Cretin-Derham Hall was going for its second consecutive state football title and Eden Prairie was going for the third of what are now 11 of those titles. They were playing on Thanksgiving weekend in 2000 and the Prep Bowl crowd in the Metrodome was extra large for the Class 5A championship.
Joe Mauer had led the Raiders to a title as a junior, and would be signing with Florida State in February as the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country. Eden Prairie led 21-14 but Cretin-Derham Hall was driving late for a tie. Or a victory.
“I might have gone for two,” Rick Kallok said Friday. “I was a gambler, and I had Joe.”
Kallok was Cretin-DH’s coach, and he was on the phone after it became public that Mauer’s baseball retirement, which was obvious on the last day of the 2018 season, was set to become official Sunday with newspaper ads thanking fans. His football career had ended 18 years earlier, on that Friday night vs. Eden Prairie.
“Joe had tremendous attributes: He could throw all the passes, he had coachability and an understanding of the game,” Kallok said. “I think he probably threw one pass in two years as the starter for us that he regretted, and it was that one in the Dome … just a touch behind Tony Leseman, his main guy.”
Greg Winegarden intercepted the pass at the goal line and headed down the sideline, and Eden Prairie kicked a field goal to guarantee a 24-14 victory.
Mike Grant, the Eden Prairie coach then and now, said: “Joe Mauer was as good a quarterback as we’ve had in the state of Minnesota. And the smartest, too, because he chose baseball and had a great and long career, over football, where those are harder to achieve.”
Grant paused and said: “That’s one of the great plays we’ve had at Eden Prairie. We were lucky to stop Joe. Winegarden was a sophomore when he made that play. We’d always say, ‘Wino, you let a lineman catch you from behind on that one against Cretin. How’d you let that happen?’ ”
The lineman was Ryan Harris, who wound up playing 11 years as an NFL offensive lineman. In Kallok’s opinion, Harris could have been teamed up again with Mauer in the pros, if Joe had gone the football route.
“If Joe had gone to Florida State and played quarterback, he would have wound up playing on Sundays,” Kallok said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Dennis Fitzpatrick, a basketball lifer from St. Paul, says emphatically that Joe’s talent as a 6-foot-3 guard at Cretin deserves attention in the summation of his athletic career. Fitzpatrick was a pal of Rick Majerus and the large man was in St. Paul, scouting Mauer’s teammate, Steve Sir, for a possible scholarship to Utah.
“Rick’s eyes kept drifting off to Mauer,” Fitzpatrick said. “And he’d say, ‘Are you sure he’s going to play baseball?’ ”
Leseman was the target of that one regrettable pass. They are the closest of friends to this day, with a third young Mauer child about to join the three young Leseman children (6 and below) in a marathon of play dates/scrums.
“Joe and I met in Little League, and we started hanging out because our interests matched,” Leseman said. “We played the same three sports. Joe was just a regular good athlete, about the same size as the rest of us, until the summer after our freshman year. Then, he shot up 5 or 6 inches to over 6 feet, and I never moved from 5-foot-8.
“Joe didn’t always win at everything, but once he figured out the game within the game, he was on his way.”
Fitzpatrick says that basketball was Joe’s favorite sport, and recruiting services said he was the best senior quarterback in the country, but Mauer’s game was always going to be baseball.
“He reminded me as much of myself as any hitter, including Tony Gwynn,” Rod Carew said Friday. “Joe could take the ball to left field as easily as I did … hit it on a line out there. And he wasn’t afraid to hit with two strikes.
“He didn’t have an ego. He just played his game. And when he had to move from catcher, he learned to play first base to the point that I thought he could have won a Gold Glove. I moved to first base myself; it’s not as easy as people seem to believe.
“What can you say about the guy? He won three batting titles as a catcher.”
Not quite on par with winning seven at second base and then first, as did Carew with the Twins, but it’s dang close.
And here’s my bottom line on Mauer’s official retirement: The main regret in this for the Twins should be they are losing their second-best player from 2018.