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A champ returns: Red Wing's Frawley looks back on Big Nine football title

Red Wing’s Kevin Kimmes (right) signals touchdown as Tim Kelly falls in the end zone for Red Wing’s second score en route to a 28-6 win over Austin on Oct. 27, 1981. With that victory, the Wingers clinched a share of the Big Nine Conference title with Owatonna and Austin. In the 1981 season, Red Wing football finished one game away from reaching state with an 8-2 record. (R-E file photo)

The last time Red Wing participated in a Big nine Conference football game, Austin stood in the way of a league championship. The Wingers crushed the Packers, 28-6, on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 1981, producing a threw-way tie for the conference title.

By virtue of head-to-head victories over Owatonna and Austin – the other two teams who can claim a share of the trophy – it was the Wingers who would get a chance to represent the Big Nine in the Class AA state tournament.

But, first, Red Wing would have to get past Edina. It didn’t happen. The Hornets bounced the Wingers, 14-7, in a preliminary state playoff game on Halloween night.

With the dawn of its reentry into the league, former Red Wing quarterback John Frawley recounts his final days as a Winger football player, a career that ended with All-State, All-Big Nine and team MVP honors as he led his team to the doorstep of a state tournament appearance.

Frawley, now president and CEO of San Francisco's Aquarium of the Bay, passed for 1,087 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Those numbers, amassed over 10 games, were so good that Frawley was named to All-State teams by WCCO radio, Minneapolis Tribune and the Minnesota Sportscasters and Broadcasters Association.

“What we had going on was we had a team that was made for throwing. I was a taller quarterback at 6 foot 4 inches in high school. A lot of times in high school, you’re offensive lines haven’t matured, so they were smaller guys. So having a tall quarterback, that gave me some advantages, and I liked to throw the ball,” Frawley said. “And then we had some fairly good speed on the team with Tim Kelly and Tim Nybo and Bob Sachen and a few others that you’d read about. I liked that play-action pass. We mixed it up. We had a balanced team that was able to run or pass. In high school, if you can get the pass down, that’s how you win. You can do a lot of damage with the pass. It felt right for us. And if you look at it, a lot of out passes were short, across-the-middle passes. It really performed well for us.”

Kelly led the team with four touchdown receptions and 530 receiving yards, and, to this day, remains in contact with his former quarterback.

“I follow a little bit of (the current team), but mostly through Tim Kelly, because he’s a good friend of mine,” Frawley said. “He kind of updates me about what’s going on. I actually bought some property out in Welch, right up north of town, so we do come to town, and I’ve been to a couple games, not last year, the year before, I guess. I’m not an avid follower. But I’m a Winger.”

And Frawley is also a traditionalist when it comes to Red Wing’s departure from the Big Nine to the Missota Conference in the fall of 1982.

“I was sad to see them leave (the Big Nine) in the first place. I liked that schedule. I liked the size of the schools,” Frawley said. “I don’t know the exact reason (why Red Wing left the Big Nine), but I think they were worried about travel. But I think the travel ended up being just as much in the Missota. The travel never bothered me. Personally, I thought they were nice distances and good fields and good towns to play in. I was sorry they were leaving, and it’s good they’re going back.”

While the current state of the program is nowhere near the heights of 1981, Frawley is excited to see what the Wingers can accomplish in their old stomping grounds.

“I don’t know how they all line up competition-wise now, but we won it the last year, so we were at that level of play. I think a team or organization, they rise to the level they play against. If you have a good coach, you’ll get to that level. I’m excited they’re going back, and we’ll see how it goes,” Frawley said.

And his thoughts on the new man in charge, Rickie Foggie?

“Coaching is a lot in high school. We had coach Celt, coach Schmidt and coach Carter. Coaching is a really big part of high school football, so I am excited about this new coach and see what he can do with the program,” Frawley said. “Football is fun for a school. I think high school sports are a big part of the whole high school experience. So having an exciting team, no matter what sport, is good for the school.”

Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
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