Corky Taylor, tied to Big Ten brawl, dies

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Corky Taylor is most remembered for participating in one of the uglier incidents in college basketball history.

But the player he was involved with that January night in 1972 at Williams Arena was heartbroken Thursday upon hearing that Taylor, a former Minnesota Gophers center, lost his yearlong battle to lung cancer on Wednesday.

"Oh, my gosh, it hurts," Luke Witte said. "I considered him my friend."

Marvin "Corky" Taylor, 60, was a husband, a father of two sons. He spent more than 30 years working for the city of Minneapolis. He was a youth coach, a mentor, still a huge Gophers fan. He was involved in his community.

But he will be forever linked for his part in a brawl that broke out between the Gophers and Ohio State. On Thursday, two of his friends -- Clyde Turner, a teammate then, and Witte, who was the Buckeyes center -- were more interested in talking about the story of redemption Taylor represents.

Turner, in his office at the Sabathani Community Center on Minneapolis' south side, talked quietly about his friend.

"Bottom line was, he loved me and I loved him," he said.

Half a continent away came a similar, if surprising, sentiment.

"I'm sitting here, outside, on Monterey Bay in California, on vacation with my wife," Witte said. "And I just said, 'Corky passed away.' Both of us, we didn't say anything for a second or two."

The 1972 meeting was a much-hyped game between Big Ten heavyweights. In the last minute of play, a tight game spun out of control. Turner was called for a flagrant foul on Witte, who fell to the floor. Taylor offered a hand to Witte, then lifted a knee in Witte's groin.

In the ensuing brawl, Ron Behagen of the Gophers came off the bench and stomped on Witte's head. Taylor and Behagen were suspended for the rest of the season, one where Bill Musselman's Gophers went on to the Big Ten title. It was a moment Taylor never escaped, but one he managed to resolve.

"Regardless of how ugly a situation may have been or escalated into, we're human," said Witte, now a minister who works near Charlotte, N.C., for Marketplace Chaplains.

Years after the event, Witte and Taylor began exchanging letters, then emails. Nine years ago, Witte spent two days in Taylor's home, burying the past, building a friendship.

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