HOME ~ College Football History
Minnesota football history was made on Sept. 29, 1882, when Minnesota
played Hamline at the Col. King State Fairgrounds, near Riverside and
Franklin in South Minneapolis. These two teams, along with Carleton,
were to take part in
a “Field Day” at the Fairgrounds. Carleton failed
to show up, and Hamline nearly left, but Minnesota team captain A.J.
Baldwin talked Hamline into staying and playing what would be the first
football game in U of M history. Baldwin scored the first points of the
game to lead the Gophers to a 4-0 win.
Alfred Pillsbury, one of Minnesota’s first star players, played for
Alfred Pillsbury was one of the founders of football at Minnesota. In
the early days, there were no governing bodies regulating collegiate
eligibility, so Pillsbury played at Minnesota for eight seasons, from
1885-92. His greatest contribution may have been changing the team’s
style of play from the soccer style to the rugby style. He accomplished
this mainly because he owned the only rugby ball in town!
The First Championship
Minnesota recorded an undefeated season in 1892, playing future Big Ten
opponents Michigan and Northwestern that season. That year the team won
its first-ever conference title, the Intercollegiate Athletic
Association of the Northwest.
W.W. “Pudge” Heffelfinger
One of college football’s most honored players is “Pudge” Heffelfinger,
a three-time All-American guard at Yale (1889-91). But few know that
Heffelfinger’s career started at Minnesota. In 1887, the senior at
Minneapolis Central High School went to the train station to watch the
Gopher football team depart for a game against Shattuck Academy in
Faribault. But the Gophers were one man short, so Heffelfinger was
pressed into action. He played at Minnesota the rest of that year before
going to Yale. He returned to Minnesota in 1895 to coach the Gophers for
Dr. Henry L. Williams
Henry L. Williams (right, in bowler), coached Minnesota for 21
The first Big Nine title game for the Gophers was played in 1900. That
season, Minnesota went 10-0-2 under the first year direction of Dr.
Henry Williams. Dr. Williams was Minnesota’s first full-time, salaried
coach. He left his mark on the game as a member of the rules committee:
he was the first to propose legislation legalizing the forward pass.
(The forward pass was legalized in 1906.) In 21 years as football coach
he compiled a 136-33-11 record. The Gophers won eight Big Ten titles
under Williams. He was honored in 1950 when the U of M Fieldhouse was
renamed Williams Arena.
In 1904 Minnesota rolled to its most lopsided victory ever, a 146-0
thrashing of Grinnell. In this game Minnesota broke what was referred to
as “the world’s record for scoring,” the previous high being a 130-0
Michigan victory over West Virginia. The Golden Gophers were consistent,
scoring 73 points in each half. The record stood for 13 years. Minnesota
went on to a perfect season that year, winning 13 games.
In 1880, the University of Minnesota was preparing for spring
graduation. For the previous 29 years, different graduation colors were
used every ceremony. In the spring of 1880, President Folwell began a
tradition of common school colors at the University. He asked an English
instructor, Mrs. Augusta Smith, to select proper colors to use for
graduation ribbons and other occasions. She chose maroon and gold, which
made a favorable impression on the students and faculty in 1880. As the
years passed and without any kind of formal action, maroon and gold
became the official school colors.
This famous Minnesota phrase, pronounced SKY-YOU-MAH, is more than 115
years old. In 1884, two Minnesota rugby players, John W. Adams and Win
Sargent, tried to think of a fitting team yell. They used the word
“Ski”, a Sioux battle cry meaning victory, and combined it with “U-Mah”
(representing the University of Minnesota and rhyming with
“rah-rah-rah”) to create a team cheer. The phrase stuck and was
incorporated into both official school songs, “Hail Minnesota” and more
commonly in the “Minnesota Rouser.”
In 1898, Johnny Campbell invented what is now known as cheerleading.
