The Gophers lost a legendary former player and extraordinary benefactor when Bob McNamara passed away on Sunday at age 82.
McNamara grew up in a poor family with a difficult father in Hastings, Minnesota. By the time McNamara started playing football for the Gophers in the early 1950s he was a tough guy. Never were his toughness, determination and love for the Gophers more on display than on November 13, 1954 against hated rival Iowa.
With more than 65,464 fans packed into Minnesota’s Memorial Stadium, McNamara led the Gophers to a 22-20 win and a 7-1 record in coach Murray Warmath’s first season in Minneapolis. The game’s highlight came in the first half with the score tied at 7-7. McNamara received an Iowa kickoff at Minnesota’s 11-yard line and made an 89-yard touchdown run that deserves a place among the most determined efforts in program history.
McNamara shook off Iowa tacklers, refusing to go down to the ground. Warmath said in his biography, The Autumn Warrior, that McNamara’s run was indeed the stuff of legends. “It was the finest example of brilliance and desire I have ever seen,” the coach praised.
Years later McNamara was in the bar business and patrons could watch film of the classic run at his Minneapolis establishment located near campus. McNamara was proud of that day and his All-American senior season in 1954 but his efforts for the Gophers hardly ended there.
His fundraising and promotion helped the Gophers with various facilities projects and he was a leader in the Save Gophers Sports drive that helped keep men’s and women’s golf, and men’s gymnastics as varsity sports at Minnesota. He was recognized for his efforts in helping to make TCF Bank Stadium a reality and was an Honorary Captain for the facility’s opening game in 2009 against Air Force.
Richard “Pinky” McNamara, Bob’s younger brother, threw a key block on that legendary touchdown run that happened 60 years ago this fall. “Pinky,” who passed away in 2011, was even more successful in business than Bob and the McNamara Alumni Center is named after him.
The McNamara Academic Center in the Bierman Building is used daily by more than 750 student-athletes. It is named after both brothers who spent their lives living in the Minneapolis area and devoted themselves to helping their alma mater.
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King likes to write about “Things I Think I Think.” If it’s good enough for Peter, it works for me. Here we go…
Two major storylines are already written in any word document about the Gophers’ football season outlook. Coach Jerry Kill will give himself and the program’s image a “facelift” by staying healthy all season. With a difficult schedule and unproven quarterback, if the Gophers win eight games again this season then be prepared to start dancing down University Avenue in 2015.
Richard Pitino keeps the lowest public profile of any Gophers basketball coach I remember.
At 29 and with a history of injuries, this will be a telling year for running back Adrian Peterson who looks like the focal point of the new offense under first-year coordinator Norv Turner. If Peterson is healthy, expect him to have one of his best years as a pro. If he isn’t, the Vikings may want to make other offensive plans for 2015 and beyond.
Anyone else surprised the Vikings still have season tickets for sale despite moving this season into TCF Bank Stadium with over 10,000 fewer seats than the Metrodome?
Hate to tell you, but you’re goofy if you think the Twins can catch the Tigers and win the AL Central.
If the Twins head into September on pace for another 90-plus loss season, speculation will begin about manager Ron Gardenhire’s job security. In his favor is the admiration of general manager Terry Ryan but how many managers have ever lost 90-plus games over four seasons and kept their jobs?
Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki has a one year contract with the club but don’t expect Joe Mauer to catch again after his concussion experience last season and the 2014 move to first base. It won’t be a surprise if Suzuki is traded before month’s end.
Local Josh Willingham fans should enjoy this summer because with an expiring $7 million contract and dismal offensive production the 35-year-old Twins left fielder looks like a goner after this season—perhaps sooner.
Hope Flip Saunders is thinking about making Gorgui Dieng the starting center because of his defense and rebounding while using Nikola Pekovic in an instant offense role off the bench.
Fans might think Saunders’ selection of assistant coaches looks like a collection of “Yes, boss” types. But this could be a good staff that helps the Wolves overachieve, something they didn’t do last season under coach Rick Adelman.
When the Gophers play their opening game of the season at TCF Bank Stadium on August 28 against Eastern Illinois fans will have more locations to buy beer and wine.
A source told Sports Headliners that approximately 150 points of sale in the stadium will serve customers—about double the number from last season. That means about 150 workers available to sell alcohol in different parts of the stadium. Also new is beer and wine will be sold 90 minutes prior to kickoff and through the third quarter—compared with 60 minutes and through halftime in 2013.
