Gene's Blog: All-Americas, Miss America part of rivalry lore

To celebrate another Tommie-Johnnie football week -- the 2017 Tommie-Johnnie game at Target Field, presented by Oppidan -- I'm trying to decide whether to link several of my favorite internet cat videos, or run a list of interesting game facts.

Ok, let's go with facts -- 17 fast facts surrounding this year's game and atmosphere:

 

1. How Many Are Coming?

The first football game to be played at Target Field has already surpassed 33,000 tickets sold -- unheard of for an NCAA Division III football game. More than 420 tickets were sold on Sunday alone. All the Target Field luxury suites sold out earlier this year.

By kickoff at 1:10 p.m. Saturday, the official attendance will likely double the previous high for Division III teams of 17,535 set last year at UW-Whitewater.

 

2. Context

Saturday's humble quest for the Holy Grail traveling trophy is on pace to have a larger attendance than 20 of the 40 FBS bowl games played last holiday season.

Among the 2016 bowls with less than 35,000 in the stands included teams from Boise State, Baylor, South Carolina, Maryland, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt, Indiana, Mississippi State, Colorado State, Utah and Boston College.

Who knows, with good weather, more exceptional Twins marketing, a rush of curious Twin Cities sports fans, plus a final surge of alumni and student interest, perhaps Tommie-Johnnie 2017 could match the 2015 college football crowd at Fenway Park, where 38,686 watched Notre Dame and Boston College tangle. Stay tuned to see if we can out-Irish the Fighting Irish.

 

3. Big Crowds

Both starting quarterbacks -- SJU's Jackson Erdmann (Penn State transfer) and UST's Jacques Perra (Minnesota Gopher transfer) have dressed/warmed up in major FCS stadiums on game days.

Perra made the Gopher travel squad in both 2014 as a redshirt and again in 2015 as No. 3 quarterback, when he played briefly at Purdue.

In 2014, he was on trips to Michigan (102,926 in attendance), Nebraska (91,186) and Wisconsin (80,341). In 2015, he traveled to face No. 1-ranked Ohio State (108,075), and one week later was on hand at No. 8 Iowa (70,585).

While with South Dakota, Tommie senior RB Jordan Roberts played before a crowd of 57,388 and had a 13-yard run in the Coyotes' 62-13 loss in August 2014 at then No. 3-ranked Oregon (led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota). He also played before 41,920 fans at Kansas in 2013 and rushed for 70 yards.

 

4. Big Game Jordan

A sixth-year senior, Roberts has played college football games in all four time zones (five if you count Moorhead). Roberts scored 70 touchdowns in high school and has 47 thus far in college (three at South Dakota, and 44 in 20 games with the Tommies). Roberts needs one touchdown to tie Gary Trettel's three-year UST total of 45; two to match the total of Fritz Waldvogel; and six to tie co-record holders Ben Wartman and Colin Tobin, who each scored 50.

In two seasons at South Dakota, Roberts played on the road against No. 1 ranked FCS team North Dakota State and the No. 3-FBS team Oregon. At St. Thomas he's played against several elite Division III teams, including a national semifinal win over No. 2 Linfield followed one week later by a Stagg Bowl 49-35 loss against No. 1-ranked Mount Union.

Roberts has come up big in the biggest games -- in six contests with the Tommies against top-15 ranked D-III teams (all in 2015), he combined for 15 touchdowns, 988 rushing yards and 84 receiving yards.

 

5. Come Early

Target Field gates open at 11 a.m., but fans would be wise to arrive early due to security bag checks. If you don't bring a bag in, you will get into the stadium quicker. There's a potential for people to miss part of the first quarter if they wait to enter until after 12:45.

 

6. Commemorative Program

Fans can purchase a $5 collector's edition game program outside Target Field. The 60-page program was produced by the Tommie athletics department and university marketing and communications team.

Stories include:

  • a feature on super fan Dr. Julie Sullivan, the UST President;
  • an essay on why Tommie-Johnnie qualifies as a great rivalry;
  • profiles of a well-known individual (I.A. O'Shaughnessy) and not so well-known figure (Louis Mohs), who have roots with both institutions;
  • A short Q&A with Star Tribune sports columnist and AM1500 radio host Patrick Reusse;
  • recaps of memorable contests in the 86-game UST-SJU football series;
  • a history of Tommie-Johnnie mascots;
  • Minnesota college football trophy games;
  • trivia questions that connect the Minnesota Twins, St. John's and St. Thomas. 

 

7. Poll Talk

The 3-0 Johnnies are ranked No. 6 by the American Football Coaches Association and D3Football.com. The 2-1 Tommies come into the game at No. 10 and No. 11 in the two rankings.

This marks the 12th time in the last 13 Tommie-Johnnie clashes that at least one of the teams is nationally ranked in the top 10.

 

8. Ws, Ls and other Details

These Catholic institutions have played every season since 1952 -- 86 times in all since a 1901 Thanksgiving Day clash. St. John's leads the all-time series 51-34-1. 

There has been one tie, seven one-point escapes, 11 other games decided by four or less points... and at least one streaker tackled near the Johnnie sideline.

From 1983-1992, each school won five and lost five. St. John's then tried its best to buzzkill this rivalry when it won 16 out of the 17 meetings played between 1993 and 2009.

