The University of Minnesota announced Monday that Bob McNamara, an All-American running back for the Gophers in the early 1950s, turned major philanthropist to his Alma Matter died Sunday night at the age of 82. Without Bob McNamara, there might never have been a TCF Bank Stadium.
Bob McNamara grew up in Hastings, Minnesota and enrolled at the U in the fall of 1951. He lettered in football for the Gophers from 1951 through 1954, earning first team All-Big Ten honors in 1952 and 1954, and First Team All-American honors in 1954. He served as a captain of the 1954 Gopher squad as well. McNamara's brother Pinky also played on those Gopher squads and would become a dedicated Gopher fundraiser like his brother. McNamara also played basketball for two seasons for Minnesota, earning a letter in 1953. Due to his athletic achievements, he was elected to the M-Club Hall of Fame in 1993. After his Gopher career was over, he became an All-Pro running back with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League. He teamed with another University of Minnesota standout in Winnipeg by the name of Bud Grant, until Grant became McNamara's coach in 1957. McNamara still holds the record for most touchdowns in a CFL game when he scored six in October of 1957. McNamara played in Winnipeg until 1958, and then played two seasons for the Denver Broncos in the AFL before retiring in 1961.
When McNamara completed his football career, he bought and opened a bar with former Gopher Gino Capelletti. McNamara then began to get involved with fundraising along with his brother Pinky for the University of Minnesota. Bob and his wife Annette first became donors to the Golden Gopher Fund in 1973. he has supported five endowed scholarships for the University of Minnesota. From there he became involved in several larger fundraising campaigns for the athletic department.
In April of 2002, right after the excitement of the Gopher Hockey Team's national Championship had rocked the campus, the Gopher athletic department announced that due to budget shortfalls that they would have to eliminate three varsity sports: men's and women's golf and men's gymnastics. McNamara was appalled at this idea and he teamed up with fellow Gopher donors Harvey McKay and Lou Nanne to start a campaign to raise $2.7 Million to save the three sports teams. They succeeded, and McNamara immediately went to raising funds for endowed scholarships for the three sports to ensure they would never be on the chopping block again. In a Star Tribune article remembering him today, Dennis Bracken describes what McNamara's fundraising meant to the Men's Golf Team, who just months after the effort to save the team began won its first and only national championship.
"I’ve always been the kind of person where, when I start a project, I like to finish it," McNamara said in an interview at the time. "Saving a sport for three years really doesn’t mean that much if it’s still going to be in danger."
The Gophers men’s golf team captured its first and only national title in 2002, shortly after McNamara had begun his effort to save the program. After winning the title, then-Gophers coach Brad James presented McNamara with a national championship ring. A couple years later, McNamara had helped endow 4.5 men’s golf scholarships, making it unlikely that the sport will ever again deal with the threat of elimination.
"I feel a debt of gratitude to everyone, and I don’t want to pinpoint anyone, but Bob McNamara is the one driving this engine," James said at the time. "The man is absolutely amazing.
"Because of what they’ve done, a lot of young Minnesota golfers out there can breathe a sigh of relief, because they know this team is going to be around. That question came up every time I went on a recruiting trip the last two years. Now, I can say, `I’m glad you asked that . . . and tell them about people like Bob McNamara. That man is truly a Minnesota great."
McNamara next turned his fundraising prowess from sports to facilities. He was one of the lead fundraisers for the Baseline Tennis Center, Siebert Field, and arguably most importantly, TCF Bank Stadium. He did so much for the fundraising for the stadium that they he was named one of six honorary captains for the first game in TCF Bank Stadium in 2009. Several other facilities on campus and in his hometown of Hastings have been named for McNamara. The McNamara Academic Center, which is in the Bierman Field Athletic Building and is used daily by Minnesota's more-than 750 student-athletes, is named after both Bob and Pinky. The football stadium at Hastings High School, McNamara Stadium, is also named in honor of the brothers. As news of McNamara's passing has spread, several prominent figures in Gopher Athletics have tributes him. A few are below:
Lou Nanne: "He basically went over and worked at the university in his retirement years. He was involved in whatever we needed. He worked tirelessly, on everything. He was great, just great. And he loved doing it."
Norwood Teague: "The University of Minnesota had no greater advocate than Bob McNamara. From the first day I met Bob, it was easy to tell that he was a special Gopher. He loved Minnesota and everything it stood for and was a tireless promoter and fundraiser for the university. From athletics to academics, his fingerprints are all over this campus, as he literally had an impact in everything that we do. There will never be another Bob McNamara and we thank him and his family for everything they have done for Minnesota."
Joel Maturi:" It is hard for me to put into words what Bob meant to me personally, but more importantly what he meant to Gopher athletics. Anyone who knew Bob, knew that there was no greater supporter of the university. He took great pride coming from Hastings, Minn., and playing for the Gophers and then took even greater pride in following and supporting the Gophers. Nobody was better at fundraising or cared more about Minnesota than Bob. He will be deeply missed."
Jerry Kill: "Bob McNamara was just a special person and a wonderful alumni and friend to Gopher football. He did so much for our program throughout the years and never asked for anything in return. The only thing he ever wanted to know was how he could help more. His was a great man and one that I, and our program, will never forget. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Annette and his family during this difficult time."
Tributes also were coming in from the Twin Cities media on McNamara's legacy with the Gophers.
Bob McNamara. Great people.— Patrick Reusse (@1500ESPN_Reusse) July 21, 2014
Second this. Loved spending time and talking to Bob when I was a Gophers beat writer. RT @1500ESPN_Reusse Bob McNamara. Great people.— chipscoggins (@chipscoggins) July 21, 2014
Felt honored going to lunches with Bob McNamara, his brother, Pinky, & legendary coach Murray Warmath at Legends in Mpls yrs back. #Gophers— Marcus R. Fuller (@GophersNow) July 21, 2014
A legend and great man MT @GopherFootball: we mourn the loss of All-American, fundraiser and benefactor Bob McNamara: http://t.co/dPRx0pfHxX— Justin Gaard (@jgkfan) July 21, 2014
Chip Scoggins and Patrick Reusse both have great articles that are must reads on McNamara. Scoggins on McNamara the man, and Reusse on McNamara's heroic performance against Iowa in 1954.
The Daily Gopher gives its condolences to the McNamara family including Bob's widow Annette. We hope that he and his legacy can be remembered with a long and loud standing ovation during the Eastern Illinois game on August 28th, and that on the 60th anniversary of his performance against Iowa willing the Gophers to win that he inspires the current squad to do all that they can to make sure Floyd stays in Minneapolis for the foreseeable future.