The casual visitor wandering into Cooke Hall, a vast red brick building which houses the athletic department at the University of Minnesota, may be pardoned if his first impulse is to turn and run. For there, glaring down from the walls, is a great host of distressingly muscular and determined-looking young men. Actually they are not dangerous at all—at least not any more. They are the Gopher athletic heroes of years gone by.
There is a scattering of discus throwers and forwards and infielders and goalies and even an occasional wrestler with his biceps flexed and his stomach sticking out. But most of the big portraits are of football players. Row after row, they extend toward infinity, the fullbacks, guards, centers, tackles, ends and halfbacks who have carved the tradition of mighty Minnesota on football fields across the land. Here you will find all the famous names: Herb Joesting, Pug Lund, George Franck, Bruce Smith, Paul Giel, and the great linemen, Widseth, Tonnemaker, Nomellini, Wildung, Munn, and a scowling giant named Nagurski.
If you walk far enough, around a corner and down a long hall on the second floor, and look at enough pictures, eventually you come to the portrait of a pleasant-faced fellow in a turtle-neck sweater, a beat-up pair of old cleated shoes and a ratty-looking set of moleskin pants. The name plate says John McGovern, All-America Quarterback, 1909. You may also discover standing in front of the picture a rather handsome young man with curly black hair, brown eyes, muscular shoulders and a determined look of his own. He has no name plate but he is Robert Lafayette Cox. He is very fond of the picture.
"That guy," he says, "was the last All-America quarterback Minnesota ever had. Maybe someday, if I'm lucky, they'll put me up there, too."
Perhaps they will. At the moment, however, it would appear that more than luck, in fact more even than the great individual skills of Bobby Cox will be needed if this rather dashing young man is to hang on the wall where he belongs. Instead of heading toward the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl, as a large segment of the nation's football audience thought likely several weeks ago, the ponderous Minnesota Gophers are now heading nowhere quite fast.
Before the season began, Cox was almost unanimously conceded to be the best—and certainly the most colorful—college quarterback in the land. There were quarterbacks who could pass better, perhaps even a few who could run better and others more talented on defense. But for all the things a good quarterback must do—run, pass and think while at the same time deceiving the opponent and lifting his own ball club—Cox appeared to stand alone.
Basically, nothing has changed. Minnesota's unexpected mediocrity may have hobbled Bobby on his way to becoming an All-America but he is still quite a football player. And, whatever happens, he will be the last to complain. A young man who grew up in a near slum, ran away from home when barely 14, worked at odd jobs for a living, survived a hasty teen-age marriage and divorce, and then verged upon tramp athleticism only to wind up as the hero of a great university with a beautiful wife, a host of friends and a rosy-hued future dead ahead does not complain of adversity.
"I think," says Bobby Cox, "that I'm the luckiest guy in the world."
Bobby was born in Olympia, Wash, on June 1, 1934, and before he was old enough to enter elementary school he had lived in Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Waitsburg, Wash, and, finally, back at L.A.
"My father was Irish," says Bobby. "A big, tough mick, but a nice-looking guy and pretty intelligent. He had a good education. He tried a lot of things and I guess he tried hard but nothing seemed to work out.