Now in the Glenn Caruso era, the rivalry has been jump-started. The Tommies have won six of the last eight meetings, averaging 40 points in those six victories.

 

9. Forecast

After a predicted high of 90 degrees on Friday, the latest forecast has an 80-percent chance of rain on Saturday late afternoon and a high temperature of 80.

The last 15 Tommie-Johnnie games have gone off without measurable rain.

 

10. Natural Turf

A streak of 14 consecutive Tommie-Johnnie football game played on artificial turf ends this week. The 2003 game was one of the last few contests played on O'Shaughnessy Stadium grass. That game was won by the Johnnies on a tie-breaking field goal with eight seconds to go, and helped John Gagliardi tie Eddie Robinson's national record for coaching victories. 

The Toms played 30 of their previous 31 games on artificial turf before last Saturday's game on the real stuff at Carleton's Laird Stadium. Bethel and Carleton are the only MIAC teams still playing on natural grass.

 

11. Glenn-Gary

It's not every week when two college football coaches with career winning percentages over .800 square off. Glenn Caruso is 101-16 (.863) in 10 seasons at St. Thomas. Gary Fasching is 40-9 (.816) in five seasons at St. John's.

 

12. Crazy Stats/SJU

It's a good thing that St. John's doesn't have male cheerleaders doing pushups for every point tallied. The Johnnies' wins over St. Scholastica, Presentation and St. Olaf put them No. 1 among all NCAA teams at all levels in scoring (67.7 ppg), including a 130-7 scoring margin in the first halves alone. In all, 19 Johnnies have already scored touchdowns.

They have no turnovers in three games, and rank third in total defense and fifth in passing efficiency in Division III.

St. John's is looking to start 4-0 for the first time since 2009.

 

13. Crazy Stats/UST

In the last eight seasons against conference opponents, Caruso's Tommies are 6-3 vs. the Johnnies, 6-3 vs. Bethel, and 49-0 against the other six MIAC football schools. 

The 211 touchdowns scored by St. Thomas over the last three seasons (31 games) rank second among all NCAA programs behind only Mount Union (212 in 31 games).

If they secure a win on Saturday, the Tommies would have the program's first four-game win streak against the Johnnies in 60 years. 

 

14. Lucky 83?

This has to be a good omen for the Purple: Saturday will be the 83rd consecutive Tommie football game broadcast by 830 AM WCCO.

Besides the record crowd, both Tommie and Johnnie radio, the St. Thomas live video webcast, and social media sites all expect big audiences this week. 

  

15. Media

The Minnesota Vikings shadow is always there this time of the year, but Minnesota Gopher football has a bye week, the Minnesota Twins are on the road, the Minnesota Lynx don't start the playoff finals until Sunday, and the Minnesota Wild and Wolves are not yet making news. It's what's known in the media business as a window of opportunity, and Tommie-Johnnie will look to take advantage.

ESPN Sports Center was making plans to send a reporter and film crew here this week, but those plans were abruptly scrapped -- maybe the hurricane barreling towards Bristol, Ct., spooked them.

The Catholic Spirit newspaper has already printed this feature story on the rivalry, written by Matthew Davis. Pregame stories will also appear in the New York Times, Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, St. Cloud Times, Tommie Media, MIACAthletics.com, for starters.

And this sort of counts as media exposure: Rush Limbaugh spent more than 10 minutes on Friday on his national radio show talking about a close friend, the late Vince Flynn, whose book finally made the big screen last weekend with the debut of American Assassin. The film drew a solid $15 million opening-weekend box office take.

Some knew Vince as a St. Thomas football player; some knew him as their bartender; most knew him as a world-class suspense writer; but everyone knew him as a good man who left far too soon.

 

16.  New York, New York

Before you place your bets in your Division III Fantasy Football pool, know that in years when the POTUS hails from the state of New York, St. Thomas owns a 8-5-1 record against the Johnnies.

That includes a 3-2 edge in games played when Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House, and 5-3-1 when Franklin D. Roosevelt was Commander in Chief.

More omens? Glenn Caruso did play college football in New York, and St. Thomas alum Brian Hook is a key aide to Rex Tillerson in the Trump White House.

 

17. How Much?

Like the theme of the famous credit card TV ads, rare opportunities present themselves for all Tommies and Johnnies this weekend.

We'll all have to open our wallets a little deeper to cover tickets, food, parking, transportation, game program, pregame fun and postgame dinner. But for students, alums, families, coaches and players, this unique experience can only be called... priceless.

Yes, the rivalry has come a long way since 1989 at O'Shaughnessy Stadium in St. Paul, when ticket prices for the Tommie-Johnnie game were $3 for adults and $2 for students. Those fans in attendance were treated to a bonus: Miss America Gretchen Carlson played the national anthem on her violin.

Today, the famous TV personality and author gets $30 for a signed copy of her latest book "Be Fierce." With that attitude (third omen coming), it's no wonder she now resides with her husband and kids in... Greenwich, Ct., the hometown of one Glenn Caruso.

Whether its played on the prairie in Stearns County or on prime real estate in downtown Minneapolis, one thing won't change. The sometimes fierce, always fun Tommie-Johnnie football rivalry has something for everyone. 

--

Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is starting his 24th season at St. Thomas and 30th overall 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 [email protected]