70 years ago, Minneota played six-man
It has been 70 years since they last played six-man football for Minneota, yet Allan Josephson, Tom Swedzinski, Chuck Friend and Tony Fier remember yesteryear like it was yesterday.
"We had a real exotic play; the ends would tell me to throw it as far as I could and they would catch it," laughed Tom Swedzinski, the Vikings' quarterback for the 1948 season.
The four former gridders were among a dozen or so members of Minneota's 1949 senior class that were attending their 70-year class reunion at Duke's Corner Café in Taunton.
Josephson and Fier live in rural Taunton, Swedzinski in rural Porter, and Friend in Eden Prairie.
"We played when they didn't use facemasks or chinstraps," said Josephson, who was a two-way end. "We had thigh pads, but we didn't have kneepads."
Surprisingly, there weren't an overwhelming number of injuries despite the limited protection. Plastic helmets had evolved from leather, but head-on contact often results in cracked helmets.
"Because there were only six men on each side, there weren't a lot of big pileups where guys often get hurt," Josephson explained. "We still had some injuries, but we played with pain."
Minneota went 5-2 that season under coach Bob Kafka, who was also the school's head basketball coach. The Vikings outscored their opponents 263-124. The five wins came against Hendricks, Boyd, Walnut Grove, Ruthton and Tyler. The two losses were to Ivanhoe and Lake Benton.
"We didn't have playoffs or a state tournament back then," said Friend, who was also a two-way end.
Six-man football was played by many of the smaller schools in the state decades ago. Offenses consisted of a quarterback, a running back, a center, and three ends.
"Everyone was eligible to go out for a pass, even the center," Swedzinski noted.
On defense, there were two linemen, two linebackers and two safeties.
"We had 18 men on our team," said Fier, a running back who missed playing time as a senior due to an eye injury. "I think over half of them are gone now."
Players weren't the size of high school players today. In fact, it was rare for a six-man team to have a player over 200 pounds.
"We only had one player over 200 pounds in the county," said Swedzinski. "We were wondering how the heck we were going to tackle him."
One of the best players in the area was Minneota's speedy running back Donny Kjorness.
"He was two years older than the rest of us," said Friend. "He went into the service for two years and then came back to play his junior and senior year."
"I was a better basketball player than a football player," said Friend. "I didn't want to get hurt in football because I didn't want to miss playing basketball.
"But then Donny got hurt and I had to go in as running back. I did okay, though. I remember I got two touchdowns in one game."
Josephson remembers his father not wanting him to play football.
"He was afraid I'd get hurt," Josephson said. "David Dahl broke his leg in a game during my junior year and Coach Kafka had seen me playing touch football during recess and asked me to come out for the team to take (Dahl's) spot."
Josephson went home to plead one more to his father.
"He finally said to go ahead and play," Josephson said. "So in a way, I opened the door for my little brother Les to play football."
Les Josephson, 11 years younger than Allan, was a stellar 8-man high school player for Minneota who went on to star for Augustana College and then became a standout running back for 11 years with the Los Angeles Rams.