Cheerleading at Minnesota
One of the most visible traditions in sports was born more than 100
years ago at the University of Minnesota. In the fall of 1898, student
Johnny Campbell offered to lead organized cheers at football games. This
offer came after three straight losses, and a subsequent editorial in
the school paper that said, “Any plan that would stir up enthusiasm for
athletics would be helpful.” Campbell had a plan, and he began to lead
organized cheers at the home game against Northwestern. Minnesota won
17-6, and much of the credit went to Campbell and his “yell leaders.” At
that late-season game, the tradition of cheerleading was born.
Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
Minnesota and Wisconsin have met more times than any other NCAA Division
I-A football rivalry, playing 109 games since 1890. The Gophers lead the
all-time series 57-45-8. Since 1907 the two teams have played on an
annual basis, the third-longest continuous series in college football.
Since 1948 the two teams have played for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, a seven-foot
traveling trophy that goes to the winner of the “Border Battle.”
The Gopher Nickname
The Gopher mascot is a tradition as old as the state. Minnesota was
tabbed the “Gopher State” in 1857 after a satirizing cartoon, depicting
nine Gophers with the heads of local politicians pulling a locomotive,
was published. The story was over legislative action for a $5 million
railroad proposal in western Minnesota. Later, the University picked up
The “Golden” Gophers
The “Golden” adjective has not always been a part of the Gopher
nickname. During the 1930s, the Gophers wore gold jerseys and pants.
Legendary KSTP-AM radio announcer Halsey Hall coined the term “Golden
Gophers” in reference to the team’s all-gold attire on the field. From
1932-41, Minnesota compiled an impressive record, losing only 12 games
in the 10-year span and winning seven Big Ten titles and five national
championships — a true “golden” decade of Gopher football.
The Minnesota Rouser
The “Minnesota Rouser” is one of two official school songs at the
University of Minnesota. It was written in 1909 by Floyd M. Hutsell in
response to a contest sponsored by the Minneapolis Tribune. The contest
was judged by University President Cyrus Northrop and Governor A.O.
Eberhart, with the winner receiving $100. The rouser is sung at Gopher
sporting events, along with the other official University song, “Hail
After 117 seasons of Minnesota football, which included 18 conference
titles, six national championships, a Heisman Trophy winner and more
than 50 first-team All-Americans, the Golden Gophers reached a new
milestone during the 1997 season. The final game of the year in Iowa
City, Iowa, was the team’s 1,000th game in school history. With the
success of the first 1,000 games, the University and the state of
Minnesota can take pride in knowing that the next
1900: The first known action photo of a Minnesota football game.
1,000 games should be just as exciting. With fifth-year Head Coach Glen
Mason at the helm, the Golden Gophers will be a force to reckon with in
the Big Ten Conference again after returning to a bowl game for the
second straight season, making the Golden Gophers one of just four Big
Ten schools to accomplish that feat. However, the continuing journey
into the future cannot begin without a brief look back at what brought
the Maroon and Gold through the first 1,000 games — although it would be
difficult to mention every great moment.
First Game In School History
Minnesota football history was made on Sept. 29, 1882, when Minnesota
played Hamline at the Col. King State Fairgrounds in South Minneapolis.
These two teams, along with Carleton, were to take part in a “Field Day”
at the Fairgrounds. Carleton failed to show up, and Hamline nearly left,
but Minnesota team captain A.J. Baldwin talked Hamline into staying and
playing what would be the first football game in Minnesota history.
Baldwin scored the first points of the game to lead the Gophers to a 4-0
They Called Him Coach
In the fall of 1883, Thomas Peebles came to Minnesota to teach mental
and moral philosophy. Soon after he arrived at the University, some of
the boys discovered that their professor had played football at
Princeton and asked him to help with their game against Carleton
College. So in the fall of 1883, Peebles became the first head football
coach at the University of Minnesota.
