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Dec. 15, 1980: Rashad’s ‘miracle catch’

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Where were you when Tommy Kramer led the Vikings to an astonishing comeback over Cleveland at Met Stadium on a chilly December afternoon nearly 30 years ago? A colleague on the copy desk recalls that she and her dad were listening to the game on the car radio, and that he pulled over on Franklin Avenue after Ahmad Rashad’s winning catch so that they could jump up and down in celebration. I, too, was listening on a car radio, running solo errands in the same part of Minneapolis. I let out a whoop but didn’t stop the Pinto wagon or even honk its horn, though I distinctly remember hearing many others honking theirs.

Minutes later, the Tribune’s Joe Soucheray was in the visitors’ locker room at the Met, gathering fodder for this page one account of the “miracle catch.”

Sign of the times (1): It appears that the Tribune sent only one photographer and two reporters – not counting Sid Hartman — to cover a home game that had playoff implications. Nowadays, such a game would draw three times as many staffers, with or without Brett Favre wearing purple.

Sign of the times (2): By advancing to the playoffs with this victory, each Viking pocketed an extra — wait for it – $5,000.

Vikings win title again, but … it was no less than astonishing

By Joe Soucheray
Staff Writer

Maybe we have become too cinematic with this game of football and all its pretentions, but Sunday afternoon at Metropolitan Stadium the ball seemed to travel its arc through onrushing dusk as though in slow motion. There aren’t many moments like it, when the season is on the light end of the scale and the football is sailing through the air to upraised hands in the end zone and thousands of cold and disbelieving fans have stopped in their tracks to the exits.

The Vikings trailed Cleveland by a point, 23-22, and Tommy Kramer had just launched a pass from the Browns’ 46-yard line into the right corner of the end zone, with four seconds showing on the scoreboard clock. Terry LeCount, Ahmad Rashad and Sammy White had been deployed to the right corner, LeCount in the middle as if it had been a wing formation. The clock ticked down to zero with the ball in flight. The Browns had responded by sending out a fleet of six deep backs, most principally Thom Darden, the eight-year safety out of Michigan.

Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer embraced wide receiver Ahmad Rashad after the two hooked up for the winning touchdown against Cleveland at Met Stadium in Bloomington on Dec. 14, 1980. (Star Tribune photo by Duane Braley)

“I chose to stick with White,” Darden said later in his locker room. “I am sure the ball was intended for White to tip to Rashad. In my mind White was the tip man and I wasn’t going to permit it.”

“Where was Rashad?” somebody said.

“At that point I was between White and Rashad,” Darden said. “Suddenly, White stopped. When he stopped, I stopped. And when he went into the air I went with him. I did get a hand on the ball.”

“Where was Rashad now?” somebody said.

“By now he was in the vicinity,” Darden said.

Rashad caught the ball, on what the Vikings insist was a tip off White’s fingers. Rashad was near the 2-yard line and he backed in, victorious in this astonishing and totally unlikely game of volleyball that had given the Vikings a victory and yet another Central Division championship. It was almost a replay of the ball Drew Pearson of the Cowboys caught in the shadow of Nate Wright at the Met in a 1975 first-round play-off game.

“I wasn’t going to allow Sammy to tip the ball, much less catch it,” Darden was saying. “And I ended up tipping it to Rashad. It did not occur to any of us – me or Rashad or White – what had happened until we heard the crowd reaction.”

In the Cleveland locker room later there was an occasional curse. Dirty laundry was flung this way and that. A television newsman discovered Cleveland coach Sam Rutigliano in the corner of the bathroom.

“Can we get a live interview?” the TV man said.

“How can you?” Rutigliano said. “I’m a dead man.”

Rutigliano was more than gracious, almost bemused by what had just happened. He couldn’t for the life of him remember Darden as his primary defender on the miracle catch.

“It was great concentration by a great player,” Rutigliano said of the catch. “It was a 30-foot putt and he’ll never make it again, but it was memorable. Neither team got much pressure to the quarterback today and the quarterbacks proved resourceful, didn’t they?”

“Are you as cool on the inside as you appear on the outside?” Rutigliano was asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You’d have to perform an autopsy.”

As interesting as the miracle catch – or more accurately, as astonishing – was a Brian Sipe pass intercepted by Bobby Bryant minutes earlier in the fourth quarter. Cleveland held a 23-15 lead with nearly five minutes left in the game and the Browns were cruising upfield when Sipe chose to pass on a second-and-nine from his own 41 yard line. The pass was intended for Reggie Rucker.

“That was an option screen play,” Rutigliano said. “It worked well for us earlier in the game. We were thinking first down. We were thinking ball possession. I had warned the team at half time that the Vikings were an extremely patient team.”

“Were you surprised that Sipe passed at that point?” [Vikings coach] Bud Grant was asked.

“Not at all,” Grant said. “They’ve always used the short pass as a form of ball control. Bobby Bryant just cheated a little. He knew that Sipe wouldn’t throw deep and he moved in front of Rucker.”

“Rucker was the intended receiver,” Sipe said over in his quarters. “But in retrospect I wish I would have dumped it off to Cleo Miller, which was my option on the play. But hey, even after that I didn’t think we were in trouble.”

But the Vikings struck quickly with a touchdown to Rashad. Cleveland got the ball back and eventually punted, giving Minnesota its final possession at the Minnesota 20-yeard line with 14 seconds left in the game. The play that moved the team downfield was a pass to Joe Senser and the subsequent lateral to Teddy Brown, a play that moved the ball from the Viking 20 to the Cleveland 46, from where Kramer struck with the miracle throw.

“A flea flicker is what beat us as much as anything,” Calvin Hill said afterwards. “A damn good flea flicker, that Senser-to-Brown play.”

