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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., Oct. 22 "The question heard on all sides, 'What's the matter with our football?' can get only one answer: almost everything."
No, the man is not talking about Harvard football. He is discussing Minnesota football. He is a sportswriter who a few weeks ago was murmuring sweet nothings about a fine season and even hinting at a possible Big Ten championship.
Now, with four straight losses on the record, things are bleak indeed here. They say that Minnesota is not doing any or all of the following things:
1. Getting good players.
2. Getting good coaching.
3. Getting good alumni support.
4. Getting good effort from its players.
5. Getting good student support.
6. Getting good 'streetcar alumnus' support.
They don't say the Golden Gophers are not getting good results. They don't have to say that. 50,000-plus people who watched the Ohio State team smear mud on the escutcheon Saturday know that. Anybody who listened to one of the five broadcasts of the game knows that.
In the opinion of one who has been through something vaguely like this in the less frenetic surroundings of the Ivy League, sometimes referred to as the Dead Eight out here, there are a few painfully clear reasons.
In the first place, the poor-player argument won't hold water. Last year Minnesota, with a team recruited much as the current squad was, beat Ohio State, 27 to 0. The Gophers have lost some standouts, but more will come along. What has seemed apparent this year, however, is a matter of coaching.
Bernie Bierman is an institution. Time was when he was a great man, whose power football was the best in the land. To beat him, other Big Ten coaches earned to pass, to spin, to fake, to run fast.
Gopher Backs Just Don't Go
What has happened is that Bernie's power ball just won't get as many points is the breakaway game played by Ohio, or Illinois, or Indiana, or Michigan. It can't. When Ohio ran off a play Saturday, it could go for a score--and it usually did. When Minnesota ran off a play, it might have been good for a first down. lever more. They don't spring runners around end, or send passes beyond the opposition secondary. They don't do it because they are not told to by Mr. Bierman.
Examples: Against Northwestern, with nine seconds left in the game, 60 yards to up, and seven points needed to tie, Minnesota got the ball. This could mean nothing at passes, you say. Don't be silly. The power-drugged quarterback called a fullback plunge into the line, and the game was over.
Against Ohio, trailing 21 to 0 in the third period, Minnesota got the ball. Did they send a man around end? Certainly not. Three times into the guards and cackles and then a punt.
It's a joy to watch the teams that play Minnesota. They all feature at least one he runner or passer. The runner usually flays the ends until the defense spreads side, at which point the passer tosses gently over the halfbacks for a touchdown.
Oh, well. It isn't all Bierman's fault. Some things he can't control. Last year, for instance, Clayton Tonnemaker and Leo Nomellini, two great defensive ball layers, walked into a sportswriter's office before the Purdue game and announced that the team was so annoyed at the coach's nasty remarks following a loss to Michigan that they were going to throw the Purdue game. Which they did, completely.
What can a man do? Be nice to his players? That's old stuff. Only amateurs like Bud Wilkinson or Benny Oesterbaan would do that.
There is no point to this essay. It might, however, be comforting to reflect on to fact that Harvard still plays ball for fun. And, by the way, people here speak hushed tones when mentioning the courage of Harvard in scheduling Army. They wouldn't dream of it at the University of Minnesota. Not even when the crop ripens. (The 56-year-old Bierman yesterday asked to be relieved of his football coaching duties, the Associated Press reported. He said his request was not prompted by the poor record of this year's team, which has lost six and tied one.)
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