History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Friday, April 26, 2013

Minnesota Kicks soccer was glorious episode

The popularity of the Minnesota Kicks is something that should be preserved prominently in Minnesota history. The sport is soccer. While it's all the rage around much of the world, it has never become truly high-profile in the USA. But the Kicks were really "big" once. Their heyday coincided with the last years of Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington.
The "Met" like the Kicks should be remembered with fondness in Minnesota history. History will show that our state ultimately decided its big league sports should move indoors. It seemed logical in many ways.
There were well-grounded fears, though, that indoor sports could be "blah." Kicks soccer wouldn't be able to cut it in the Metrodome. Since Met Stadium closed, soccer retreated to its obscure position.
I saw an article about some sort of Minnesota team just yesterday. But it's nothing like the Kicks' glorious run. The Minnesota Kicks were all about savoring the Minnesota summertime atmosphere. Our stadium may have been called "Metropolitan" but don't be fooled. It was on the fringes of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. It was convenient but it was also detached. That's probably why Mall of America is located there now.
I have to confess I never attended a Kicks game. But I owned one of those orange Kicks T-shirts which I have described in the past as a "uniform" for the young boomers. It's likely I still have the T-shirt stored away somewhere. Would it even be worth a try to see if it fits? Shrinkage might be a factor and maybe even expansion of the human body.
The Harrisons of "Pawn Stars" would know if T-shirts are collectible. I still have my "Final Four" T-shirt that I purchased at the Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, during the Larry Johnson years with the Runnin' Rebels (Jerry Tarkanian, coach). I also have a "Final Four" sweatshirt from when Clem Haskins' Gophers played in Indianapolis, but I think the NCAA has told us those games never happened.
Ah, the Kicks! My generation did show signs of getting tired of Metropolitan Stadium toward the end of the 1970s. The Twins didn't command our attention anymore, not like they once did. The Vikings surely did. But you had to be concerned about frostbitten toes. The Kicks came along with some novelty value. Young people sensed an allure.
"The Met" was built with the idea of celebrating summer. While the boomers were starting to yawn about the Twins, they were gripped by the soccer Kicks for about five years. Kicks games became an absolute cultural phenomenon. If a young person of today were to step into a time machine and go back to see that, he/she might be astounded.
Soccer is a sport we watch politely and in small numbers today. It's the anti-football. You can strongly argue that soccer's appeal versus football is leaping forward based on the well-publicized health dangers of football. We'll see how that proceeds.
If you're worried about soccer's true potential, take that time machine back to August 25, 1976. It was a Wednesday. The Kicks were closing out their first summer. This is a franchise that moved here from Denver where they were the Dynamos. The Kicks were definitely filling a need here. On that steamy night with the temperature at 86 degrees, the official fan turnout was 49,572! The team suspected the real number was over 50,000. Fans filled every conceivable vantage point. The game was for the Pacific Conference championship.
The Kicks with coach Freddie Goodwin beat San Jose 3-1. The football goalposts were up for a Vikings exhibition. Fans took them down in celebration, a note that I have to share with a wince considering Morris history. (A UMM student was once killed in such a celebration.) The historical record says the posts were "up" meaning they must have been temporary. I theorize that temporary goalposts would be safer to try to take down than the heavy metal permanent ones we had at UMM.
Fans ripped up the Met's sod for souvenirs. A Kicks executive described the night as "the sports story of the year." The league commissioner added: "This is the sports story of the century."
I strongly hope that now we're moving past the Metrodome to totally new venues, one by one, we continue to remember our beloved old "Met."
I have written before about how a Chamber of Commerce guy, Jerry Moore, had a lot to do with Metropolitan Stadium getting built - no routine task. It was five years after construction before the Twins even began playing there, taking over from the Minneapolis Millers. Moore was interviewed by Joe Soucheray at the time the Met was being phased out. Soucheray interviewed several principals. I'll quote Moore here because his thoughts totally reflect mine: "My best memory? I guess it would have to be that pleasant setting. We got a lot of compliments on the place over the years."
I was always struck by that "pleasant setting." And, the reasonably priced Frosty Malts.
The Kicks played in the North American Soccer League. We saw signs of things to come on May 9, Mothers Day, of 1976 for the first home opener. The turnout was about 20,000. The temperature was certainly warm for May 9th: 83 degrees. We should be so lucky in our Minnesota spring of 2013! The fan turnout surprised the team which had just 17,000 tickets printed. The team really only expected 12,000 fans. The game was set to start at 3 p.m. There were already 17,000-plus fans in the seats. Granted, the team had an excellent marketing campaign prior to the season. But this was soccer! It was many rungs below American football, according to conventional wisdom.
