Minnesota honored Gopher Great and World War II veteran Ed Lechner today during the first quarter of the Gophers' game against Western Michigan.
Lechner grew up on a farm in rural North Dakota and was an all-state football player at Fessenden high school. After high school, his brother set up a meeting with legendary Minnesota coach Bernie Bierman. Lechner's brother thought he would be a great addition to the Golden Gopher football team and, as it turned out, he was right.
Ed Lechner holds one of his many newspaper clippings from his Minnesota playing days. Lechner will turn 93 in December.
Lechner played for the Gophers in 1939, 1940, 1941 and 1943 and he helped lead the Gophers to two National Championships.
He was a 210-pound tackle who played on both sides of the ball. Lechner blocked for All-American halfbacks George Franck and Bruce Smith, who also won the Heisman Trophy in 1941.
In 1941 in a showdown against nationally ranked Northwestern, the Gophers trailed 7-2 in the second half. Lechner broke through the line and blocked a Northwestern punt giving the Gophers the ball in Northwestern territory. His block helped Minnesota secure an 8-7 win and also helped preserve an undefeated season.
Lechner signed a professional contract with the New York Giants in 1942 and played six games before he decided to go back to Minnesota to continue his studies in dentistry and be near his wife. A new rule allowed Lechner to play for the Gophers in 1943 while he was in medical school and he served as a team captain.
Lechner suffered a knee injury in the third game of the 1943 season and then retired from football so he could concentrate on his dentistry degree. Late in 1943, he was commissioned by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt to serve in the Navy on the USS VICKSBURG during World War II. Dr. Lechner proudly served his fellow seamen and also helped identify war casualties through dental records.
Upon his return to Minnesota in 1947, Dr. Lechner set-up a dental practice in Highland Park. He and his beloved wife Evelyn were married for 68 years before she passed away last December.