Fan finds forgotten U football history

Bob Patrin will loan the original Floyd of Rosedale to the Athletics Hall of Fame.
November 24, 2010

Bob Patrin doesn’t just know history, he’s lived it.

His face can be seen distinctly in the background of Kirby Puckett’s famous leaping catch against the Plexiglas wall in game six of the 1991 World Series, and his dad bowled with John Dillinger in the 1930s.

A longtime local historian, Patrin has now helped bring a piece of Gophers football back into the light: A five-foot wooden pig signed by most of the 1935 roster, adding a missing piece to the lore of the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.

After their 48-12 drubbing of Iowa in 1934, the Gophers were accused of purposefully injuring Hawkeyes star running back Ozzie Simmons because he was black.

Leading up to the 1935 bout, Minnesota head coach Bernie Bierman said he received threatening letters from Iowa fans, and he requested police protection for players when they got off the train in Iowa.

The situation was made more unstable by Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring’s remark that, "If the officials stand for any rough tactics like Minnesota used last year, I’m sure the crowd won’t."

Patrin claimed that Bierman threatened to drop Iowa from the schedule if there were any violent acts against the Gophers.

With serious concerns of a riot, Minnesota Gov. Floyd B. Olson stepped in with a simple proposal to ease tensions that would change the rivalry forever.

He bet Herring that if the Gophers won, Iowa would have to give up a prize hog and vice versa. After the Gophers’ 13-6 victory, Herring owned up and brought Floyd to the capital.

After Floyd died, coincidentally, of hog cholera just a year later, Olson commissioned St. Paul sculptor Charles Brioscho to create Floyd’s bronze statue.

And the rest was history. Almost.

What most people don’t know is that the players also had their own idea of how to appease the near-riotous crowds in Iowa.

A few players found a local butcher shop with a wooden sign shaped as a pig, and put it up in their locker room for teammates to sign. They brought it with them on the train to Iowa and were planning to give it to the Hawkeyes if they lost.

Patrin estimates that 70 percent of the team signed the pig, including All-Americans Ed Widseth and Bud Wilkinson as well as quarterback Babe LeVoir. Equipment manager Oscar Munson, who is famous for finding Michigan’s jug after they left it behind in 1903, which began the tradition of playing for the Little Brown Jug, is also featured on the pig.

But maybe the most noticable absence is Bierman’s signature.

"He never went into a game thinking he could lose," Patrin said.

Because the Gophers won in 1935, they brought the wooden pig back to Minneapolis, where it wouldn’t surface for decades.

About 20 years ago, Patrin, a well-known historian among those involved with Gophers athletics and a retired University employee, got a call from Dean Maas, captain of the 1956 squad.

Maas said he received the wooden pig when the University threw it out, but didn’t know what it was. He asked Patrin to come look at it, and he knew exactly what it was when he laid eyes on it.

"I said, ‘That’s the original pig,’ " he said. "I could tell by all of the signatures."

Maas was unable to keep the memento when he moved from St. Louis Park two years later, so he gave it to Patrin.

The problem was, many didn’t believe his story until now.

"How was I going to get a pig like that and have all these different signatures?" Patrin said. "Now they can see the signatures."

The pig will be on display in the lobby of the Athletics Hall of Fame at TCF Bank Stadium this weekend only, and will be returned to Patrin afterward.

Patrin has accumulated his share of Gophers memorabilia in his basement in Edina, including a jersey worn by Gophers legend Sandy Stephens, the first African American to play quarterback at Minnesota.

His treasures have been the University’s trash, Patrin said. He’s swooped in numerous times over the years as the University threw out what he saw as a prized piece of memorabilia.

Minnesota lost numerous prized items when former football head coach Lou Holtz threw out items unrelated to major rivalries when he moved from Cooke to the Bierman Athletic Facility in the mid-1980s.

As a child, Patrin distinctly remembers his grandfather pointing out a football he played with as a player at Iowa State sitting on display in Cooke. Patrin was horrified to find that years later, Holtz ordered it along with many items to be thrown out.

Because he made just a brief two-year stop in Minneapolis, Holtz didn’t understand the history of the program, Patrin said.

"The way they were destroying everything was a miscarriage of tradition," Patrin said.

Patrin retired from the University in 1994 after bouncing around as a clerk in Walter and Wilson Libraries and finally to the Armory. He’s rubbed elbows with some of the biggest names in Gophers athletics history.

Patrin contributed to Minnesota history when, after seeing pompom squads in California on shore leave during the Korean War, he started the Gophers first pompom squad as a graduate student in the 1950s. That team was combined with the cheerleading squad in 1964.

Although the Gophers football program has fallen on hard times, Patrin is determined to keep its history alive.

"I’ve been a history kind of guy," Patrin said. "It’s just so painful for me to see history destroyed because it’s not in fashion or it’s not current or not hip."

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