The game's starting time arrived with fans still lined up outside at those ticket booths. The team had food company investors. These guys were savvy in "keeping the customers happy." Team Chairman Jack Crocker scrambled, enlisting all available hands to go outside and speed up getting the fans in. Even this wasn't enough. Finally, in a real gesture of accommodation, Crocker decided to open the gates and let the fan hopefuls in. They streamed into the left field section where no reserved tickets had been printed. They watched for free!
Crocker's gesture was a stroke of PR genius. The afternoon was definitely a sign of things to come. Happy Mothers Day! The moms and everyone else learned the soccer field was called a "pitch." We called the players "lads" and "chaps." And we called a score of 1-0 "ace-nil." Our Kicks came through with a victory, 4-1 over the San Jose Earthquakes. (Why would a team out there call themselves the "Earthquakes?" It would be like calling a Minnesota team the "Blizzard." We don't want to advertise it.)
Alan Willey scored two goals in that historic inaugural game. A look at the names on the roster is like a trip back to the 1970s. "Alan Merrick, Steve Litt, Ron Futcher, Geoff Barnett and good ol' Ace Ntsoelengoe. . ." Midfielder Ntsoelengoe had his name pronounced "nitzo-LENG-ay."
In 1977 the Kicks' home opener, played on May 8, drew 35,966. Willey scored all three goals as the Kicks beat Team Hawaii 3-0. In 1978 the home opener turnout was 36,057. Anyone who remembers the Met will remember that any turnout of over 35,000 gave the impression the place was full. It was an odd sort of illusion. There was room for plenty more than 35,000. The Kicks beat Dallas 2-1 in the '78 home opener.
In 1979 the Kicks backed up to April for their home opener, on the 29th, and conditions weren't ideal with rain and wind on this Sunday. The thermometer showed 42 degrees. Still, there were 24,131 fans in the seats. Again the Kicks won, 4-1 over Atlanta.
The Kicks played in a temperature that flirted with 100 degrees on July 19, 1977. The temperature actually did reach 100 during the day, matching a record. The temperature was 95 in the evening when the Kicks took the field at the Met to play a Swedish club called Hammarby. The fan turnout: 24,032. Soucheray described the fans as "scantily dressed even for a Kicks crowd." I can just envision it. The Kicks won 2-1 on a goal by a 17-year-old chap name of Stan Cummins.
A soccer player who was widely heralded at the time was named "Pele," remember? PAY-lay. He played for the New York Cosmos. The Cosmos came here during the Kicks' inaugural season of 1976 to play on June 9, with 46,164 fans recorded. It was very exciting, I'm sure, just to be among so many fans. Pele's background was in Brazil. A reporter mentioned to him post-game that Minnesota gets a lot of snow. After a pause of 3-4 seconds, Pele responded "It did not snow tonight." The temperature was 80 degrees. Pele picked up an assist as his Cosmos beat the Kicks 2-1.
Two years later, the Kicks trounced the Cosmos 9-2 in what Soucheray described as "the first of a two-game quarterfinal series playoff" (jargon, yes). Alan Willey was phenomenal, scoring five goals! Again the Met was filled, this time with 45,863 souls.
Kicks soccer presented an historic "Kazoo Night" on July 16, 1980, near the end of the franchise's run here. The kazoo players established a Guinness record. Though the Kicks' days were numbered and "the Met" was doomed for the wrecking ball, a healthy turnout of 27,167 fans were on hand.
No disrespect to the Kicks, but their wildly popular run seemed to owe to a lot more than soccer. I'm sure many soccer aficionados were there. But as a boomer who followed it all, I'm sure the Met and its expansive parking lot, ideal for tailgating and extracurricular diversions, were a fashionable and fun place for young people to congregate. I might also theorize that Minnesotans didn't have enough entertainment options. No casinos yet.
The entertainment dearth would eventually be solved. But in the meantime, Kicks soccer was an absolute phenomenon. Our historical annals must accent it.
Hats off to our wondrous "Met" in that "peaceful setting" (albeit with a jet going overhead once in a while). The new Vikings stadium will never match it. The new Gophers stadium hasn't.
Sometimes we don't know how good we have it.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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