The athletic department is making the changes to create a better fan experience. In the past, the stadium beer and wine locations were overcrowded (plaza area only) but being able to purchase those alcohol products at regular concession stands, creating additional points of sale, will provide more efficient service.
Beer and wine sales at TCF Bank Stadium began in 2012 and the athletic department has netted about $200,000 in profit the last two seasons. That profit is expected to increase this year but the department doesn’t see the alcohol sales so much as a revenue producer as it does filling a customer need. Most college stadiums don’t sell alcohol but in a pro sports town like Minneapolis the Gophers want to be competitive with amenities.
A few thousand or more University students typically attend Gophers home games and many are under the legal drinking age of 21 in Minnesota. Customers must show identification to purchase alcohol at the games. Despite the presence of beer and wine sales at TCF Bank Stadium, University officials didn’t see any significant increase in behavior problems with fans in 2012 and 2013.
The Gophers’ opening football game on August 28 at TCF Bank Stadium will start at 6 p.m. and will be televised by the Big Ten Network. The Vikings play the same night starting at 7 p.m. in Nashville against the Titans in a preseason game televised by KARE 11.
BaseballAmerica.com released its midseason top 50 prospects list on Monday and five players from the Twins organization are in the group including outfielder Byron Buxton who is No. 1 in the rankings. Third baseman Miguel Sano is No. 9 while right-handed pitchers Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart and Alex Meyer are No. 27, 30 and 32.
Fox Sports North will televise a replay of Minnesota’s 1965 MLB All-Star Game tonight at 5:30 p.m. and show the 1985 game on Friday at 11 p.m.
Metropolitan Stadium was the site of the 1965 game when the National League defeated the American League, 6-5. Harmon Killebrew homered and drove in two runs. Other Twins playing for the American League were Earl Battey, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Jimmie Hall, Tony Oliva and Zoilo Versalles.
The Metrodome hosted the 1985 game and the National League won 6-1. The lone Twin in the game was reserve outfielder Tom Brunansky who went hitless in one at bat.
As part of All-Star weekend activities, the State Fairgrounds will be the site on Sunday of a first ever event—The Color Run MLB All-Star 5k Presented by Nike. Baseball alums at the event are expected to include former Twins Scott Erickson, Doug Mientkiewicz and Dave Winfield. The Color Run website describes a “unique paint race that celebrates health, happiness and individuality.” Participants are doused in a different colored powder at each kilometer. More on Sunday’s event at Allstargame.com/run.
Minnesota native and former Timberwolves executive Kevin McHale hasn’t been part of an NBA championship team since the Celtics won the title in 1986 but perhaps that will change in Houston where he is the Rockets head coach. If speculation turns into reality with the Rockets signing a superb free agent this summer, that could make Houston—already with star players in Dwight Howard and James Harden—a title contender for McHale, the ex-Celtics Hall of Fame power forward.
Joel Engel e-mailed that his son Derrick Engel, the former Gophers wide receiver, is “on track with his rehab” and hopes to be ready for private workouts in coming weeks. Engel had ACL surgery last December but is hopeful about a career in pro football.
Derrick’s younger brother Sean, who played for Chaska High School as a sophomore wide receiver, is now 6-foot-5 and a player to watch in the class of 2016.
The Twin Cities Dunkers continue to help fund the athletic needs of Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools. From equipment to transportation to uniforms, gifts from the Dunkers Fund have grown from $32,500 to $71,000 in the last two years and are expected to increase in 2014. “You have boosted confidence and pride in these kids on and off the playing field,” a coach told the organization.
Jake Mauer predicts his grandson Joe Mauer will hit over .300 before the season ends but told Sports Headliners he understands the frustration Twins fans have with their $23 million per season first baseman.
“He’s getting a big salary, he should produce,” Jake said. “That’s what the fans think and that’s what the fans want. He’s trying but it just don’t happen (yet). But I don’t blame the people.”
Jake said Joe has mentioned the possibility of being benched, and grandpa has thought too the former American League batting champion should come out of the lineup. “But they can’t bench him because he’s making so much money. They gotta have him in the lineup,” the older Mauer said.
Mauer is on the 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain suffered several days ago. The injury to his side and its timing have added to the frustration for Mauer who was hitting a career low .260 on June 24 but raised his average to .271 on July 1. In the last 10 games before being sidelined he was hitting .359 and had 10 RBI (only 28 for the season). Jake predicts his grandson will not play again until July 18.
