Resident Spotlights

Golden Gopher’s golden years

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Good afternoon sports fans wherever you are and welcome to the 47th annual tournament of Roses football game in sun-drenched Pasadena …*

Greg Larson was a football star. Named an All-State player at Minneapolis’ Roosevelt high school in 1957, he went on to play for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. In 1961, to his disbelief, Greg was named captain of the team. And to top things off, the Gophers went to the Rose Bowl that year.

“What does it mean to be captain? It means you’re supposed to be the smartest guy, and lead, and know all about football. And I guess that’s what I did,” Greg reflected.

The Gopher team included a mix of first year and more experienced players. The men played both offense and defense. Greg, a business student, played center on offense and linebacker on defense. He completed the extra points and kick-off snaps for the team. “Half the time I was snapping to the quarterback who was not under my legs … so it was a blindfolded position,” Greg said. His fellow teammates consisted of All-American players, military veterans and future National Football League (NFL) legends.

In 1961, Greg’s Golden Gophers, ranked number one in the nation, faced off against the top six rated Washington Huskies at the Rose Bowl. The weather was sunny in Pasadena, California. The Huskies commanded the first half by scoring 17 points. Minnesota didn’t land a point on the board.

During the third quarter, Minnesota scored one touchdown, but couldn’t muster the strength for more. As the clock wound down, Gopher fans were left with an upset.

Final score: 17-7.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1! And that is the last play of the game, the pass is incomplete and that’s it – Washington has defeated Minnesota!

Coach Murray Warmath “worked the hell out of the team” in California, said Joey Larson, Greg’s wife. “He worked you so hard that he wanted to win against Washington State – they were so tired for the game, they lost,” she said.

Although the Gophers lost at the highly anticipated Rose Bowl, Greg wasn’t defeated. He graduated college and went on to be drafted by three NFL teams: the New York Giants, San Diego Chargers and a professional Canadian team. Greg decided to gear up in blue and red.

“When he got drafted by the Giants, my mother said, ‘Don’t let him go to New York without you,’” Joey said. “So, we got married.”

The pair were high school sweethearts. Greg was a junior, Joey a sophomore when they met. Married for 62 years, they have four children and seven grandchildren.

Fifth quarter

Greg kicked off his NFL career as right tackle for the Giants – with Joey cheering him on. In 1962, he moved to right guard and a year later he became the center, where he stayed for the remainder of his football career. He played all positions on the offensive line, “so I knew what everybody else was supposed to do,” he said with a laugh.

He shared the field with legends like Kyle Rote, Charlie Conerly, Fran Tarkenton, Tucker Fredrickson, Tom Brown. Greg and Wellington Mara, the Giants’ owner, were the best of pals.

He and his family traveled back and forth from Minnesota to New York during Greg’s 13-year career. They never wanted to move where he was playing, for fear he’d be traded, and they would have to pack up and move again.

“We always came back to Minnesota,” Joey said.

But the Giants never traded Greg.

He only missed two games in 13 years. However, Greg left the field with more than a dozen surgeries to fix his knees, elbows and nose. He retired in 1973, became a player-representative, and met players from other NFL teams.

“Success in football [at the U] certainly helped me to become a New York Giant NFL player,” he said.

Golden years

After retiring from the NFL, Greg was honored to be inducted into the U of M hall of fame. He ran a very successful sporting goods company and he and his family lived in a beautiful home on a lake in northern Minnesota. He even took his kids to meet the Giants.

Once their nest emptied, Greg and Joey moved to Florida. Greg spent his days playing golf and connecting with new friends.

Football was always the best part of his life.

When the Larsons began looking into living at a senior community, they were aided by their son-in-law, Kenny, who helps finance senior living projects. He looked at three potential options for Greg and Joey. SummerWood of Plymouth, a Presbyterian Homes & Services community in Minnesota, was number one on the list.

Greg Larson and family, along with other residents, cheer on the Gophers at SummerWood of Plymouth’s U of M watch party. Interested in one of our communities? Come live with your fellow Gophers. Schedule a tour today!

“We love it!” Greg said. “There has never been anything we had to criticize. We recommend it to anyone who asks us about it. It’s just been wonderful.”

The football hall of famer and his wife enjoy two meals each day in the dining center. They socialize at happy hour. Friends and cousins visit. Their daughter lives a mile away and keeps them busy. They cheer for the Gophers at U of M watch parties.

As far as advice for the current U of M Gopher team from the former Captain?

“Think ‘winning’ at all times. It could happen if you do that.”

*Subheading quotations from the Rose Bowl broadcast recording on YouTube.

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