University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Coach Murray Warmath did more than recruit African-American players for the  team: He made Uniontown, Pa.-born Sandy Stephens the quarterback, a move that ultimately led the Minnesota “powerhouse” team to victory in claiming the 1960 National Championship title. Stephens would go on to become the first African American to be named an All-American quarterback.

“There was leadership around that football team then that saw past race and wanted to win,” says sports broadcaster Lea B. Olsen about that era of the Gophers football team. 

Minnesota Gophers quarterback, Sandy Stephens, 1959
Minnesota Gophers quarterback, Sandy Stephens, 1959

Between the Gophers clinching the National Championship and the US Men’s Hockey Team – which included 7 local players – earning Olympic gold, 1960 proved to be a milestone year in Minnesota sports. The Minnesota Experience documentary Becoming Big League is a retro sports page come to life that illustrates how 1960 gave the state some important headlines.

Watch Becoming Big League.

Want more sports stories in your life? Check out SportsTalk, our collection of stories inspired by even the vaguest of athletic pursuits.

This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the Friends of Minnesota Experience.


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