(NOTE: This story was published in The Gazette on Nov. 21, 2009. Donald Gjerdrum, whose family bought the original Floyd of Rosedale, died last week at age 91)
MABEL, Minn. — Floyd of Rosedale lies peacefully near a clump of spruce trees on a farm about six miles north of the Iowa-Minnesota border.
Neither a stone nor a sign references the unmarked grave of football’s most famous real pigskin. Only the recollection of Donald Gjerdrum, 88, keeps alive the original story of a pig that saved a football rivalry.
The Iowa Hawkeyes and Minnesota Gophers resume their annual football tradition today at Kinnick Stadium. The teams have played every year since 1930 and more than 100 times overall. It’s almost inconceivable now that a 1934 incident with racial overtones threatened the rivalry’s future — and led to Floyd’s emergence.
In 1934, Iowa running back Ozzie Simmons was hit with extra fury during a 48-12 home loss to Minnesota. Some say it was because Simmons was one of the few African-Americans playing college football in the 1930s.
“They were blatant with their piling on and kneeing me,” Simmons told then Iowa Sports Information Director George Wine in 1989. “It was obvious, but the refs didn’t call it. Some of our fans wanted to come out on the field.”
Minnesota played at Iowa again in 1935. Legend has it, according to Minnesota’s media guide, that then Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring said, “If the officials stand for any rough tactics like Minnesota used last year, I’m sure the crowd won’t.”
Minnesota Gov. Floyd Olson telegraphed Herring in an attempt to diffuse the rhetoric. Olson bet Herring a Minnesota prize hog against an Iowa prize hog, which shifted the game’s mood from hostile to collegial. There were no incidents, and Minnesota won 13-6. Herring sent Olson a purebred Hampshire pig donated by Allen Loomis from Rosedale Farms near Fort Dodge. The pig, which was named Floyd after the Minnesota governor, was a brother of BlueBoy, who starred in Will Rogers’ 1933 movie “State Fair.”
That’s Floyd of Rosedale’s back story. The teams now play for a 98.3-pound bronze pig statue, which was sculpted in 1936 and is one of the oldest traveling trophies in college football.
It’s not the end of Floyd the pig’s story, though.
Gjerdrum owns a fourth-generation family farm, founded by Scandinavian immigrants in 1854. In 1933, his father, J.B. “Ben” Gjerdrum, began raising purebred Hampshires, a stock pig known for lean meat before cross breeding hogs became popular. A short time after the 1935 game, Ben Gjerdrum bought Floyd from the University of Minnesota for $50 after the pig changed hands two other times. Donald Gjerdrum, then a teenager, recalled his father bought Floyd to breed champion hogs.
“It was a gentle animal,” Gjerdrum said. “He had been handled a lot. It was a bit of talking point amongst the neighbors.”
Floyd didn’t last long on Gjerdrum’s farm. Cholera swept through the southern Minnesota countryside in 1936, killing livestock on a daily basis. Floyd was one of its casualties.
J.B. Gjerdrum buried Floyd about 200 yards from the family home, and Floyd’s bones rest under a trail between the trees and a cornfield, about 140 miles from Minneapolis and 160 miles from Iowa City. No other animal lies with it.
“He was special,” Donald Gjerdrum said. “It was a notable animal. Not everybody can claim something like that. It’s kind of neat.”
One team will carry a bronze version of Floyd from the field today, and one school will keep him for a year. But the real Floyd lies immortalized as the pig that saved a rivalry.
Here’s a video of Gjerdrum, a veteran of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, talking about the original Floyd of Rosedale in 2009:
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