The football Golden Gophers have lost eight consecutive games to Iowa dating back to 2015. In the new millennium Minnesota has won just five games in the border rivalry. In the last 30 years the Gophers have claimed Floyd of Rosedale only seven times in the annual game that ranks among the most famous in college football.
This Saturday the 3-3 Gophers go to Iowa City with the intent of defeating the 6-1 Hawkeyes and breaking their losing streak. Minnesota hasn’t won in Iowa City since 1999.
Maybe the Gophers should seek counsel from former Minnesota head coach Joe Salem. The Hawkeye slayer saw his teams beat Iowa three consecutive seasons from 1979-1981 and as a quarterback hero in 1960 helped the Gophers to their biggest win since at least World War II.
A 12-10 victory in 1981 cost the Hawks an outright Big Ten championship. ”Man, that was a tough ball game,” Salem told Sports Headliners by phone on Sunday. “(Jim) Gallery kicked four field goals (in) that game. Nobody could score.”
Salem always let his players know how much passion he had for the Iowa rivalry. It was the biggest game to him, his son Brent, a former college coach, told Sports Headliners. “It starts top down. The energy from the coach matters more. This is why you come here. Every school has those games.”
Joe’s passion during Iowa game week paid off with his players performing with extra focus and adrenaline. “Oh, no question on that one,” Joe said. “We played with pretty good intensity in that game. We had some really good football games. …I would guess today the guys that played for me, that they want to beat Iowa probably worse than anything.”
It didn’t take any time at all to get the attention of his players during practice leading up to the Iowa game. Salem wore bib overalls on the practice field. Anyone acquainted with Salem knows his sense of humor and poking a little fun at the farm-focused state of Iowa just added to the rivalry.
The bib overalls gig didn’t originate in Minnesota, though. “I started that down in South Dakota (as head coach),” Salem recalled. “Of course, our rivalry was with South Dakota State and that’s an agriculture school. So I came to practice one day with the bib overalls—on a Monday. We were getting ready to play them and you know it was just kind of a fun deal.
“I told them (his players) …we’re playing the farmers, so I wore my bib overalls. And so then we won the game, and…I thought, hell, it worked last year, might as well try it again. We won five straight. I just kept doing it.”
Salem, who grew up in Sioux Falls and still lives there at age 85, left his position at South Dakota after the 1974 season. Then he was head coach at Northern Arizona for four seasons before taking the Minnesota job starting in 1979.
“When I came back to Minnesota, I thought, hell, I’ll try it here (the bib overalls), just for the hell of it. It was more a fun deal, was the way I looked at it. Everybody got a kick out of it. It was just kind of the way we did things.”
Iowa coach Hayden Fry got the last laugh, though. After his Hawkeyes beat Minnesota in 1982, Fry showed up at the postgame news conference wearing bib overalls and a cowboy hat. A writer told Salem about it, and he laughed. “Tell Hayden I wore mine before the game. I didn’t have to see what the score was,” Salem responded.
Brent was nine when he and his brothers started attending practices and games in Minnesota in 1979. Brent loves football rivalries and he texted about how his dad once angered the Iowa fanbase the Friday before the Hawkeyes came to Minneapolis. Talking on local radio Joe showed his dry wit with this zinger: “There’s 20,000 Iowans coming to the game on Saturday. They will have a $20 bill and one clean pair of underwear. They won’t change either one of them all weekend!”
Joe, who couldn’t believe all the mail he received from Iowa fans after he stirred up the rivalry, formed his passion for beating the Hawkeyes as a player with Minnesota. He learned about the heated rivalry after transferring to Minnesota from Iowa State in 1957. Gopher head coach Murray Warmath and Iowa head coach Forest Evashevski didn’t get along, Joe said. After the Gophers defeated Iowa in Warmath’s first season of 1954, the Hawkeyes went on to win every year through 1959.
Things changed in dramatic fashion in 1960. Iowa came to Minneapolis No. 1 ranked in the country. The Gophers were No. 3 and both teams were undefeated going into the November 5 game played before 65,610 fans at old Memorial Stadium.
Salem was a reserve on the team but after Iowa scored early in the third quarter to take a 10-7 lead, Warmath told Joe he was going in the game. “I was a third team quarterback and I never played unless everything was going to hell, and then he’d put me in and he’d just say, ‘Well, you try it.’ … “
On that magical Saturday almost 63 years ago Salem lit a spark in the Gophers, leading them to two second half touchdowns. Minnesota won the game 27-10, bedlam ensued all over the state and the Gophers went on to be 1960 national champions.
Salem became an assistant coach at Minnesota starting in 1961 and that only continued his passion for the Iowa conflict. “It wasn’t a hatred deal. It was just a rivalry. It’s one that (I) kind of grew up with. I would say I still carry it today.” …
Athletic director Paul Giel fired Salem after the 1983 season when the Gophers’ 1-10 record followed a previous year of disappointment at 3-8. Salem’s success against Iowa, winning three and losing two, is memorable for sure but his favorite game was upsetting Ohio State 35-31 at home in 1981. “It was, because Minnesota doesn’t beat Ohio State very often.”
The victory is one of just seven Minnesota has earned over the blue-blood Buckeyes. “We should have beat them in ‘79. …We had over 500 yards on them,” Salem said about a late game 21-17 loss.
The Gophers unveiled the novel run-and-shoot offense for the 1979 game. “It was a tough offense to defend and, of course, they didn’t know we were running it and so that helped,” Salem said.
The pass-focused attack befuddled the Buckeyes that day in 1979 and again in 1981 when quarterback Mike Hohensee threw five touchdown passes, including three to tight end Jay Carroll (father of 2023 Minnesota starting offensive tackle Quinn Carroll).
A friend might ask Salem to wear those old bib overalls this week but that isn’t going to happen. “I have no idea where they ended up,” he said.
Salem didn’t take the bait either when told former Gopher record breaking runner and now radio analyst Darrell Thompson eats bacon the week leading up to the battle for the bronze pig (Floyd). “My wife is in a nursing home, and I am sitting here by myself, and I am not cooking anything,” said Salem.
The old coach’s heart, though, will be with his alma mater. “Yeah, I’d love to see them beat Iowa and I don’t care what sport. I just like to watch it.”
Dick Jonckowski Update
Minnesota icon Dick Jonckowski reports he is no longer scheduled to join the Midas Touch band at Mancini’s Char House on October 20. “The Polish Eagle,” who turns 80 on October 22, was at Mancini’s last Saturday and played two trombone kazoos with the band and received birthday greetings from patrons.