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January 10, 2010

The greatest play in Golden Gopher football history

One of my favorite things about the web site Memorial Stadium: 1924-1992 is the section devoted to videos of old games at the Brickhouse. We put up some famous ones, like Paul Giel's record setting day against Michigan in 1953, and even a video featuring the Gophers vs. Knute Rockne and Notre Dame from 1925. However, even with over 25 fantastic videos uploaded to the site, we were still missing one of the most important ones. In fact, much to my unhappiness we were missing what many people consider the greatest play in Golden Gopher football history.

Of course, I am talking about Bruce Smith's 80 yard run against Michigan in 1940. This famous run propelled the Gophers to their fourth national championship and virtually sealed the Heisman Trophy for Smith in 1941. The University of Minnesota Archives is supposed to have many versions of this run such as in the 1940 coaches film of the game, or the 1940 highlights film, or many other highlight films covering the glory years of Gopher football. However, in every single film that promised to include this run, it has been spliced out. As we reviewed videos for the site, I would literally scream when the play would be coming up only to have the video jump to the next play with a little blip in the action. My theory is that this run was so famous early film room maintainers spliced it in and out of so many films that they essentially spliced it out of existence. Hard to believe? Believe it.

It pains me that the University of Minnesota no longer has a copy of this play. It was also very painful to me to think that we could unveil the Memorial Stadium web site without this play included. I called the Athletic Department numerous times thinking that they had to have a copy. I even talked to the Assistant Athletic Director, Phil Esten, thinking that they would have a copy somewhere in their film room. Nope. No luck. I also called the sports archives at University of Michigan and asked if they had a copy. No luck there either.

In my research I found out that the run is included in a 1942 Hollywood movie made about Bruce Smith called Smith of Minnesota. So, I called up Sony and asked for ... no, I demanded a copy. I claimed it included footage owned by the University of Minnesota and that a copy belonged in our archives. Of course, they said no and gave me the option to pay them $500 so that I could show the movie once to an audience. I turned down the offer. Jerks.

Unfortunately we had to unveil the site without Bruce Smith's 80 yard run. We had no choice. However, after unveiling it, I got a private message from a member of the GopherHole, cemba99, that said:

I ... was able to get an electronic copy of the movie "Smith of Minnesota." This 1942 Hollywood film about Bruce Smith has many actual clips from 1940 and 1941 Gopher teams including some footage from the infamous 80 yard run against Michigan ...If you are interested in a DVD copy of the film, let me know.

Well, as you might imagine I was very interested in getting a DVD copy of the film! And I did get it (thanks Scott!). Of course, I spliced my own copy of the famous play and I put it up on a University server. And now I present it to you.

First though, a little bit about the play itself. Tim Brady, in an article for the Alumni Association magazine called Who Was Bruce Smith, describes the play as if he was there. Michigan was up 6-0 in the second quarter in what was proving to be a brutal game overall. Brady writes:

Just a couple of minutes remained in the first half when Smith's number was called in the Minnesota huddle. [George "Sonny"] Franck would get the snap and head right with another back in front of him. Smith, playing the wingback position just beyond the right side of the line, would head in the opposite direction, to his left, and receive a handoff from Franck. Smith would then head around left end with good luck and Godspeed ...

By the time Tom Harmon and the Michigan defenders realized that Bruce Smith was carrying the ball around left end, not George Franck heading right, Smith was already into the secondary with his shoulders squared and a bead on the goal line. He needed to beat Harmon, Evashevski, and a couple of others, but with a juke here, some good blocking there, and a long sprint to the end zone, Bruce Smith had completed the most important touchdown run in Gopher football history. Eighty yards to pay dirt.

The film below includes some humorous Hollywood nonsense, but the beauty of the run remains intact. One of the great things about the clip is that it is narrated by Bruce Smith himself. And now, I present to you, The Play:

If you watched that, you are one of the few people that have ever seen Bruce Smith's 80 yard run against Michigan in 1940. Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions we decided not to include it on the Memorial Stadium web site. However, I've decided to claim fair use and present it here. A large part of the video includes footage filmed by the University of Minnesota, and I don't think Sony will lose any money over this one.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. Until next time.

Posted by snackeru at January 10, 2010 8:36 PM

Comments

Holy crap Shane, that was amazing!

Packers lose a heartbreaker, I see Bruce Smith's 80 yard run. What a day, I think I may see if the wife is in the mood.

Posted by: freealonzo at January 10, 2010 10:31 PM

You... are my hero.

Posted by: Jon at January 10, 2010 10:53 PM

Nice work Shane.

Posted by: chapman at January 11, 2010 8:48 AM

At last! I finally can say I saw the great
Bruce Smith play - on 7/28/10, no less. Allow
me to back up a bit. I first became aware of
Bruce while reading a story of the influence
of sports during the Swing Era. It was written
by William Johnson in a hardcover book which
was included with each volume of Swing Era
music released by Time-Life, in the mid-1970s.
This particular volume was entitled: The Swing
Era 1942-1944, When Sport Was Mighty Sporty.
Johnson, reflecting on sports heroes in his
lifetime, refers, in depth, to Bruce Smith and
"the game vs. Michigan." I have tried for the
past 30 years to find a copy of the movie and/
or at least see some game footage. For the
record, I have always had this thing for
vintage football films - what I refer to as
"the leather helmet era". Earlier this evening
I once again watched footage from the 1946
Army vs. Notre Dame game. I listened to this
game on radio little realizing I would one day
become a professional broadcaster, beginning in
1956. I've since retired from the game on a
full time basis but I do host a weekly program
on our local NPR station which features a mix
of big band music and Popular American Standards
I vowed I would one day catch up with Bruce.
Thanks to your super post....I feel like a kid
again. Ah shucks!

I'd be glad to send you a copy of the Johnson
story,which includes a still shot from the movie
and a photo of him holding the Heisman Trophy.

Ken Jackson

Program Host
WYPR 88.1
Baltimore, Md.

Posted by: ken jackson at July 28, 2010 8:35 PM

Glad I could help Ken! It is nice to read a comment from some one that obviously knows the significance of The Play and fully appreciates it. Thanks for your thoughts and your story! Have a good one!

Posted by: Shane at July 29, 2010 8:40 AM

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