Things could be trending in a positive direction for Minnesota under the energetic leadership of P.J. Fleck. After a long string of years of up-and-down seasons ranging from poor to mediocre to the high of a nine-win season in 2016, Fleck and the Gophers surprised a few people in 2018 by pulling together a seven-win season highlighted by a long-awaited victory over Wisconsin and capped by a season-ending bowl victory in the Quick Lane Bowl. The bar is being raised a bit for the boat-rowing Gophers in 2019. The chance to compete for a national championship is still at the end of a great journey for the program, but that doesn’t mean those in the program can’t dream about being the ones to capture the first football national title for the school since 1960.
Minnesota, coached by the coach of the year Murray Warmath and led in the trenches by Outland Trophy winner Tom Brown, split the Big Ten championship with Iowa, although a 27-10 victory over the No. 1 Hawkeyes on Nov. 5, 1960 catapulted the No. 3 Gophers to the top spot in the AP poll. But the very next week, Minnesota was upset by Purdue, 23-14, and Minnesota dropped to No. 4 in the AP poll as a result heading into their final game of the regular season. Minnesota moved back up in the polls with a win against the rival Badgers and No. 1 Missouri being upset at home by Kansas, 23-7. As Big Ten champion, Minnesota traveled west to the play in the Rose Bowl, and they arrived in Pasadena as the No. 1 team in the AP poll as they prepared to face No. 6 Washington, champion of the Athletic Association of Western Universities (which would, of course, later evolve to the Pac-12 we know and love today). Despite already being declared the national champion for the 1960 season, Minnesota was upended by the Huskies, 17-7. Ole Miss would stake their claim to the national title following a 14-6 victory for the No. 2 Rebels over Rice in the Sugar Bowl (Ole Miss would be crowned national champion by the Football Writers Association of America).
Last National Title Season: 1960 (58 years and counting)
Who was President?
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States the last time Minnesota claimed a national championship season, although 1960 was a time for change in the country in the United States. Perhaps one of the most famous presidential elections of all-time went down in the fall of 1960. Richard Nixon was taken down by Democrat John F. Kennedy.
As for the current Commander-In-Chief, Donald J. Trump was fresh into his teenage years in 1960 and was enrolled at New York Military Academy.
What was on TV?
1960 brought some classic television shows to the TV sets in a growing number of homes. Classics such as “Lassie,” “Dennis the Menace,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Jack Benny Show,” “Candid Camera,” “My Three Sons,” were among the programs across the three networks at the time (NBC, ABC, and CBS). “The Price is Right” was airing on NBC, although the show would later evolve a bit to become the game show you are more likely familiar with today.
Long before “The Simpsons,” it was “The Flinstones” ruling the ratings as a primetime animated show. Bugs Bunny also made a primetime appearance before making the move to Saturday mornings for the next four decades. And Shirley Temple and Glenn Miler had their own television shows at the time as well.
One show that finished its historic run on the airwaves was “I Love Lucy,” as stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced after the final episode of the season in 1960.
What movies were hot?
Ben-Hur was an international winner as the top box office leader in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. But this was a year after the movie was released in the United States. State-side, it was Spartacus dominating the box office as the top movie of the year. Kirk Douglas had everyone shouting “I’m Spartacus!”
But this was also the year for the horror genre with the release of Psycho, directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. The Rat Pack also took to the big screen in the original Ocean’s 11, with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy David Jr., Joey Bishop and more.
What else happened in 1960?
Navy running back Joe Bellino is named the Heisman Trophy winner for the 1960 season. Bellino rushed for 834 yards and caught 17 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns for the Midshipmen in the 1960 season, leading Navy to a 9-2 record and No. 4 in the final AP poll of the season.
Aside from Minnesota and Iowa splitting the Big Ten crown, other conference winners in 1960 included Ole Miss (SEC), Arkansas (Southwest), Missouri (Big Eight), Utah State and Wyoming (Skyline Conference), New Mexico State (Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association), Yale (Ivy League) and Duke (ACC).
Current Minnesota head coach Fleck wasn’t born for another 20 years. Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler was an assistant coach for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was an assistant coach with the Nittany Lions, still five years from becoming the head coach of the program. Nick Saban was seven years old.
The Minnesota Twins were still a year away from playing their first baseball game in franchise history and the Lakers were just moving west to Los Angeles from Minneapolis.
The AFL launched its league in 1960, with the Houston Oilers capturing the first league championship with a 24-16 victory in the AFL championship against the Los Angeles Chargers. In the NFL, it was the Philadelphia Eagles taking down Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers in the NFL championship game.
Bill Mazeroski clinches the World Series championship for the Pittsburgh Pirates with a walk-off home-run in Game 7 against the New York Yankees. The Boston Celtics won the NBA title against the St. Louis Hawks, and the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the Stanley Cup above their heads after a sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Young rising boxer Cassius Clay wins the gold medal in boxing at the Olympics in Rome, and Arnold Palmer won the Masters and U.S. Open for a couple of major tournament victories.
Outside of sports, 1960 was a significant year for the United States with the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Eisenhower.
Elvis Presley was killing the music charts with the two top singles of 1960 with “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” Chubby Checker came in at No. 3 with “The Twist.”
Has time passed Minnesota by?
time has certainly flown by since Minnesota’s glory days. Since the 1960 season, the Gophers have managed to win eight games or more in a season just a handful of times. One came in the 1961 season, which ended with a Rose Bowl victory. the most recent one came in 2016, with three eight-win seasons in a four-year stretch. It is the best stretch of seasons over a four-year period for the Gophers since winning it all in 1960. The question is if it is possible for Minnesota to climb back to the top of that mountain ever again. While nothing should ever be considered truly impossible, the history and trends would seem to suggest it will be a very steep climb for the program.
The Big Ten has grown, literally, over the years by adding members and some members have created some buffer in how money is brought in and spent to improve their various programs. For Minnesota, keeping up with programs like Ohio State and Michigan is far more difficult to do today than it used to be even with resources like the Big Ten Network. But could Minnesota capture a Big Ten title and get back to the Rose Bowl? If the Big Ten sticks to a division structure and fields a conference championship game the way it is currently constructed, of course, it remains a possibility for Minnesota. It may not happen in 2019, although the Big Ten West could be up for grabs, but the Gophers could become a program that could strike lightning every now and then to reach the Big Ten championship game at the end of the season.
Minnesota hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1961, so Gopher fans have been waiting quite some time to book that trip to Pasadena again.