40th anniversary: Dave Winfield and the NCAA basket-brawl

Forty years ago today, one of the ugliest moments in the history of college basketball occurred. It’s an event that has largely been forgotten and probably would be completely forgotten if it wasn’t for the odd fact that one of the people involved in the ugliness later went on to become a Hall of Fame baseball player—Dave Winfield.

On Jan. 25, 1971, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers hosted the Ohio State Buckeyes in what appeared to be a fairly mundane game. With 36 seconds to go and Minnesota trailing by six, the Buckeye’s Luke Witte was fouled hard and knocked down to the ground.

What happened next didn’t last especially long but was violent enough to put three Ohio State players in the hospital. Making this even more shocking, the violence just seemed to come from nowhere. With Witte trying to get up from his foul, Minnesota player Corky Taylor walked up an extended his hand to Witte, as if trying to help him up. Instead, he got Witte up just to knee him in the groin hard and then punch him in the head. Witte was knocked back down but good.

Then all hell broke loose. Players started scrambling after each other all over the court. With Witte lying immobilized on the ground, Minnesota’s Ron Behagen came up to him and stomped him into unconsciousness. Witte’s teammate Dave Merchant tried to help but was hit in the back by Golden Gopher Jim Brewer.

As for Winfield, just 20 years old at the time, he attacked Ohio State player Mark Wagar from behind, landing several punches to his head. It was all over in about a minute, but the officials declared the game over, the last 36 seconds be damned.

Witte would spend several days in the hospital, including one day in intensive care. His cornea was scarred, permanently affecting his career. He also had 29 stitches in his face.

There was no clear provocation for what happened. Witte had elbowed Minnesota’s Bobby Nix on the way to the locker rooms at halftime, but what happened was well out of line by any standards. Some blamed Minnesota coach Bill Musselman for trying to work his players into an extreme emotional state for their games.

The Big Ten suspended Taylor and Behagen, but no action was taken against the University of Minnesota basketball program itself.

Witte went on to a brief NBA career. Minnesota’s Brewer had a more successful NBA career, lasting nearly a decade. Less successfully, head-stomper Behagen just three weeks ago was sentenced to three years probation for stealing money from an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

But Winfield is the biggest name to come out of it. His future lay in baseball, obviously, and he was never known for getting in any fights there (unless you count the time his throw to the infield flukishly kill a bird in midair). But he was part of this ugly NCAA brawl – now on Youtube – that happened 40 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other events celebrate an anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to skim.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since Royals catcher John Buck legs out two triples in one game.

2,000 days since Baltimore trades Javy Lopez to the Red Sox.

2,000 days since former pitcher Elden Auker dies. He was the last living man who’d surrendered a home run to Babe Ruth. Late in life, he gained prominence in things like ESPN’s “Sportscentury” documentaries because he was a lucid living link to the pre-WWII era.

4,000 days since authorities implode Three Rivers Stadium.

5,000 days since Mike Blowers hits for the cycle.

5,000 days since two class action lawsuits are filed against the Marlins. One is for breach of contract, and another is for false advertising. This is due to the great sell-off after the 1997 world championship.

6,000 days since, after more than 7,700 career PA, Tony Gwynn finally hits his first grand slam. He’ll get more after this.

7,000 days since Reds employee Sharon Jones accuses team owner Marge Schott of making anti-Semitic and racist remarks.

10,000 days since Carney Lansford collects his 1,000th his in 872 games.

10,000 days since Bobby Grich belts his 200th home run.

10,000 days since Dave Winfield’s career-best hitting streak peaks at 20 games. In that time, he’s 32-for-75 with five doubles, two triples and five home runs with 18 walks. His AVG/OBP/SLG line is: .427/.532/.747.

40,000 days since Phillies pitcher Doc White fans four batters in one inning versus Brooklyn.

Anniversaries

1863 Danny Richardson, early baseball star, is born.

1899 The Cubs trade star shortstop Bill Dahlen to Baltimore for Gene DeMontreville.

1918 Ernie Harwell, legendary Tigers announcer, is born.

1939 Abner Dalrymple, 1880s star outfielder, dies.

1943 The Boston Braves purchase Lefty Gomez from the Yankees.

1943 The Army Air Corps calls Enos Slaughter to active duty.

1945 Larry MacPhail, Dan Topping, and Del Webb purchase the New York Yankees from Col. Jacob Ruppert for $2.8 million.

1945 Wally Bunker, 1960s phenom pitcher, is born.

1961 Cincinnati trades veteran pitcher Joe Nuxhall to the Kansas City A’s.

1966 Yankee infielder Tony Kubek announces his retirement.

1967 George Gibson, Pirates catcher from the early 20th century, dies.

1974 McDonalds maven Ray Kroc purchases the San Diego Padres for $12 million.

1977 The Angels sign past-his-prime starting pitcher Mike Cuellar

1978 Texas trades star pitcher Gaylord Perry to the Padres for Dave Tomlin and $125,000. Perry will win a Cy Young Award in San Diego.

1983 The two Chicago teams make a six-player trade. The Cubs get Steve Trout, and the White Sox receive Scott Fletcher and Dick Tidrow.

1991 Texas signs free agent Rich Gossage, who didn’t play in the majors at all in 1990.

2001 Anaheim signs free agent Wally Joyner, allowing him to return to his old stomping grounds for his final season.

2010 Mark Loretta announces his retirement after 15 years.

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Comments

  1. Doug Short said...

    I watched the game live with my father and it is still vividly in my mind. It happened so fast, all I saw was Corky Taylor kneeing Luke Witte and the rest was bedlam. That has to be the worst mugging ever during an organized sporting event. At least in football they have equipment on.

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