Duluth’s Jay Sonnenburg found these photos among his grandfather’s collection. They depict scenes from 95 years ago today at Athletic Park in West Duluth, where Duluth Central and Denfeld did battle on the gridiron.
Duluth native C.J. Ham took a handoff from backup quarterback Case Keenum and surged into the end zone for a 2-yard score against the Pittsburgh Steelers today. It was Ham’s first regular season touchdown in the National Football League, on his first carry. The Vikings lost the game 26-9.
Ham was on the Vikings practice squad in 2016 and was briefly on the active roster but did not play in a regular season game, making him eligible to participate in this season’s rookie camp. Vikings Team Reporter Eric Smith wrote on Vikings.com today that during team drills Ham “lined up as a fullback in front of Vikings rookie Dalvin Cook.”
Ham joined the Vikings during rookie camp on a tryout basis and signed to the practice squad after final roster cuts. He played high school ball at Denfeld, graduating in 2011. At Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., he totaled 2,662 rushing yards, 949 receiving yards and 35 total touchdowns in 43 games.
Minnesota (7-7) visits Green Bay (8-6) on Saturday.
Duluth native C.J. Ham is the Minnesota Vikings leading rusher over the first two preseason contests. He has gained 60 yards on 20 attempts, including a game-winning touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in week one. He also has three receptions for 27 yards.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Ham told WCCO-TV. “Just having the opportunity to be in the NFL and be with the team I grew up watching, it’s a dream come true.”
For three seasons, the Green Bay Packers divided up their team for inter-squad scrimmage games in Duluth. The first-group players, or “starters,” played for the Packers, and the second group players, or “benchwarmers,” took the name of the Duluth Eskimos. Of course, there was an actual Duluth Eskimos NFL team from 1923 to ’27, but the games referred to in this post were from 1951 to ’53.
The scrimmages were known as “The Fish Bowl,” and attracted crowds of about 8,000. The Packers won two of the three games, both by small margins, but in 1952 the backup players, under the name Duluth Eskimos, defeated the Green Bay starters by a score of 34-7.
In promotion of his recently released book, Hillsider, Duluth Mayor Don Ness has repeatedly shared his story of “a gift not given.” It’s from pages 155-156, under the title “Clooney & Zellweger.” The abridged version of the story goes like this:
George Clooney and Renee Zellweger made a trip to Duluth in 2008 to promote the movie Leatherheads, the plot of which is loosely based on the Duluth Eskimos football team. Ness was in his first month as mayor, and obviously wanted to impress the celebrities and do Duluth proud in front of the national media. He assigned his staff to put together an appropriate welcome gift for Clooney and Zellweger. The process of hunting down an old leatherhead helmet for an impressive plaque turned daunting, however, and on the morning of the visit the mayor discovered the gift ended up being a rather pathetic-looking miniature leatherhead resting on a small wooden pedestal. Ness made the executive decision to present the customary mayoral proclamation instead. He concludes his story with the punchline: “Over the years I’ve reconsidered a lot of choices. This isn’t one of ’em.”
Ness told the story last night at the DECC, which reminded me that after he told the story a few weeks ago at the Red Herring Lounge I asked him what happened to the silly little leatherhead-on-a-stick. He said he had no idea. It’s not in his office, and he hasn’t really asked around about it.
Did it land in the trash? Is it on a city employee’s mantle? Inquiring minds want to know.
Sister Lisa Maurer of the St. Scholastica Monastery was featured in a national TV news story on Sept. 29 during the CBS Evening News. The piece will air again on CBS This Morning on Wednesday, Sept. 30, between 7 and 9 a.m. on KDLH-TV Channel 3.
Sister Lisa is a kicking coach with the St. Scholastica Saints football team. A news team from CBS Evening News, including national correspondent Dean Reynolds, came to campus Sept. 10 and 11 to interview Sister Lisa, Coach Kurt Ramler, and football players Michael Mensing and Donovan Blatz. The crew also filmed shots of the St. Scholastica campus, and captured footage during the Saints’ Sept. 12 football game at Public Schools Stadium against MacMurray College.
Last November, Sister Lisa was featured in a New York Times story.
What would be your choice of Duluth venue if you wanted to see a game that wasn’t being broadcast on regular television, or if you were with a group that was interested in a couple games … preferably a place where you wouldn’t pay much for food and drink?
Zach Zweifel hit quarterback Drew Bauer with a 9-yard scoring strike in overtime to cap UMD’s wild 48-45 win over undefeated Ouachita Baptist University last Saturday. The Bulldogs advance to the NCAA Division II Quarterfinals, facing Minnesota State-Mankato this Saturday at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato.
The story of Sister Lisa Maurer, who serves as a football coach at the College of St. Scholastica, is featured today in the New York Times. Maurer is a Benedictine nun with St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, which shares a campus with the College of St. Scholastica. She joined the ranks of the coaching crew this fall, after spending years as one of the Saints’ biggest fans. Maurer will be on the sidelines Saturday as the Saints take on Saint John’s University in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs in Collegeville.
Help name these Denfeld Hunters. The image above is one of three dated Nov. 29, 1951, that are up for bid on eBay. The description reads: “These three photos were of the football players from Denfeld High School in Duluth, Minnesota. The sign in the background says Public Schools Stadium. The photos are from 1951. Two of the boys are identified: Eli Miletich and Richard Wilson. Eli Miletich gained some local celebrity later in life on the Duluth Police force.”
So, who can name the other two gridiron greats from West Duluth?