But it was the catch that people will remember, one of those great moments in sports that can be called up in the mind and played over and over again. It did take the chill off a winter day, all that heat and passion boiled down to the final play of a football game.

 
  The fans who streamed out of Met Stadium with the Vikings trailing Cleveland by eight points with less than five minutes to go missed this scene: Ahmad Rashad stepping backward into the end zone for the winning touchdown. (Star Tribune photo by William Seaman)

March 11, 1949: Introducing the batting tee

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Just in time for Grapefruit League action, here’s a Minneapolis Star story on a new training device for baseball players. Who knew that something as simple as a batting tee needed to be invented?

.300 GIMMICK

New Tee Boon to
Batting Brigade

By BOB BEEBE

You can’t give a kid a Hornsby swing or develop a DiMaggio with a gimmick, but there is one on the market which, baseball people feel, will take a few feet out of the bucket.

The gadget is a batting tee which can be regulated to serve the ball in whatever position it might cross the plate. All the hitter need do is tee up the old nugget at his weakness and whack away.

Meanwhile, his coach can observe and make corrections. The theory is that defects in swing and stance can be detected and corrected more easily while cutting at a stationary baseball than at one pitched.

There is not the mental hazard connected with slugging a teed up horsehide that there is with thumping a high hard one inside. Neither pupil nor tutor is affected so much by the breeze.

The tee is a product of the Voit Rubber Corp. of Los Angeles and an improvement on the idea pioneered by Branch Rickey at the Dodger talent factories. In fact four of them are in use on Brooklyn’s Vero Beach, Fla., belt line right now, according to the firm’s representative, Bob Nelson.

The gadget consists of a regulation size rubber home plate with an adjustable aluminum arm supporting an aluminum-based telescoping tube of rubber upon which the ball is placed.

Nelson says the tee is catching on. He predicts that by next spring its use will be widespread. In addition to the four with Brooklyn, the Phillies have a pair. So do Lefty O’Doul’s San Francisco Seals.

Dick Siebert, Minnesota baseball coach, is enthusiastic enough about the tee to order a couple for his Gophers.

“If major league baseball men can see value in the idea, then it should be great for youngsters,” Siebert said.

Willie Mays of the Minneapolis Millers took a practice cut in 1951 with no batting tee in sight. (Minneapolis Tribune photo)

Sunday, Jan. 21, 1905: ‘Gopher girls’ crush South High

Monday, January 19th, 2009

In addition to the final score, three things leap out from the dusty microfilm on this story:

  • The University of Minnesota fielded a women’s basketball team in 1905, less than 15 years after Dr. James Naismith invented the sport. (The official Gophers athletic site, gophersports.com, recognizes the 1971-72 squad as the school’s first women’s basketball team.)

  • It was apparently unremarkable that the mighty Gophers put a local high school on their schedule.
  • The Minneapolis Tribune, which typically devoted less than a page a day to the entire world of sports, covered this women’s game.

UNIVERSITY

VICTORY COMES EASY

VARSITY GIRLS WIN FROM THE SOUTH HIGH, 72 TO 2.

High School Misses Are Outclassed,
But They Put Up Plucky Fight
to the Last – Victors’ Team Work
Is Superb

The girls of the Minnesota basketball team ran up the highest score in the history of the team when they smothered the girls from South Side high last evening by a score of 72 to 2.

Women’s basketball circa 1900: Sensible shoes, billowing bloomers and set shots. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

It was the fastest, snappiest and most brilliant play ever put up by the university girls and although the high school girls fought gamely to the last, they were badly outclassed and were never dangerous. Minnesota scored within a minute after the game started and continued to put the ball in the basket on an average of one a minute for the thirty-five minutes of play.

The superb team work of the Gopher girls was what won them the game by such a large score. South Side could do nothing to break up the perfect combinations and team play. The varsity played together all the time and with such speed and dash that the younger players were swept off their feet.

South Side’s one score came near the end of the second half, when Miss Loeberg shot a basket for her team. The South Siders had worked the ball down the field on a spurt and it went out of bounds under the basket. A quick pass put it in position for a goal and the only score was recorded for the visiting team.
The game was remarkably free from rough play and the officials did not penalize a single player during the game.

Minnesota alumnae players who watched the game united in saying that the Gophers this year have the fastest team in the history of the university. For so early in the year, the team play is remarkable and the speed is greater than ever before. Hattie Van Bergen and Helen Cummings played the forwards in fine style, the former leading the team in basket shooting and getting into the team play phenomenally. Florence Schuyler was a remarkably steady center and Captain Dunn at guard was strong, coming up with the play and helping in running up the big score. Both Iris Newkirk and Clare Brown, who alternated at the other guard, played steady games.

For South high, Miss Loeberg and Miss Larsen played steady games and the others deserve mention for their plucky work.

There was a good attendance of university and high school students at the game, which was the first of the varsity schedule. Informal dancing followed the game, an orchestra furnishing music for a program of fifteen numbers. The teams lined up as follows:

Minnesota.
Cummings, left forward
Van Bergen, right forward
Schuyler, center
Dunn, left guard

Newkirk, Brown, right guard

South Side.
Mars, left forward
Loeberg, right forward
Larson, center
Law, left guard
Stenning, right guard

Goals, Van Bergen 10, Dunn 9, Cummings 7, Schuyler 6, Brown 3, Loeberg 1. Time of halves, twenty minutes and fifteen minutes. Referee, McRae; umpire, Weisel.

Couldn’t find a photo of the plucky girls from South High, but this shot of Fulda High’s 1904-05 girls team shows the typical garb of the era. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)