Blast From the Past: The Brawl, Fran and the '72 Trojans
Les Knutson Daily Globe WORTHINGTON -- Exactly 45 years ago today, while Don McLean's classic "American Pie" was topping Billboard's Top 40 chart for the third consecutive week, as expected nearly 18,000 fans (17,750 to be exact) packed into Will...
WORTHINGTON -- Exactly 45 years ago today, while Don McLean’s classic “American Pie” was topping Billboard’s Top 40 chart for the third consecutive week, as expected nearly 18,000 fans (17,750 to be exact) packed into Williams Arena to watch a mid-season Big 10 showdown between the rising Minnesota Gophers and perennial power Ohio State.
The Buckeyes, coached by Fred Taylor, had won seven recent Big 10 titles and were ranked sixth in the latest NCAA national poll. The Gophers, under first-year head coach Bill Musselman, were beginning to attract nation-wide attention and were ranked 16th.
In a low-scoring, defensive-oriented game (Musselman’s teams usually utilized a slow-it-down, deliberate, disciplined offensive style), the Buckeyes held a 50-44 lead with 36 seconds left.
Then, it happened.
On that fateful Tuesday evening (Jan. 25, 1972), a brawl broke out between players from both sides. Buckeye starters Luke Witte and Mark Minor, along with reserve Mark Wagar, were all injured seriously enough to be taken to the University of Minnesota Hospital’s emergency room. Witte and Wagar spent the night before being released the following day.
Gopher stars Corky Taylor and Ron Behagen were suspended for their actions in the fight, which included foot blows to the head and groin of Witte, the Buckeyes 7-0 junior center who was averaging 18.5 points and 15 rebounds per game.
I was a junior at Dakota State College (DSC) in Madison, S.D. and remember well hearing the gruesome details of the incident.
It seems hard to believe that “The Brawl at The Barn” happened 45 years ago -- that’s nearly a half-century. It’s amazing how fast those years have gone by.
So, who were some of the other Gopher players on that team?
Clyde Turner was the player who ignited the game-ending action (the contest was called off with those 36 seconds on the clock and Ohio State was declared the winner) when he was ejected after being called for a flagrant foul on Witte. Behagen, who had already fouled out, rushed on to the floor and attacked Witte after the Buckeye star had allegedly spit on Taylor after Corky had tried to help him up after Turner’s foul knocked him to the court.
Then, apparently, it turned into a full-blown fight with Minor and Wagar also getting injured seriously enough to need hospital attention.
Gopher Bob Nix scored Minnesota’s last basket, slicing the Buckeye lead to six, before Turner’s foul triggered the chain of events which put Musselman and Gopher basketball in the negative limelight.
While Big 10 Commissioner Wayne Duke investigated the incident, Buckeye coach Fred Taylor blamed the Gophers’ popular and innovative pre-game warm-up routine with “inciting the crowd.” Taylor said “that type of spectacle belongs in the professional ranks.”
Musselman’s pre-game warm-up was impressive and helped bring the fans to Williams Arena.
Craig Carlson, who is back in the area after years of coaching women’s basketball at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, became a part of that pre-game warm-up three years later when he made Musselman’s squad as a walk-on after playing his high school basketball for the Heron Lake Falcons (Class of 1972) and two years for Arlo Mogck’s Worthington Community College Bluejays.
Ohio State’s other starters (besides Witte and Minor) were sophomores Dan Gerhard and Wardell Jackson, along with high-scoring guard Alan Hornyak who had scored 36 points the previous Saturday against Indiana and was leading the Big 10 in scoring with an average of 29.7 points per game. Minor, the team’s best defender, was the only senior starter for the Buckeyes.
Tarkenton traded back
On the day following the brawl, Minnesota sports fans received better news when it was announced that -- after a five-year absence with the New York Giants -- popular quarterback Fran Tarkenton was coming back to the Vikings.
In a blockbuster deal, the Vikings sent clutch wide receiver Bob Grim, quarterback Norm Snead, running back Vince Clements and two draft choices to the Giants for Tarkenton.
“I think this is ample for Francis,” said Vikings’ general manager Jim Finks. “But, I don’t think we’ve destroyed the nucleus of our club.”
Not like Mike Lynn’s 1988 trade with the Dallas Cowboys for Herschel Walker!
Tarkenton, who had been with the Vikings for six years (1961-1966) was traded to the Giants for four draft choices, which yielded running back Clint Jones, offensive guard Ed White, offensive tackle Ron Yary and, ironically, Grim. Yary became a multi-year All-Pro, helping the Vikings reach four Super Bowls.
Tarkenton spent six more seasons with the Vikings, leading them to Super Bowl appearances following the 1973, 1974 and 1976 seasons. Many purple faithful think that the Vikings’ best team was in 1975 when the Cowboys -- on Drew Pearson’s late-game ‘push-off’ -- defeated Minnesota in the NFC championship game at Met Stadium.
Trojans stay undefeated with mat win over Bluejays
Meanwhile, on the area high school scene in late January of 1972, Coach Ken Droegemueller’s Worthington Trojans were riding a 34-match winning streak in Southwest Conference dual meets. The last time the Trojans had lost was to the Jackson Bluejays in 1966.
On the night of the brawl at the barn, the Trojans were tested by the Bluejays. Winning seven of the 12 matches, including three by pin, Worthington prevailed by a final score of 31-21.
Winning by pin for the Trojans were Rick Engberg at 112 (1:59), Don Harstad at 138 (3:23) and Chuck Wilson at heavyweight (3:30). James Wright won a major decision (10-0) at 98 to get the Trojans started and teammates Denny Ling (105), Merlin Lindaman (132) and Greg Hegwer (167) also claimed victory by decision.
Jackson’s Randy Baker recorded the fastest pin of the night (1:38) at 126 and Bluejay Paul Roggow won via pin at 155 in 3:15. Matt Hinton (119), Bob Hanson (145) and Dennis Whisney (180) earned decisions for the Bluejays.
Worthington wrestled without three of its best wrestlers -- Tom Schield (126), Craig Deuel (132) and Ben Horak (145) -- who were sidelined with injuries.
Horak was undefeated (11-0) and Ling, a two-time District 8 champion, improved to a perfect 12-0 with his win against the Bluejays.
Hinton (second), Baker (third), Roggow (second) and Whisney (fourth) had all placed among the top four in the 1971 Region 2 Tournament for Jackson and were tough opponents for area wrestlers throughout the 1972 season. Baker later wrestled well in the state meet, as a junior at 126 pounds.
Trojans basketball team wins nine straight
Three nights after the brawl at the barn, Worthington defeated Marshall, 63-58, in a Southwest Conference basketball game at Marshall. Leading the Trojans were Bill Bohning (18 points, 15 rebounds) and Joel Krekelberg (15 points, excellent floor game), while Denny Hitzeman and Rick Thompson each scored 10 points.
Four weeks later, the Trojans upset Luverne (79-71) to win their ninth consecutive game and improve to 11-7 (8-4 SWC). Bohning (25), Krekelberg (14), Thompson (14), Rick Van Roekel (12) and Rick Schuster (10) all notched double-figures for Worthington, while Krekelberg dished off nine assists.
Interesting that three of Worthington’s top players that season had the first name Rick.
I came across so many other interesting items from that winter of 1972 -- but time and space will make me “save” them for another “snow day.”