Flashback Friday: Battlers Fought '77 Blizzard to Win State Title

November 10, 2017 06:15 PM

There was a buzz going around Battle Lake 40 years ago this week.

The town's high school football team had qualified for the state championship game, and many in the small Otter Tail County community with a population between 700 and 800 people were ready to cheer the Battlers on.


There was just one problem. They had to get to the game first.

That was a task that had been complicated considerably by an early-season snowstorm that hit Central and Western Minnesota that week, closing highways and schools and leaving many motorists stranded.

Fourteen inches of snow fell in Canby, and 13 inches fell in Bemidji. In Alexandria, the Minneapolis Tribune reported Douglas County authorities opened the city's armory up to around 30 truckers and hunters who could not find a place to stay for the night with every hotel and motel room in the region booked up.

Meanwhile, in Battle Lake, the Battlers and their fans had to get out of town and make the 204-mile trek to St. Peter where the team was scheduled to face Henderson for the Class C state title on the evening of Nov. 10 at Gustavus.

Unlike now, when the state semifinal and final matchups are played indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium (previously the Metrodome), championship games in those days were played at neutral locations across the state.

"We were definitely looking at snow-compacted roads," recalls Chuck Evert, one of the team's assistant coaches. "The storm itself was over by the time we had to leave, but the snow was still so deep. Travel on the roads was very blustery."

Yet the team boarded a bus about 9 a.m. that morning, followed by a caravan of parents and other supporters.

"I can remember the Christianson family," Evert said. "They had a lot of children. I think maybe one had graduated, and one was on the team. But a lot of them were still pretty little. They all bundled up and packed into a 1974 Buick. I think they had about 10 people in that car."

The players themselves though, didn't pay the road conditions much thought at all. Perhaps because they were already veterans of snowstorms in West Central Minnesota, or maybe they were just focused on the task at hand.

"I'll be honest, being a kid back then, I don't think I was even aware there might be travel issues," said Brian Nordstrom, the team's starting quarterback. "I'm sure our teachers and coaches were going crazy trying to figure out how they were going to get us all down there, but I don't remember even noticing it at all."

St. Peter had not gotten as much snow as they had in Battle Lake. The Twin Cities only saw about two inches from that storm.

However, the field conditions at Gustavus were frozen. That made kicking difficult as Battlers kicker Don "Rick" Magnuson was about to discover.

With the score tied at 14 and just seconds left in regulation, Magnuson missed what would have been a game-winning field goal attempt. He'd already missed an extra point earlier.

"I think it was like 17 degrees that night," he recalls. "The ball was frozen. Kicking field goals and extra points was like kicking a bowling ball."

Magnuson got his chance at redemption in overtime, though. Henderson scored first, but failed to convert the extra point. Battle Lake then held serve on a 1-yard touchdown run by Paul Nelson, setting up Magnuson for the game-winning extra point try.

This time ... he made it.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "It was a tremendous feeling. I mean, it was just a great moment. We still talk about that night 40 years later, so it must have been a pretty big deal."

Especially considering the frozen path the team took just to get there.

"The driving on the way down was very hazardous, but everybody made it through," Evert said. "And it was just a great game. It's one people still remember today."


Frank Rajkowski

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