadn't welcomed blacks, and most other Big Ten teams hadn't recruited as well among blacks as Minnesota had. But once the others got in the act, the Gophers returned to mediocrity.
Says Sid Hartman, a Minneapolis Star and Tribune columnist for 30 years and the most knowledgeable authority on Gopher football, "The sports picture in Minnesota turned around because of black athletes. In all his years, Bernie Bierman had maybe two blacks. Now in the Big Ten, 50, 60 percent of the starting teams are black. We have a two-percent black population in Minnesota. We are farther from Chicago than any other Big Ten school, and that's the closest city with lots of good black high school players. Michigan and Ohio State have big black populations in nearby cities."
Somehow, the more people talk about it, the more it seems that Minnesota's football problems are endemic to Minnesota. Speed? You want speed? Minnesota runners are slower than others. The state high school record for the 100-yard dash is 9.6, compared with 9.5 in Michigan, 9.4 in California and 9.0 in Florida. You want rifle-armed quarterbacks and sure-fingered ends? Says Stoll, "You cannot find a player born and bred in Minnesota who ever played regularly in the NFL as a passer or catcher. Lineman, yes, and linebackers, but not guys at the skill positions."
Even players merely good enough to play any position on a major college team are scarce in Minnesota. In 1981 the NCAA made a study to determine which states were turning out the most Division I players. California had 1,348, Texas 1,326, Ohio 945, Pennsylvania 711. Minnesota had produced a grand total of 85—and more than half of them were playing for the Gophers. The whole five-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas had only 364 players. The Philadelphia area alone had 300.
All right, Holtz has already prescribed the cure for those problems: "For the arms and legs we will have to go elsewhere." Despite their late start, Holtz and his staff recruited far and wide and very well. They found an arm in quarterback Rickey Foggie of South Carolina and the legs of a blue-ribbon sprinter from Florida. Five freshmen have started on occasion. Nevertheless, the season has been resolutely so-so. A 20-13 loss to Michigan State last week dropped the Gophers' record to 3-5, and their final three games are against Big Ten powers Illinois, Michigan and Iowa.
But hope springs eternal in cold lands like Minnesota. A lot of people in the state believe Holtz can make their Gophers winners again. Stranger things have happened. This is, after all, only the fourth presidential campaign since 1948 in which Harold Stassen has not run. One less uffda around Minnesota can only be a good omen.