The 100th Game
The turn of the century also marked the year for Minnesota’s 100th
football game. On Nov. 12, 1900, the Men of Gold took the field to play
Northwestern in front of 3,000 fans. Minnesota shut out Northwestern
21-0 on that day, and many who saw the game said it was the best
performance of the year by the Gophers. One news source described the
scene by writing, that...“victory is again Minnesota’s, and by the
convincing score of 21 to 0. Northwestern’s gritty and clever football
players could not stand against the terrific charges of the big North
Star men, though they played a splendid game and used their heads in
every play today.”
Turn of a Century
The season of 1900 was a year of great achievement for the Gophers. It
was the first under the coaching of Henry “Doc” Williams. The Gophers
went 10-0-2 in 1900 and captured their first Big Ten title. Dr.
Williams, who coached the Gophers for 22 years, called the squad one of
the best teams he ever saw.
In 1909, John McGovern was named the best quarterback in the country and
given a place on the All-America Team, the second Gopher player to gain
this honor. Squatty and powerfully built, McGovern was an outstanding
player. Except for one game, he played every minute of every game for
The Legend of Memorial Stadium
On Thursday, March 6, 1924, in spite of snow and cold wind, 500
Minnesotans gathered at the corner of Oak Street and University Avenue
to watch University President L.D. Coffman pitch the first spadeful of
dirt, which marked the official start to the building of Memorial
Stadium. The stadium was ready for the opening game of the 1924 season,
42 days ahead of schedule. The first official game in the stadium was
against North Dakota, in which the Gophers won 14-0 after “playing far
below expectations.” The formal dedication took place Nov. 15 against
Illinois, and the team responded by winning 20-7. The first points
scored in Memorial Stadium were by Minnesota’s Clarence Schutte, who
plunged over the goal line from two yards out to break a scoreless tie
in the third quarter against North Dakota. Unfortunately for Minnesota
fans, the last game at Memorial Stadium was Nov. 21, 1981, when
Wisconsin defeated the Golden Gophers, 26-21. The final points scored by
Minnesota in the stadium came when quarterback Mike Hohensee connected
with Chester Cooper on a four-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter
to give the Golden Gophers a 21-20 lead. However, the legend of the
stadium ended when Badger reserve quarterback Randy Wright hit Michael
Jones for a seven-yard TD pass with 1:05 remaining.
The 1929 season will be remembered as the final season for Bronko
Nagurski. Sportswriters decided after his senior season in 1929, that he
was the best fullback and the best tackle in the nation, making Nagurski
the only player ever to be named first-team, consensus All-American at
two different positions in the same season. In 1979, his No. 72 was
officially retired from the Minnesota roster.
The First of Six National Championships
The 1934 season will be remembered as one of the most memorable in
Golden Gopher history. A 34-0 win over Wisconsin in the final game of
the season gave Minnesota an undefeated season and shot them into
national prominence as they were voted national champions in every poll
for the first time. Bernie Bierman, who was in his third year of
coaching, led the team with the modesty and quietness that became
typical of him. It wasn’t until the end of the season when the Little
Brown Jug, the Big Ten title and the national championship were secure,
did Bierman smile.
The Heisman Trophy
The 1941 season will not only be remembered as a national championship
season, but also as a year in which, possibly the best football player
in Golden Gopher history, Bruce Smith, became the first and only U of M
player to be honored with the Heisman Trophy Award. Smith was a great
ballcarrier, a fine passer, a superb blocker and a very strong defensive
player. Beyond that he was an outstanding spiritual leader.
The 1960 season will always be remembered as the biggest turnaround in
the history of Minnesota football. The Golden Gophers finished the 1959
season 2-7 overall and dead last in the Big Ten at 1-6. The 1960 season
saw the Gophers finish 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the conference to earn the
school’s first trip to the Rose Bowl. The national champion Golden
Gophers lost the Rose Bowl game, 17-7, to Washington.
Rose Bowl Champions
All-American Sandy Stepens led the Golden Gophers to their only Rose
Bowl victory on Jan. 1, 1962. Stephens was named Rose Bowl MVP.
