Tommie Sports - Football

Gene's Blog: In life (and MIAC), change is constant

August 02, 2013

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St. Thomas' athletics facilities have changed dramatically since 2003, the last season football played on natural grass. (Mike Ekern photo)

I was looking at boxes stacked in my basement storage room, and it suddenly dawned on me. It was exactly 10 years ago last week when my family moved into our current home.

Our mortgage interest rate started with a “5” (Before 2010, that was a great deal). The economy was clicking. Housing values were expanding. Few expected that a housing bubble would eventually burst and trigger a recession.

The year 2003 seems like so long ago, yet seems like just yesterday.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Maps, Hotmail, Gmail, Flickr, Wikipedia, Pandora and Skype either weren’t yet introduced or discovered.

The iPhone and mini or Nano iPods had yet to be launched. Flip phones, Razr models, or phones with photo, video or 3G capability had not yet captured the market. High-definition TV was in its early stages.

Blockbuster Video was near its peak with 8,000-plus stores and 55,000 employees. Meanwhile, an upstart video distribution company, Netflix, turned its first profit in year six of operations. (Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and was sold in 2011. By this spring, Netflix had climbed to 33 million customers.)

LogoNapster had virtually disappeared, and Gateway computer stores were down to their final months. Circuit City, CompUSA, Musicland, Sam Goody’s, Mervyn’s and Wilson Leather retail stores were still in business but headed for extinction. Time Warner dropped America Online (AOL) from its name. Nokia was the king of cell phones and still growing.

You could still car shop for a new Isuzu, Pontiac or Oldsmobile, although you would have needed to board a time machine to test drive the Tesla or Chevy Volt.

The Seacresting of America

American Idol had just crowned Ruben as its second winner. Idol scrapped a co-host format from season one and relied on 29-year-old Ryan Seacrest as its sole host. One decade later, with his numerous entertainment contracts, Seacrest has a reported net worth of $200 million.

TV programs debuting in fall 2003 included Two and Half Men, Arrested Development, American Choppers and Storm Stories, as well as talk show hosted by Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Kimmel.

Among the shows airing the final episodes that spring were Friends, Frazier, Dawson’s Creek and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes and Miley Cyrus seemed so innocent. O.J. Simpson seemed so guilty, but at that point was still a free man.

Shows not yet created included The Apprentice; Extreme Makeover: Home Edition; Deadliest Catch; Desperate Housewives; Real Housewives; Entourage; and Jersey Shore. 

In Minnesota politics, Tim Pawlenty was in his first year as governor, and Norm Coleman was in year one as U.S. Senator. Elsewhere, Arnold Schwarzenegger was California’s new governor. On the opposite coast, an obscure Illinois state senator, while attending a New York City party, was mistaken for one of the waiters. You could say that Barack Obama’s profile rose dramatically over the next decade.

Sports Surprises

Tiger Woods, at age 27, seemed unstoppable. He won PGA Player of the Year honors again and ranked No. 1 in the world. He won five PGA Tour events to make it 27 PGA Tour wins from 2000-2003.

Another sports icon, Lance Armstrong, celebrated that year by capturing the fifth of his seven consecutive Tour de France crowns. His yellow Livestrong gel bracelets would soon go on sale and raise funds and awareness for cancer research. An estimated 80 million bracelets would eventually be purchased.

The NBA's No. 1 draft pick, Lebron James, signed a $90 million endorsement deal with Nike just days before he graduated from high school. 

Busy Metrodome

On the local scene, for better or worse, the Metrodome was the home of the Twins, Vikings and Gopher football and baseball.

The Wolves traded for Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell to join a team that included Kevin Garnett and Fred Hoiberg and guided by owner Glen Taylor, general manager Kevin McHale and coach Flip Saunders.

Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire was in his second season. The team’s stars were Brad Radke, Eddie Guardado, Rick Reed, Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz, Cristian Guzman and A.J. Pierzynski. That season’s World Series champions were… the Florida Marlins.

Joe Mauer, at age 20, was tearing up Class AA at New Britain. Mauer played in that summer’s MLB Futures Game with Zack Greinke, Robinson Cano, Gavin Floyd, Ryan Howard, Kevin Youkilis, J.J. Hardy and Edwin Encarcion. Who could forget that the 2003 Futures roster also included J.D. Durbin, Neal Cotts, Royce Ring, Dave Krynzel and Stephen Smitherman.

The face of the Vikings was owner Red McCombs. In 2002, rookie head coach Mike Tice created the “Randy Ratio” experiment to get the ball into Randy Moss’ hands, but a 6-10 finish uncovered bigger headaches. Moss, Daunte Culpepper, Matt Birk, Chris Hovan and Moe Williams were Minnesota’s 2003 leaders.

In all, more than 150 individuals appeared at some point on the 2003 or 2003-04 active rosters of the Twins, Vikings, Wild and Timberwolves. Ten years later that group of 150-plus has dwindled to only three still playing for their Minnesota teams: Justin Morneau, Kevin Williams and Stephane Veilleux.

In 2003, Kirby Puckett and Harmon Killebrew were prominent Twins alumni. With their respective soothing and gruff styles, radio play-by-play legend Herb Carneal and stadium announcer Bob Casey provided their version of a good cop/bad cop inside the Metrodome. Dark Star held down the night shift on WCCO Radio. Minnesota hockey legend Herb Brooks, one year removed from coaching in the 2002 Olympics, was in scouting and personnel with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Today, all six are deceased.

Media Types

Paul Magers, Don Shelby and Randy Meier were local TV news anchors. Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings had similar roles on network news.

