Earlier this season, we saw an ugly on-court brawl between intra-city rivals Xavier and Cincinnati. That was a school-yard scuffle compared to what happened on January 25, 1972, in Minnesota.
That was the date and site of a melee between Ohio State and Minnesota, which turned into one of the ugliest scenes in the history of sports. Gophers players and fans forged a brutal attack on the Buckeyes that Sports Illustrated cited the governor of Ohio describing as a “public mugging.”
The final 36 seconds of the game were not played because, as SI put it, there was “fear that the Gophers and their fans would rage out of control.”
It all began with Ohio State holding a 50-44 lead in those waning seconds, when the Gophers’ Clyde Turner committed a flagrant foul on Buckeyes center Luke Witte as he was attempting a layup. Turner was thrown out of the game, but teammate Corky Taylor – seemingly with a gesture of sportsmanship – offered a hand to help up Witte.
Taylor instead kneed Witte in the groin and punched him in the head, after which a stomp by the Gophers’ Ron Behagen knocked Witte unconscious. Future baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, then a Minnesota basketball player, even got in on the action by landing punches on Ohio State’s Mark Wagar.
Fans rushed the court, not to celebrate a big win but to ignite an already flammable scene.
Many believe that a seed for the fight was planted as the teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime, when Witte – the initial victim of the violence that sparked the brawl – grazed Minnesota’s Bobby Nix with an elbow.
Sadly, it also turned into a racial issue because most of Ohio State’s players were white and most of Minnesota’s were black.
As a result of the melee, Taylor and Behagen were suspended for the rest of the season; the fight also caused the NCAA to sanction teams like Minnesota, whose practice it was to dunk and showboat during pregame warmups, which the governing body believed set a tenor for what happened later.
Forty years removed from the incident – and with the Gophers and Buckeyes facing off Tuesday – we answer the question: Where are all the main characters from the fight now?
• Clyde Turner: The man who originally fouled Witte played in Europe from 1973-75 and then dedicated his professional life to kids. He is the manager of Ramsey County Family Services Division and founded the Clyde Turner Educational Basketball Camp, which has focused on urban youth for 26 years in Minneapolis.
• Fred Taylor: According to most reports, Ohio State’s coach at the time was never the same after the brawl. He surprisingly retired in 1976 at just 52-years old. He later spent time with the United States national team and was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986. He died in 2002.
• Bill Musselman: Known for cultivating fierce teams, many blamed Musselman’s mentality for his team’s behavior that night. He coached in the ABA, NBA, CBA, WBA and at South Alabama after leaving Minnesota in 1975. Musselman died in 2000. His son, Eric Musselman, is the former coach of the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. He currently coaches the NBDL’s Los Angeles D-Fenders.
• Ron Behagen: The man who stomped Witte unconscious played professional basketball from 1973-80. He recently was arrested and put on three years’ probation for allegedly stealing money from a sickly 68-year-old woman.
• John J. Gilligan: The governor of Ohio at the time, now 90, is retired. He is the father of Kathleen Sebelius, who is a former governor of Kansas and the current United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.
• Dave Winfield: We all know what happened to him. The former three-sport star chose baseball. He rode that career choice all the way to the Hall of Fame. He is currently a senior advisor with the San Diego Padres and an ESPN baseball analyst.
• Corky Taylor: The man who pulled a WWE-style move on Witte currently lives in Plymouth, MN, and works for the city of Minneapolis. He played overseas but is best known for his epic cheap shot just like Kermit Washington. Taylor and Witte first connected in 1982 and have kept in touch since. In 2000, Witte actually stayed at Taylor’s home.
• Luke Witte: The seven-foot Witte spent time in intensive care after the fight. He suffered from a scratched cornea and needed 29 stitches. Witte, who played for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1973-76, resides in Charlotte, NC, and is a minister. He explained his decision to forgive Taylor like this to the Columbus Dispatch in 2007: “When something is restored, the first thing is you set it right, then put a cast on and let it heal. It’s the same way with the heart. If you never set it right, it works away at you and destroys part of who you are.”
Witte may have forgiven but he most certainly will not forget the 1972 brawl, as much as he probably wishes he could.