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Dave Mona’s Vignettes: Northwestern

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I’LL NEVER FORGET THE FIRST TIME I SAW BOBBY BELL UP CLOSE AND IN PERSON.

I THOUGHT HE WAS THE MOST ATHLETIC PERSON I’D EVER SEEN.

I THOUGHT HE MADE THE DIFFICULT LOOK EASY.

I THOUGHT HE COULD HAVE BEEN AN ALL-AMERICAN AT ABOUT A HALF DOZEN DIFFERENT POSITIONS.

OF COURSE  I ALSO THOUGHT HE WAS SANDY STEPHENS.

LET ME EXPLAIN.

IT WAS WELCOME WEEK AND I WAS A FRESHMAN-TO-BE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA, WANDERING THE CAMPUS WITHOUT A CARE.

MY FOOTSTEPS LED ME TO THE OFFICES OF THE MINNESOTA DAILY IN THE BASEMENT OF MURPHY HALL.

THERE WAS NO RECEPTIONIST AND VERY FEW PEOPLE IDLY PECKING AT SOME ANCIENT SMITH CORONA TYPEWRITERS. I TOLD THE NEAREST PERSON THAT I WAS INTERESTED IN BEING A SPORTS REPORTER AND SHE POINTED WITH OBVIOUS DISINTEREST TO THE SPORTS OFFICE WHERE I WAS DESTINED TO SPEND MOST OF THE NEXT FOUR YEARS.

NEITHER THE SPORTS EDITOR NOR HIS ASSISTANT WAS THERE, BUT SOMEONE SUGGESTED THAT THE GOPHER FOOTBALL TEAM WAS PRACTICING THAT AFTERNOON AND I SHOULD WANDER OVER THERE TO SEE IF I COULD FIND A STORY.

SO I WALKED OVER TO THE PRACTICE FIELD ADJACENT TO COOKE HALL AND WALKED IN AS IF MY NAME WERE SID HARTMAN.

IT WAS A NON-CONTACT DAY, AND THE PLAYERS WERE COMING ONTO THE FIELD IN SHORTS AND CUTOFF T-SHIRTS. THERE WERE NO NAMES, NO NUMBERS, AND NO HINT OF WHO WAS WHO. PRIOR TO THAT I HAD ONLY SEEN THE DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPIONS FROM A GREAT DISTANCE OR ON OUR 12-INCH BLACK AND WHITE TV.

ONE PLAYER EMERGED FROM COOKE HALL, EASILY PICKED UP A FOOTBALL IN HIS HUGE RIGHT HAND, SIGNALED ANOTHER PLAYER TO GO OUT FOR A PASS AND THREW A LASER BEAM SOME 55 YARDS DOWN THE FIELD. AT ITS PEAK, THE BALL WAS NEVER MORE THAN 10 FEET OFF THE GROUND.

ASSUMING ONLY AN ALL-AMERICA QUARTERBACK COULD THROW LIKE THAT, I GUESSED I WAS LOOKING AT SANDY STEPHENS.

I GUESSED WRONG. I WAS LOOKING AT A HIGH SCHOOL QUARTERBACK WHO MIGHT HAVE BEEN ONE OF THE ALL-TIME GREAT GOPHER QUARTERBACKS IF ONLY HE WEREN’T ON HIS WAY TO BEING ONE OF THE GREATEST GOPHER DEFENSIVE LINEMEN EVER.

BOBBY BELL IS BEING HONORED HERE TODAY AS THEY RETIRE HIS NUMBER. WELL, I SHOULD HOPE SO.

THE STORIES ABOUT HIM AND HIS PROWESS ARE LEGENDARY AND MANY WILL BE REPEATED HERE TODAY.

LET ME ADD JUST ONE THAT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD BEFORE UNLESS YOU ATTENDED THIS YEAR’S GOPHER HALL OF FAME INDUCTION CEREMONIES.

THE SPEAKER WAS GREG LARSON, BELL’S TEAMMATE AND THE STARTING CENTER ON THOSE GREAT GOPHER TEAMS OF 1960 AND ’61.

I ASKED HIM WHEN HE FIRST REALIZED THAT BELL WAS SOMETHING SPECIAL.

HE SAID THAT FRESHMEN WERE NOT ELIGIBLE IN THOSE DAYS, BUT THEY WERE BROUGHT IN TO SCRIMMAGE FROM TIME TO TIME. HE RECALLED ON SERIES OF PLAYS WHEN HE WAS A LINEBACKER AND BELL WAS AN OFFENSIVE TACKLE. GUYS PLAYED BOTH WAYS BACK THEN.

AFTER THE SERIES, GOPHER ASSISTANT BOB BOSSENS TOOK LARSON ASIDE.

“HOW DO YOU THINK YOU DID AGAINST BELL,” HE ASKED.

LARSON RECALLS THINKING IT WAS A STRANGE QUESTION, BUT HE SAID HE THOUGH HE HAD DONE ALL RIGHT.

“THAT’S GOOD,” BOSSENS TOLD HIM, ‘BECAUSE YOU JUST WENT HEAD TO HEAD WITH SOMEBODY WHO, BEFORE HE’S DONE, WILL BE ONE OF THE BEST GUYS EVER TO PLAY COLLEGE FOOTBALL.”

TURNS OUT BOSSENS HAD QUITE AN EYE FOR TALENT. I NEVER SAW ANYONE DOMINATE A COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME MORE THAN BOBBY BELL, AND I PROUDLY JOIN THE 50,000 FANS SALUTING HIM HERE TODAY.

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