Gronvold: Kick(ed) off
This is the time of year when a young man’s fancy turns to football and a young woman’s fancy turns to canning garden produce and darning socks. Wives and girlfriends bid their husbands/boyfriends a sweet adieu as the latter go into pigskin hibernation and won’t emerge until just before midnight on Sunday, February 5th at the conclusion of Super Bowl LI, which is not to be confused with the Asian last name “Li”, pronounced “Lee”. Confucius would say “Super Bowl Fifty-One”.
As we look forward to a sixth straight NCAA Division I-FCS championship from NDSU and stoke our NFL hopes for GB and MN on TV, we are reminded of the major role that capital letters play in major sports today. OK?
I began watching football on TV at age 8 in 1956. Channel 13 carried CBS’s single NFL Sunday game. The ‘Tiffany network’ divided the U.S. into viewing regions, so the Minot station was usually assigned Green Bay Packers games, before the Vikings came online in 1961. CBS used only a few cameras and most of the time we watched a wide shot of the field from high atop the press box. We only knew the score when they put it up on the screen after a score or a stoppage of play. You had to turn up the sound and be an active listener.
Green Bay had a horrible team. Lisle Blackbourn was head coach through the 1957 season, which featured a new stadium. The Pack finished 3-9 and Blackbourn was asked to resign. He refused and was fired in early 1958. Although he didn’t coach Green Bay to many wins, Blackbourn came up with future Hall of Fame draft picks such as Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.
Ray “Scooter” McClain was hired as head coach for the 1958 season but was fired after the Pack went 1-10-1. I continued to watch the NFL on TV, despite seeing the woeful Packers on a regular basis, because it gave me the chance to see some of the great players and future hall of famers like Jim Brown of Cleveland, the L.A. Ram’s Fearsome Foursome and the New York football Giants.
Green Bay management introduced a new coach prior to the 1959 season. He was short, wore glasses, had an Italian last name and in need of braces for his teeth. The Pack began to win, finishing 7-5 and earning Vincent Thomas “Vince” Lombardi the NFL Coach of the Year award. In1960, the Packers went 8-4 and finished first in the NFL West, earning them a trip to the NFL championship game against the NFL East’s Philadelphia Eagles in the pre-playoff era.
The Eagles, led by QB Norm “the Dutchman” Van Brocklin beat the Packers 17-13 for the NFL championship. Van Brocklin retired after the game and then signed with the expansion Minnesota Vikings as their first head coach prior to the Vikes’ inaugural 1961 season. He was 36. Trivia: Van Brocklin was born in Parade, SD and died in Social Circle, Georgia. Get out your road atlas and help me here.
Just when the Packers were becoming great, CBS switched us NoDak viewers to mandatory Minnesota games beginning with the ’61 season. We had to start all over again, swallow our pride and root for a new set of lovable losers. That all changed when Bud Grant came to the Cities in 1967 from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers after Van Brocklin resigned. Grant turned the Vikes around quickly, taking the team to their first Super Bowl following the 1969 season.
I was a senior at “the U” in the fall of 1969 and was able to watch many of the Vikings games on my little b&w Sony “tummy TV”. The Miami CBS affiliate carried quite a few games that season, often featuring Minnesota as the late afternoon game. After the Vikes lost their first game in 1969, they reeled off a 12-game win streak, losing their final game to the Atlanta Falcons, coached by Van Brocklin. I couldn’t get over how good the so-called “Purple People Eaters” defense was. When an opponent had the ball on their own 35, after three plays they would have to punt from their 25. It was no surprise that the Vikings went to Super Bowl IV, but it was a surprise that they lost 23-7 to Hank Stram’s Kansas City Chiefs. Trivia: Joe Kapp was QB that season.
The 2016 football season finds us with a plethora of possibilities to watch as much football as our budgets allow. ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN and the NFL Network offer us professional and college games. I get the SEC Network down here and if I wanted to I could pay extry and get ACC, Big Ten, etc. I suppose one could record everything and then watch it all for the next six days until it was time for another weekend (beginning on Thursday nights). But I won’t. I can’t manage the “Don’t tell me the score” dance. It leaves me a little kicked off.
Gronvold is an RHS grad and promises not to reveal the scores of this week’s games, in case you are recording some of ’em.