January 26, 2018 09:21 AM
It's the victories - recorded 50 years ago this week - for which Mike Burley and his teammates on the basketball team at Edina High School entered the state record books.
But it was a loss - finally - two weeks later that Burley said made the difference in his team ultimately earning a third-straight state title.
The wins first, though.
On Jan. 26, 1968, Edina - already the two-time defending state champions - defeated a tough St. Cloud Tech team 65-58 at home. It marked the team's 65th consecutive victory, tying a mark recorded by Hopkins from 1951-54.
Bob Zender - the team's 6-foot-8 All-State center - led the way with 24 points, according to the game story in the next day's Minneapolis Tribune.
Then Edina extended its streak to 66 in a row by rolling to a 52-34 victory before a crowd of 2,800 at Robbinsdale Cooper on Jan. 30.
"The media seemed to be making it about the record," recalls Burley, a senior on that team.
"We were just high school students. It wasn't something we were sweating buckets over. They were big wins and it was impressive to be part of that. I don't want to minimize it. But the streak wasn't something we were dwelling on day-to-day."
That's why, Burley said, it may have been best when - after going on to beat Hopkins, Bloomington Kennedy and St. Louis Park - Edina finally fell 81-75 before a raucous crowd of 2,300 at Richfield on Feb. 16.
After trailing 41-25 at halftime, according to the game story in the Tribune, Edina rallied. But it was not enough, and the streak was snapped at 69 games.
"I just remember my ears ringing in the locker room after that game," Burley said. "Holy cow, was it loud in there.
"But I don't think we'd have gone on to win the state tournament that year if we hadn't lost that game. It showed us we could be beaten. We played them again in the district championship game and we had control of that one most of the way (in a 65-51 victory).
"They were a great team and we took them a lot more seriously the second time around. The loss kind of woke us up."
It's understandable if Burley and company had gotten a bit used to success. The Edina teams of the late-1960s - coached by Duane Baglien, who died in 2011 - remain some of the best in state history.
"It was just a really exciting time to be part of all that," recalled Tom Cabalka, a junior that year who would go on to play football at Iowa. "You'd come to the gym to watch the sophomores play before you and the place would already be packed. They'd be turning people away because so many people wanted to come either see us win another game, or see someone finally beat us."
Their consecutive victories streak still stands as a boys state record, though the Fosston girls rattled off 78 straight wins from 1999-2002. Only the great Braham teams of the mid-2000s have even come close, winning 65 straight to tie Hopkins for second place.
"The word special comes to mind," Burley of being part of that experience. "We knew we were doing something big. The sports page was full of coverage. I think, at that time, we were as prominent on the sports pages as the pro franchises and the University of Minnesota were.
"I don't mean that to sound egotistical. The Twin Cities had more of a small-town feel in those days. It wasn't quite the huge metropolis it is today."
Edina went on to defeat Moorhead 70-45 in that season's state championship game (its second-straight win over the Spuds in the title matchup).
"That was always the ultimate goal," Cabalka said. "The streak wasn't all that big a deal. We wanted to get to state and win a state title. That was always the top thing on our minds."
Zender, a transfer student from Omaha who had been playing varsity in Edina since he was a sophomore, died at age 60 in 2010. He was joined on the 1968 all-state tournament team by fellow seniors Bill Fiedler and Mark Thoele.
"Zender and Fiedler were both tall guys and our job was just to get the ball to them down low," Burley said. "I called myself a power guard. My job on that team was to play defense, get rebounds and get the ball to the big guys.
"The reason it all worked so well was that Baglien was just a great Xs and Os guy. We would practice all kinds of stuff. We'd play two or three different defenses a game. We had a sneaky way of switching up the defense we were in without even having to call a timeout.
"We really were like robots. We'd practice and practice and practice stuff until it was drilled into us."
Updated: January 26, 2018 09:21 AM
Created: January 25, 2018 03:24 PM
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