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'Baldy' Nelson enjoying football memories as Viking Days approach

WORTHINGTON -- While this weekend marks the start of Viking Days at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., alum Floyd Nelson still remembers his playing days as a Viking.

"I really enjoyed my years at the college," Nelson said. "They were good to me, and in turn, I think I was good to them."

Known as "Baldy," Nelson graduated from Augustana in 1942.

Nelson received his nickname from one of his father's employees.

"I went into the office, and I said, 'Dad, I need 50 cents for a haircut,'" Nelson recalls. "So, this guy, Jap Johnson, said, 'cut it all off, and we'll call you baldy.'

"I was 7 or 8 years old, and I did cut if off. I did that for several years. I did a lot of swimming in the Rum River, and it was enjoyable not to have your hair going down over your eyes."

Coming a long way from his years in the Rum River, "Baldy" was inducted into the Augustana Hall of Fame in 1973 for his athletic achievement.

"It was a tremendous honor," Nelson said. "Four or five other people were inducted at the same time. We had a dinner, and they asked you to speak."

Nelson's football journey started in Cambridge during his high school days. In 1935, he was named to the All-State team as a halfback, propelling him to the University of Minnesota to try out for the team.

However, his stay at the U of M would not last long.

"After two quarters at the University of the Minnesota, I found out there were athletes from various parts of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin that were on scholarship," Nelson said. "When I played against them, fundamentally, in my estimation, they wouldn't cut it."

Nelson tried to get on scholarship at Minnesota, but was denied because of financial reasons.

"I went to the people in charge of scholarships, but I had too much money," Nelson said. "I almost lost an arm in a carting machine in a wool mill in Cambridge where I was born and raised. I had made a settlement with the insurance company for $750, and my mistake was telling them that I had $750 in the bank."

It was about that time that an assistant coach from Augustana contacted Nelson to come and be a Viking.

"I hitchhiked from Cambridge, 40 miles north of Minneapolis, down to Sioux Falls," Nelson recalled. "While I was down there, there were guys that were working at various business places in Sioux Falls, and after work, they were out on the field and running and passing. So, I got to meet a lot of them, and I decided I'd stay."

The rest is history for Nelson. He graduated from Augustana with offers to play professional football.

"On graduation, I had received letters of introduction to five professional teams to play football," Nelson explained.

Teams from New York, Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago were interested in Nelson, but because of the war, he was unable to play professional football.

"I got a letter from my draft board that said unless you enlist in the service, you will be called," Nelson said. "I didn't want to go into the army, but I had an uncle that had been a Navy man in World War I. So, I enlisted in the Navy."

Nelson said it would have been fun to try out with the professionals, but he does not regret not having the opportunity.

"Well, I would have to tell you, as I look at it right now and see linemen that run 250 to 300 pounds, now, no (I don't regret it)," Nelson said. "But at that time, you didn't have these big boys. Another thing that's interesting is the speed of the people. These guys can run the 40 (yard dash) in 4-flat. Well, not quite, but they move. It's a different game."

While at Augustana, Nelson's athletic involvement did not stop at football. He was a three-year letter winner on the basketball team and a three-year letter winner on the track team.

"I was not much of a basketball player, in my opinion," Nelson said. "In high school, I played center, and in college, they moved me to the guard. I didn't like facing the basket; I liked my back to the basket."

After his time in the service, Nelson found his way to Worthington, where he taught social studies and was the assistant football and basketball coach, as well as the head track coach at the high school.

While the head track coach, Nelson began the Trojan relays, an historic track meet that continues today.

"They had built a new track, which is the track where it is now," Nelson said. "I enjoyed going to big track meets, and I felt that Worthington should host a big track meet. That was a lot of fun."

In the early years, the Trojan relays would draw close to 1,000 participants from all over the region.

At 89 years old, Nelson hasn't been able to attend the Trojan relays the past two years, but hasn't given up on returning this year.

Even with his list of accomplishments and stories to tell, Nelson is not one to talk about his achievements.

"He doesn't boast, and he doesn't brag," Wes Brower, Nelson's friend said. "He's very down to earth."