"Football," Bernie Bierman would say in recent years, "is a better game in some ways today . . . More boys to choose from . . . bigger from one decade to the next. But I have not seen a team anywhere - in person, on film, on television - that is better than my 1934 team."
Bierman, the great coach of the University of Minnesota's gridiron heyday, died yesterday in Laguna Hill, Calif. He would have been 83 Friday.
That 1934 team was one of three, or five, national champion Gopher teams, depending on the selectors. Led by Pug Lund, team captain characterized by Bierman as one of the largest running backs of all time, Minnesota sprang the buck lateral series on opponents including Jock Sutherland's Pitt Panthers in one of college football's best-remembered games: Minnesota 13, Pittsburg 7.
Halfback and captain of Minnnesota's unbeaten 1915 team, a World War I Marine, then coach at Montana, Mississippi A&M (State) and Tulane - his 1931 team went undefeated in to Rose Bowl (won by Southern California) - Bierman returned to his alma mater in 1932. It soon became the Silver Fox and the Golden Gophers as the master of the single wing and the unbalanced offensive line posted unbeaten campaigns in 1933, '34, '35, '40 and '41.
Then three more Marine years in WW II, and when he returned, the football world had caught up. His Gophers were 7-2 in 1949 but dropped to 1-7-1 in 1950, and career record of 156-58-11 notwithstanding, the fickle hung him in effigy and waved "Bye, bye, Bernie" signs in the stadium. The same thing was happening at Ohio State to coach Wes Fesler. Fesler moved to Minneapolis to replace Bierman. In Columbus, Woody Hayes replaced Fesler, and a new Big 10 era shaped up.
Bierman retired to southern California some 20 years ago, had heart surgery and then a stroke in 1973 and had been ailing since. Survivors include his wife of more than a half-century . . .