“He couldn’t understand the (poor hitting) stretch that he went through,” Jake said. “He’s never had it in his life. He starts coming out of it and then he gets hurt.
“He says, ‘What the heavens are going to happen next? Here I suffer for two months and then I start a string of going good and then I get hurt. It’s just terrible.’ ”
Jake said Joe’s struggles have at times caused his grandson’s spirits to be low. “He feels he’s letting the team down. He just can’t get the hits that bring in the runs.”
Jake, a former baseball player himself, mentored Joe as a child growing up in Saint Paul. What’s the problem with his grandson’s hitting this year?
Jake believes the concussion Mauer suffered last August and caused him to miss the remainder of the season is a factor. “I think it has hampered him. I really do.”
Mauer learned last summer and during the fall months the ongoing aftereffects of a concussion. He also could look at the history of close friend Justin Morneau who suffered a concussion in 2010. It has only been this season that Morneau, now with the Rockies, returned to being one of baseball’s more productive hitters.
A winner of three batting titles and .330 lifetime hitter going into this season, Mauer has not only produced minimal offensive numbers including only two home runs but has been striking out more than normal. Jake said Joe has told him his timing isn’t right.
Joe also critiqued himself by saying, according to Jake, that “sometimes I have a lazy swing. Sometimes I have a good swing but I am never consistent.”
Not only do fans wonder about the concussion but there is speculation Mauer is an old 31 after 10 seasons of absorbing the physical toll of catching. This season he was moved to first base but no one would argue the change has helped Mauer who hit .324 and .319 the last two seasons as a catcher.
Still, Jake said his grandson “definitely” will hit over .300 before the season ends. “He’s on his way and then he got hurt.”
Mauer’s contract runs through the 2018 season. Although the Twins have lost close to 100 games each of the last three seasons and appear destined for the same results in 2014, Jake said Joe doesn’t want to play for another team now or ever. “Oh, no. The Twins are his home and there is no other team that he would play for. …If the Twins won’t have him back (after the contract expires), he won’t come back with any other team except the Twins.”
At next week’s MLB All-Star Game in Minneapolis Jake and Joe could do something neither would have predicted. The two will probably watch the game together in the Target Field suite Mauer owns. A six-time All-Star, including last year, Mauer will have to watch from some place other than the field or the dugout.
“He doesn’t believe he belongs,” Jake said.
It’s been that kind of season so far.
Mid-July is typically a time of minimal rain in Minneapolis and long range forecasts indicate dry weather for next Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game here.
Jim Kaat, 75 and among the former Twins who will be in town for All-Star activities, is an ambidextrous golfer who has shot his age both right and left handed. Kaat won 25 games in 1966, the most in Twins franchise history for a single season.
The Twins, who play on the road at Seattle and Colorado before the All-Star break in scheduling starts next Monday, have lost four consecutive series. Last night’s loss against the Mariners left the Twins with a 3-11 record since June 23.
The Eastern Illinois team the Gophers open their season with at home on August 28 is ranked No. 24 nationally among FCS teams by Athlon magazine’s college football issue. The Panthers were 12-2 last season but lost their star quarterback to the NFL and coach to Bowling Green.
North Dakota State, a program using Minnesota high school players for a foundation, will be chasing a record fourth consecutive FCS national title. The Bison are ranked No. 2 in the country by Athlon.
The magazine selected former Eagan High School player Zach Zenner, now at South Dakota State, as one of two running backs on its All-America first team.
New WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson recently was at Bemidji State and plans to visit all 10 of his schools before Christmas. Robertson, a Saint Paul native, became WCHA commissioner this spring succeeding Bruce McLeod.
Players from the Timberwolves NBA Summer League roster will scrimmage tomorrow night at Target Center starting at 7 p.m. The scrimmage is open to the public and admission is free. Timberwolves fan memberships are required to obtain autographs after the scrimmage. More details are available by contacting a Timberwolves membership sales rep at 612- 673-1234. The Timberwolves begin their NBA Summer League schedule on Saturday night in Las Vegas against the Mavericks.
The most recognizable names on the summer league roster are Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Glenn Robinson III and Alexey Shved.
Registration for the 2015 Grandma’s Marathon opened last week. The annual Two Harbors-to-Duluth race is the 16th largest in the country and in 2014 had 7,964 participants.