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Potato Bowl: A spotlight on the region

Herald editorial board

It's been more than a half-century since UND beat Idaho State in the first Potato Bowl.

It was Sept. 24, 1966, and UND rolled to a 41-0 win, setting in motion a string of success that has seen UND win 39 of its 51 Potato Bowl games. Last year's win over South Dakota was especially entertaining, as the Hawks rallied late to win 47-44.

According to the website potatobowl.org, the idea of creating a week of festivities is credited to four men on UND's staff in the 1960s: Len Marti, athletic director; Marv "Whitey" Helling, head football coach; Jerry Olson, assistant coach; and Lee Bohnet, sports information director.

Legend has it that Helling and Idaho State's head coach met and discussed a potential matchup between schools from the nation's best potato-growing regions. What a great idea.

Today is the 52nd Potato Bowl, and their unique vision is on display with activities throughout the day.

Actually, events began as early as Tuesday for this spud-themed week, but it heats up leading to today's game. For example:

The Grand Forks Rotary Club is, as usual, hosting its annual pancake breakfast from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. today at Central High.

The Sons of Norway potato pancake breakfast also is being held today, from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1401 9th Ave. S. in Grand Forks.

The annual KEM Shrine Potato Bowl Parade, sponsored by Opp Construction, begins at 10 a.m. The route runs down University Avenue.

Tailgating at the Alerus Center begins at 8 a.m. Here's a suggestion: Head to the Northern Plains Potato Growers tent, where they are giving away free baked potatoes with toppings. The Hugo's Potato Bowl PLINKO contest finals are being held near there, too.

And UND plays Missouri State at 4 p.m. at the Alerus Center. We plan to shout ourselves hoarse at the game.

This is a big day for Grand Forks, and it's not just about football.

Sure, the game is the centerpiece and culmination of a week's worth of events. But taken as a whole, Potato Bowl showcases the community's efforts to create a fun and meaningful tradition for residents. It also is a way to showcase the university, the city, the region and the agricultural excellence of the northern Red River Valley.

There are 80,000 acres of potato fields in North Dakota — the bulk of those in the eastern part of the state — and another 45,000 acres in Minnesota. This region is the world's largest producer of red potatoes.

Those potatoes are a big chunk of this region's economic base. UND is, too.

Today's game is more than just a matchup between the Fighting Hawks and Missouri State. Really, it's a spotlight, focused on so many great things that happen here. And it all began with that one great idea back in 1966.

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