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National championship team honored

The 1964 National Championship Concordia College football team included three former Alexandria High School football players. These players included Merle Hall (front row, 14), Bob Davis (second row, second from the right) and Bill Donley (fourth row, third from the right). (Contributed)1 / 2
Concordia College’s Bob Nick carries the ball during a game in 1964. Nick was originally from Princeton, Minnesota. (Contributed)2 / 2

Four men with Alexandria area ties will be recognized this May as members of a national championship football team from 50 years ago.

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The 1964 Concordia College football team will be awarded the 2014 Murray Warmath Legendary Team Award from the Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation on May 4 at a ceremony in Minneapolis.

This Cobbers team solidified its spot in history after playing to a 7-7 tie against Sam Houston State in the 1964 NAIA Championship Bowl. The team had plenty of area ties, including three 1962 graduates from Alexandria High School who played on the team, along with a former Alexandria High School football head coach.

Bill Donley, Bob Davis and Merle Hall were all 1962 graduates of Alexandria High School who went on to play for that Concordia College football team. The graduates had helped the Cardinals finish 8-1 their senior year, earning a Park Region Conference championship in the fall of 1961.

Davis actually had attended one year of college in Arizona as a freshman before transferring to Concordia the next year.

Charlie Basch was an assistant coach for the Cobbers after many years as a head coach of the Cardinals football team. He became an assistant before the start of the Alexandria natives’ sophomore season in 1963.

“It was special,” Hall said about the Alexandria ties on the team. “The three of us as players, and coach Charlie was such a special coach for all of us.”

The Cobbers came together as a team in 1964, going undefeated that season in Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. Many of those wins were dominant as they shut out four different opponents and won one game by a 49-point margin of victory.

The Cobbers knew they had a good group of players heading into that season, and this high level of talent was visible on the field.

“We were pretty solid all the way through, the offense and defense, and good coaching,” Hall said. “We had a good, solid team.”

Alexandria’s Donley was a starting defensive end that season, while Hall played as a quarterback and Davis played as a running back and defensive back. Basch served as an assistant coach and worked with running backs and defensive backs.

The Cobbers’ regular season success then continued in the playoffs.

Concordia defeated Linfield College 28-6 to set up a showdown with Sam Houston State in the NAIA Championship Bowl, held in Augusta, Georgia.

In the championship, the scoreboard read Concordia 7, Sam Houston State 7 at the end of the fourth quarter. That was how the game ended as college football’s overtime rules were not yet in place.

“It was kind of like, did we win or lose?” Hall said. “We understood in those days that a tie was a tie, you didn’t have the chance to go into overtime.”

In a final poll, however, Concordia was ranked first while Sam Houston State was second.

After graduating, Hall went on to have a long career in football coaching. He eventually became an assistant coach at Kent State, Washington and Missouri, and most notably was a head coach at Boise State between 1987 and 1992.

Basch, who was the head coach of the men’s hockey team at Concordia College, eventually became the head coach of the St. Cloud State University men’s hockey team from 1968 through 1984.

This fall will mark the 50th anniversary of that Concordia College championship season. Donley, Davis and Hall each plan on attending the 2014 Minnesota Football Honors Awards Event, along with the rest of the team. Basch, now 88 years old, is unable to attend the ceremony. But the three Alexandria natives are planning to visit and eat brunch with him on the following Monday to fill him in on the events.

Even though they won a national championship, Hall said it is still surprising for the team to still be recognized for its accomplishments half a century later.

“What’s really unique about it is at the time it was exciting, of course, to be on it and win it,” Hall said. “Here we are 50 years later still being recognized for that accomplishment. It was kind of a surprise when they called and said, ‘We want you to come back’.”

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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