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NDSU lecturer's book details 1930s emigration of local college football pioneers to CFL excellence

NDSU lecturer goes into great detail on legends Fritz Hanson, Bob Fritz

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North Dakota State lecturer Ryan Christiansen holds the front and back covers of his book "Border Boys."
Jeff Kolpack / The Forum
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FARGO — Careful navigation through Minard Hall on the North Dakota State campus is required to find Ryan Christiansen’s office. At least the English department lecturer has a west-facing window.

It’s not a big space, but it could double as a time machine. In his book “Border Boys: How Americans from Border Colleges Helped Western Canada to Win a Football Championship,” the attention to detail is so fine that it’s as if Christiansen traveled back in time and documented how players from this area of the United States ended up in the Canadian Football League.

For anybody with any sort of historical connection, or wants to read about NDSU, Concordia, Moorhead State and CFL football in the 1930s, it’s a gold mine. It started in 2018 when Christiansen was at a Winnipeg Blue Bombers game.

“At halftime, they inducted a new guy into their Ring of Honour, a guy named Fritz Hanson,” Christiansen said. “They said he came from North Dakota State University. I’m like, wow, never heard of that guy.”

So Christiansen started looking into it.

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For the most part, Christiansen’s book traces the careers of Bison players Hanson, Herb Peschel and Bud Marquardt and their journey from playing for NDSU to reaching the CFL. Hanson, from Perham, Minn., was the speedy running back with several nicknames — most alluding to his blonde hair — and eventually was the cover shot for Christiansen’s book.

When Hanson wasn’t injured, he was zigzagging around opposing defenses.

In the midst of his research, Christiansen may have uncovered the first potential recruiting war between Concordia College and Moorhead State. After a fine 1932 season at Concordia, star halfback Bob Fritz — he of the old sporting goods store in Moorhead — decided to transfer to MSU. He did so by writing a letter in his hometown Minnesota newspaper, the International Falls Daily News, saying his move came down “to financial difficulties” that prevented him from enrolling at Concordia for the spring semester.

Fritz made a point to say MSU head coach Sliv Nemzek did not recruit him. He did say he could play the 1933 and 1934 seasons at MSU but had only one year at Concordia.

“After the Moorhead newspaper published the report,” Christiansen wrote, “Dick Hackenberg, (Moorhead) Daily News sportswriter, said (Concordia) Coach Frank Cleve scorned Fritz.”

Three days later, Fritz ended up enrolling at Concordia after all.

“Concordia’s dean assured the Daily News that, ‘What is being done for Fritz to allow him to continue his school at Concordia would be done for anyone regardless of their athletic ability,’” Christiansen wrote.

It was a different era of newspapers, sportswriters and coaches. Coachspeak evidently wasn’t yet invented. Before Concordia played Macalester, Cleve told Hackenberg, “We’ll whip ‘em. If they ever get going, it’s going to be too bad for somebody. Fritz has shown a complete rejuvenation in practice this week.”

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Matters, meanwhile, were getting edgy across the river at NDSU. The homecoming committee, according to The Spectrum newspaper, scolded the student body for a lack of school spirit.

“One columnist in The Spectrum,” Christiansen wrote, “noted that students had celebrated homecoming as an ‘alcoholiday,’ despite prohibition prior to 1933.”

Apparently, anything was print worthy. The Minneapolis Tribune, in an article before the Bison and Gophers football game, made note of Hanson as a “sensational touchdown runner from Perham, Minn., who weighs only 145 pounds … but the midget tow-head is often inserted in critical junctures of the game.”

The Gophers had fullback Stan Kostka — who later would open his own sporting goods store in Fargo. Kostka was a beast in Minnesota’s 347 rushing yards and 56-12 win.

Anyway, in need of improving their team, Winnipeg went south to find players and the club was very familiar with Fritz and Hanson. A Winnipeg official drove to Fargo to find Hanson, and according to Christiansen, “found Hanson at a bar in Dilworth, Minnesota, where Hanson was sitting on top of a piano and sharing a beer with some of his buddies, all football players from North Dakota State.”

Later, Winnipeg recruited Marquardt and Peschel to play. The gold rush to find American players had begun. Rule changes in the Canadian game became more familiar to incoming American players, like adopting the forward pass 25 years after the United States did.

“When I started looking into it, I saw a bigger story there because with Canadian football at the time, there was a whole lot of controversy whether Americans were welcome to play up there in the ‘30s,” Christiansen said.

The Americans helped Winnipeg defeat rival Calgary in the semifinals to advance to the 1935 Grey Cup in Toronto. To prepare, Winnipeg spent time in Detroit to train, which included watching a Kostka-led Brooklyn Dodgers team play the Detroit Lions. Fritz, a player and coach, made his teammates take note.

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“Bob Fritz was the Patrick Mahomes of his time,” Christiansen said. “He was ambidextrous. He could throw passes with either hand and kick with either leg.”

The team learned some new plays and it worked: it beat Hamilton 18-12 to win the Grey Cup. Hanson scored on a 75-yard run. Two of the scoring plays were copied from the Dodgers-Lions game.

“Not only that, it was the first time a team from western Canada had ever beaten an eastern CFL team in any game,” Christiansen said.

Very historical in a history-like book, which is available on Amazon.com.

“Bob Fritz and Fritz Hanson,” said Christiansen, a 1988 Moorhead High graduate. “How can I grow up in this community and not know about Bob Fritz and Fritz Hanson.”

Related Topics: BISON FOOTBALL
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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