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Dave Mona’s Vignettes: South Dakota University

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IT’S BEEN 80 YEARS SINCE THE GOPHERS HAVE ENTERTAINED A SOUTH DAKOTA UNIVERSITY TEAM, BUT THE NOTION OF THE COUNTRY KIDS COMING TO THE BIG CITY HAS LONG SINCE PASSED. THE SOUTH DAKOTA ROSTER TODAY IS FILLED WITH PLAYERS FROM FLORIDA, TEXAS, CALIFORNIA AND ILLINOIS.

 

BUT I THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE FUN TO LOOK BACK SOME 58 YEARS TO A DATE WHEN A 12-YEAR-OLD KID FROM SOUTH DAKOTA NAMED TOM BROKAW TOOK THE TRAIN TO MINNEAPOLIS TO SEE HIS BELOVED GOLDEN GOPHERS. HERE’S HOW HE DESCRIBED IT IN HIS BOOK: A LONG WAY FROM HOME.

“THE MINNEAPOLIS TRIBUNE WILL ALWAYS BE ONE OF MY FAVORITE NEWSPAPERS,” HE WROTE. “FOR IT GAVE ME MY FIRST OPPORTUNITY FOR ADVENTURE TRAVEL. THE PAPER OFFERED A FREE TRIP TO MINNEAPOLIS AND TICKETS TO A UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA FOOTBALL GAME TO ANY CARRIER WHO SIGNED UP A CERTAIN NUMBER OF NEW CUSTOMERS. SINCE PICKSTOWN HAD A CONSTANTLY EVOLVING WORKFORCE, I HAD A READY POOL OF NEW PROSPECTS AND I ALMOST ALWAYS NAILED THE PRIZE.

“ONE YEAR WHEN I WAS JUST 12, I HAD SIGNED UP ENOUGH NEW CUSTOMERS TO TAKE MY FRIEND JIMMY BROWN WITH ME. WE TOOK A BUS 100 MILES TO SIOUX CITY, WHERE WE BOARDED AN ALL-NIGHT LOCAL TRAIN TO MINNEAPOLIS, STOPPING OFTEN IN THE AUTUMNAL DARK HOURS TO PICK UP FREIGHT, FARM PRODUCTS AND EVEN A CASKET FILLED WITH THE REMAINS OF SOME ANONYMOUS MINNESOTAN. JIMMY AND I SLEPT NOT A WINK AS THE CONDUCTOR KEPT US ENTERTAINED WITH TALES OF RAILROADING AND TOURS OF THE CREW’S SLEEPING QUARTERS. THESE WERE COZILY FAMILIAR TO THE OFFSPRING OF WORKINGMEN, WITH THEIR THERMOS BOTTLES OF COFFEE, WALL CALENDARS AND THICK WOOL MACKINAW COATS THAT HUNG FROM HOOKS ABOVE THE SIMPLE COTS, SWAYING GENTLY WITH THE TRAIN’S ROLLING MOTION.

“ARRIVING AT THE MILWAUKEE ROAD DEPOT AT DAWN WAS THRILLING FOR THIS SMALL-TOWN BOY WITH BIG-CITY ASPIRATIONS BURIED SOMEWHERE IN HIS ADOLESCENT CONSCIOUSNESS. IT WAS A COLD MORNING AND THE LOCOMOTIVES BELCHED GREAT CLOUDS OF STEAM UNDER THE PLATFORM WHERE WE WERE MET BY THE TRIBUNE REPRESENTATIVE.

“MEMORIAL STADIUM, THE HOME OF THE GOLDEN GOPHERS WAS FILLED TO CAPACITY FOR THE GAME AGAINST THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS. I KNEW EVERY GOPHER PLAYER FROM A RELIGIOUS WEEKLY READING OF THE TRIBUNE SPORTS SECTION WHICH WAS PRINTED ON A PAPER COLORED LIGHT ROSE AND GENERALLY KNOWN AS THE ‘PEACH.’ MY HERO WAS MINNESOTA’S ALL-AMERICA HALFBACK PAUL GIEL, AND WHEN HE RAN PAST OUR ENDZONE SEATS AND INTO THE LOCKERROOM AT THE END OF A WINNING GAME, I TOUGHT THAT WAS AS CLOSE AS I WOULD EVER GET TO GREATNESS.

“THAT EARLY MINNEAPOLIS TRIP IS REFLECTIVE OF MORE INNOCENT TIMES, BUT IT’S A COMMENTARY ON WHAT I WAS NOT SEEING AS AN IMPRESSIONABLE CHILD FROM THE HINTERLANDS. I LOVED THE PACE AND EXCITEMENT OF DOWNTOWN MINNEAPOLIS, THE BRIGHTLY LIT RESTAURANTS OPEN WELL INTO THE NIGHT; THE NANKIN, A VENERABLE CHINESE RESTAURANT IN DOWNTOWN MINNEAPOLIS WITH INLAID MOTHER OF PEARL ON DINING TABLES; DAYTONS, THE LARGE, ELEGANT DEPARTMENT STORE WHOSE WARES BORE NO RESEMBLANCE TO THE PEDESTRAIN OFFERING OF PICKSTOWN MERCHANTS. I FELT EVERY INCH A COUNTRY BOY AS I LO0KED WITH AWE ON THE HONEY-HAIRED COEDS IN CAMEL’S HAIR COATS FESTOONED WITH MUMS AND WAVING POM POMS AT THE FOOTBALL GAME…THE GOPHERS IN THEIR MAROON AND GOLD UNIFORMS.”

HE MAY HAVE BEEN ONLY 12, BUT THAT BROKAW KID ALREADY HAD A PRETTY KEEN ABILITY TO PAINT A WORD PICTURE.

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