By Justine Buerkle, GopherSports.com
Celebration Photo Gallery
The University of Minnesota campus has changed a lot since 1972, the year the "Iron Five" led Minnesota to a Big Ten basketball title and an NCAA Tournament berth. But Williams Arena still sits right there in the same place, and that is where the team united again to be honored for the 40th anniversary of their conference championship.
One of the Minnesota's greatest athletes, Dave Winfield returned to campus for the '71-'72 anniversary celebration.
The recognition ceremony took place at halftime of the current Gophers' game against USC on Saturday, Dec. 3. But the festivities started well before game time. The team members had a dinner together, where they caught up and rehashed memories from their time together at the "U". They also ate breakfast with the Golden Dunkers club.
Saturday afternoon, they signed autographs in the concourse before the game started, with some longtime fans bringing items from the 1971-72 season to be signed. At halftime, the team was introduced on the court and presented with plaques commemorating the 40th anniversary of their accomplishments as the fans in attendance at the Barn gave them a nice ovation. The 1971-72 Gophers appreciated the warm reception.
"The way the University of Minnesota honored us, feted us, presented us to the fans--it was great," said Dave Winfield, one of the U's most distinguished athletes. "A lot of love, a lot of support. There were people that told me they've been fans for 65 years, and that we were some of their favorites. So, it's great to know that we've had an impact."
After the game, the alumni joined the 2011-12 Gophers in the locker room to chat, offer congratulations, and impart some wisdom to their younger counterparts. Both generations of Gophers enjoyed this opportunity to connect.
Jim Brewer said he was thrilled so many fans acknowledged the impact the '71-'72 team had on the university.
Meeting with the current team and hearing fans voice their appreciation was a special experience for the Big Ten champions. But another important aspect of the weekend was the chance for them to simply spend time with each other. Some of the players had not seen each other for decades. Even after so much time apart, they still share the bond that comes from overcoming obstacles and succeeding together.
"These are the guys that I know I can depend on to be straight with me and tell me the truth," Jim Brewer said. "It's really great to be among friends, because those are the people who you've shared some kind of happiness, some kind of success with. I think that really says it all."
A testament to both their time on the basketball roster and their time in the classroom at Minnesota, the Gophers' success has continued off the court since their incredible 1972 season.
"What was enlightening to me, and a good thing to see, was that everyone who played here did well in life," Winfield said. "They're making major contributions. And that's important, because it shows what we learned at this school, the experiences that we had at this institution."