Twin Cities media legend Sid Hartman was going strong at age 83. His son, Chad Hartman, a fixture on KFAN Radio, was play-by-play voice of the Wolves. Another prominent host on KFAN, Dan Barreiro, was equally well known for his sports columns at the Star Tribune.

KSTP was a news talk station. At least four other local radio formats from the early 2000s later vanished: WLTE 104.1; B96; Smooth Jazz 105.1; and The Score 690 AM.

Joel Maturi was the Gophers’ athletics director, while Glen Mason and Dan Monson guided the marquee football and men’s basketball programs. In a metropolis with so many facility complaints, everyone loved Williams Arena. Practice facilities for college basketball had not yet become the national rage.

Lindsey Whalen was a junior and ready to take Gopher women hoops to the Final Four in the next winter under the guidance of young, popular head coach Pam Borton.

Kris Humphries was set to join the Minnesota Gopher basketball program. Fellow Minnesota teens John Carlson, Ryan Harris and Trevor Laws were off to Notre Dame to start their college football careers, joining Coach Tyrone Willingham's recruiting class that included QB Brady Quinn, current Viking center John Sullivan and Cubs' pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

The college football map looked different. Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, and Texas A&M were members of the Big 12. Miami, West Virginia and Temple resided in the Big East. Texas Christian, Louisville, Cincinnati and Army played in Conference USA. Boise State, Hawaii, Fresno State and Rice were members of the Western Athletic Conference. All of those institutions compete in different conferences in 2013.

At age 76, St. John’s football coach John Gagliardi scoffed at questions of his imminent retirement. Having a dynamic receiver like Blake Elliott coming back in 2003 for his senior year made that a no-brainer. Elliott gave Gagliardi and SJU fans an early Christmas present with a Stagg Bowl upset victory over Mount Union.

In 2003, just four of the 28 college football bowls had a corporate name in their titles (GMAC, Insight, Continential Tire, Outback). Today, only four of the 35 FBS bowls don't have a private business as title sponsor.

LogoThe 2003 Heisman Trophy winner -– Oklahoma QB Jason White –- is perhaps that award’s most unheralded honoree in the last 50 years. In part due to two bad knees, White was undrafted and never played a down in the NFL. The most recent winner -– Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel -– is all over Twitter and ESPN. He’s perhaps the Heisman recipient who has generated the most buzz, positive and negative.

A future Minnesota Gopher and Denver Broncos receiver, Eric Decker, was a junior at Rocori High School that fall. That football season was overshadowed when a fellow student brought a gun into the Rocori hallways and opened fire, killing a freshman and a senior.


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PHOTO: A 2009 game in old Schoenecker Arena as the Tommies marched to a 30-0 start.


UST’s Dynamite Decade

In 2003, Glenn Caruso was a 29-year-old assistant coach at Action picUW-Eau Claire. Five weeks from now, Caruso starts his 2013 season against his old team, the Blugolds.

Caruso has led the Tommies to a 50-5 record over the last four seasons and looks to continue one of the most impressive program turnarounds in Division III football history.

PHOTO: Glenn Caruso has jump started Tommie football and guided three consecutive MIAC championships.

The MIAC has seen its share of change since 2003, when Dan McKane was learning as an understudy for today’s role as the conference’s executive director. Several other new faces have taken over roles of leadership across the conference’s 13 institutions.

This summer’s retirement of Dennis Dease here at St. Thomas leaves only one MIAC president from 2003 still in place -– St. Catherine’s Andrea Lee.

Ten of the 13 MIAC athletics directors jobs have turned over since 2003. The only remaining ADs from that year are the Tommies’ Steve Fritz; St. Olaf’s Matt McDonald; and CSB’s Carol Howe-Veenstra.

The retirement of Gagliardi left just two of the 10 MIAC football head coaches from 2003 still in those jobs: Bethel’s Steve Johnson; and Concordia’s Terry Horan.

The 2003 season would be UST’s last played on natural grass at O’Shaughnessy Stadium, as Palmer Field’s artificial turf was installed in 2004. St. Thomas later added a turf infield for baseball in 2005, and replaced its grass soccer and softball fields with new turf this summer.

Even though three legendary head coaches recently retired from their sports -- baseball’s Dennis Denning, basketball’s Steve Fritz and hockey’s Terry Skrypek –- UST is still enjoying across-the-board athletics success. The 2010 opening of the $52 million Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex provided a dazzling facility for UST teams and continued St. Thomas’ on-field momentum.

Over the last six years, St. Thomas has swept the MIAC men’s and women’s all-sports trophies and had five top-13 national finishes in the Capital One Division III Directors’ Cup scoring.

In the 10 years since 2003, St. Thomas has posted 13 top-three NCAA team finishes in eight different sports. UST teams have claimed national championships in softball (2004, 2005), baseball (2009), men’s basketball (2011) and volleyball (2012); NCAA runner-up placings in men’s hockey (2005), softball (2006) and football (2012); and took third at nationals in men’s track and field (2009), women’s basketball (2012), baseball (2012), football (2012) and men’s basketball (2013).

One last bit of reminiscing: Third-graders back in 2003 now comprise this fall’s incoming St. Thomas freshman class.

One of those boxes in my basement storage room contain memorabilia for one of those 2003 third-graders: my daughter, Bridget, who has signed on as a Tommie freshman, Class of 2017.

Yes, 2003 seems like so long ago, yet also seems like just yesterday.

Gene McGivern

Sports information director Gene McGivern is working in his 18th season at St. Thomas and 24th in the MIAC. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) and Division III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at