On January 1, 1962, Minnesota evened its record in the Rose Bowl with a
21-3 win against UCLA. Murray Warmath’s Golden Gophers simply outclassed
and overpowered UCLA before nearly 100,000 fans in Pasadena. Sandy
Stephens, who would eventually be named to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame,
ran for two touchdowns and Bill Munsey added the other score in the
The Little Brown
Jug Oscar Munson may not be known throughout college football, but the
long-time equipment manager at the University of Minnesota started one
of college football’s most recognized traditions—the battle for the
Little Brown Jug. The most famous Little Brown Jug battle came in 1977.
Michigan waltzed into Memorial Stadium with the nation’s No. 1 ranking,
but left with a stunning 16-0 loss to the Golden Gophers. The game
marked the first time Michigan had been shut out in nine years. The
victory also returned the Little Brown Jug to Minnesota for the first
time since 1967.
The Last Time
In 1985, assistant coach John Gutekunst took over for Lou Holtz in the
final game of the season against Clemson in the Independence Bowl. The
Golden Gophers’ 20-13 victory gave Gutekunst a victory in his first
collegiate game as a head coach and Minnesota’s most recent victory in a
bowl game. The 1986 season ended with an invitation to the Liberty Bowl
for the Golden Gophers, which was the last bowl game Minnesota played in
prior appearing in the 1999 Wells Fargo Sun Bowl against the Oregon
The Border Battle
The Minnesota-Wisconsin football series is the most-played rivalry in
college football history at 110 games. The Golden Gophers hold an
all-time series lead of 57-45-8. In 1948, the Wisconsin W Club
instituted “Paul Bunyan’s Axe” as a trophy to be given to the annual
winner of the grand rivalry between the two schools.
One of the great traditions anywhere in college football, homecoming
also has its place at Minnesota. With a .619 winning percentage in
homecoming games since the first game in 1914, the Golden Gophers have a
history of “homecoming heroes.” The list includes such performances as
the Golden Gophers’ 490 yards of offense in 1936 that led to the most
lopsided win in homecoming history, a 52-0 thumping of Iowa. Minnesota
fans will never forget Paul Rogind’s last-second 31-yard field goal in
1978 that defeated Indiana, 32-31, after the Hoosiers owned a
second-quarter 24-0 lead. Finally, no one will ever forget the Golden
Gophers scoring 10 points in the final three minutes of the 1998
homecoming game, the 1,007th overall game in school history, to earn a
19-18 victory against Michigan State.
Gophers and Awards
Minnesota has had its name on several major individual awards. In
addition to Bruce Smith’s Heisman Trophy Award in 1941, Tom Brown won
the Outland Trophy in 1960 as the nation’s finest interior lineman. He
also finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. The Golden Gophers
rode his broad shoulders to a No. 1 national ranking, a trip to the Rose
Bowl and a national championship. Bobby Bell earned the Outland Trophy
in 1962 by a landslide vote. A member of the College and Pro Football
Hall of Fame, Bell led the Golden Gophers to a Rose Bowl win in 1962.
Called “the best football player we’ve ever had here” by the legendary
Butch Nash, Bell could run as fast as the running backs and throw
farther than the quarterbacks but ended up playing offensive and
defensive tackle. He became one of the best tackles in Big Ten history.
Tyrone Carter established himself as one of the greatest defensive backs
in NCAA history, racking up 582 career tackles, the most ever by a
defensive back in NCAA history. The strong safety won the Jim Thorpe
Award as the nation’s top defensive back in 1999.
Back to the Bowls
Under head coach Glen Mason, the Golden Gophers have returned as one of
the top programs in the Big Ten Conference. Mason engineered an 8-4
season in 1999 that included an upset of second-ranked Penn State on the
road. Minnesota earned a bid to the Wells Fargo Sun Bowl, its first
postseason trip since 1986. The Golden Gophers returned to the
postseason in 2000. After a 6-5 regular season, Minnesota earned a bid
to the Micronpc.com Bowl in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. The Golden Gophers are
one of just four Big Ten programs to reach a bowl game each of the past
two seasons. Minnesota reached back-to-back bowls for the third time in