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Going West TBT

Sometimes the journey is harder than the game.

Game program from September 26, 1936 Minnesota vs Washington

The Gophers only other match up against Fresno St was last year and that hardly counts for a #TBT column. Everyone loves talking about body clocks, and the challenges of traveling to the West Coast. Program history does indicate that Minnesota has trouble in these long distance non conference away contests. There have been 19 regular season games out West (California, Oregon, Washington) and the Gophers have won 6, lost 12, and tied once.

The most dramatic story about the Gophers troubles traveling west comes from the Gophers second ever trip to the left coast. In 1936 the Gophers opened the season in Seattle against Washington. In an age before airplane travel the game had to be scheduled before school started to allow for 6(!) days of train travel.

Bernie Bierman and Dick Cullum at the Times-Tribune Touchdown Club in 1939
Hennepin County Library

One of the stops along the way was Missoula Montana where they stayed the night. Traveling with the team were a group of local reporters. Among the writers was Dick Cullum who recalls the following story:

“He (Jerk Doran, local boxing promoter also on the trip) knew a St. Paul madame who had gone to San Francisco, then to Missoula, and had arranged a big night on the town for the guys. The whole gang went out to her place on the Missoula Strip after dinner, I didn’t go, and I honestly can’t remember why.”

Ed Shave a journalist traveling with the team had gone and wandered back to the hotel at some point in the evening. He saw the fire and told the clerk about it. The clerk responded, “Now Mr. Shave, you’ve had a few drinks. Why don’t you just go to bed?”

”Sure I’m drunk,” Shave responded, “but your hotel’s on fire and we got to get the Gophers out of here.”

After that (assistant coach) Bert Baston was called.

In Bernie Bierman’s telling of the story some of the players couldn’t decide if they should jump or not. Bernie’s response was “if you are subs, go ahead and jump; regulars, use the fire escape!”

The hotel fire that made the front page of Sept 25, 1936 Mpls Star

So what started out as a fun night, ended with the hotel burning down. No one (at least none of the Gophers) were injured. They continued on their journey but before getting to Seattle they encountered a dust storm keep them occupied. With all these travel problems the Gophers arrived just in time for the game.

Quarterback Bud Wilkinson scored the first touchdown for the Gophers. Minnesota led until the 3rd quarter when Washington tied it up. Feeling the pressure an injured Andy Uram came into the game for one play, a touchdown pass to Ray King. That was all the good guys needed as the game ended 14-7.

Despite all the trials and tribulations it was a big win, Washington went on to play in the Rose Bowl that year. The Gophers sat out bowl season, content with their third straight National Championship.