COLLEGEVILLE, Minn – Dates in the lives of guys named Jerry:
On Dec. 7, 1974, in a classic episode on CBS of “The Bob Newhart Show,” dentist Jerry Robinson decides to vacate his practice and follow his heart to live in Tahiti. Bob considers it nonsense, and even after the big jet takes off, he stands at the airport window, waiting for the plane to make a U-turn and drop off Jerry.
On Oct. 16, 2019, as the St. John’s football team prepares for another matchup with St. Thomas, defensive coordinator Jerry Haugen remains disbelieving the classic rivalry with the Tommies is coming to an end.
“I was hearing that stuff about St. Thomas leaving the MIAC when it first came out last spring,” Haugen said. “And I said, ‘This is going nowhere. This is not going to happen.’ ”
Haugen paused, shook his head and said: “Apparently, it’s happening.”
Jerry Robinson reappeared in his dental office and the first Newhart sitcom ran for four more years. The St. Thomas football game that has been part of Jerry Haugen’s life for nearly a half-century is expected to go away for keeps after the 90th meeting on Nov. 7, 2020.
“I was told by Ryan Klinkner, our media guy, that Saturday will be the 89th football game between St. John’s and St. Thomas,” Haugen said. “Ryan said, ‘And this will be your 48th — 55 percent of all Johnnies-Tommies games.’ ”
Haugen was a defensive back for coach John Gagliardi from 1972 through 1975. Gagliardi took him on for a small wage as a defensive coach in 1976 and the Johnnies defeated Towson State to win the NCAA Division III national championship.
Pleased with the result, Gagliardi was able to get Haugen on full-time as a football assistant and the head baseball coach. Haugen has been taking on the Tommies ever since — football in the fall, baseball in the spring.
“It bothers me that they are leaving; the way it came about,” Haugen said. “I see athletics as being a challenge, not just to exist. And St. Thomas is the challenge. Beat the Tommies in anything, you’re pretty good.”
St. Thomas’ departure from the MIAC at the behest of the majority of conference members was announced on May 22, 2019. It comes into effect after the 2020-21 sports year. The Tommies have revealed an invite to the Division I Summit League for 2021 (a leap that would require an NCAA waiver).
My impression since the drama started last spring has been St. John’s people are feeling more angst over the Tommies’ pending departure than does the St. Thomas administration.
And it’s not because the Johnnies could be the next target of their MIAC partners. St. John’s fits the conference profile. That school isn’t going anywhere.
The Johnnies want the Tommies for the wonderful rivalry. Period.
Gary Fasching is in his seventh season as the Johnnies head coach. Before that, he served as a Gagliardi assistant for 17 years, and also played for Gagliardi starting in 1977.
He was there with Gagliardi in 2011 when Glenn Caruso’s St. Thomas machine gave a 63-7 battering to the Johnnies. “John took losses harder than anybody, and I thought we might lose him after that one,” Fasching said. “That was a horrible bus ride back to Collegeville.”
St. Thomas won again, 43-21, in 2012, and John quit after that season, his 60th in Collegeville. It looked as if layers of talent now separated the Tommies from the Johnnies in a rivalry that had been one-sided for St. John’s for most of Gagliardi’s tenure.
“Glenn had put together a national power at St. Thomas,” Fasching said. “We had to pick it up, without a doubt.”
Fasching won his first two as head coach against St. Thomas, Caruso won the next four, and then the Johnnies won 40-20 last fall in Collegeville, only a few days after Gagliardi’s funeral was held on campus.
This theory was offered to Fasching: Johnnies vs. Tommies always has brought high anticipation, but this decade has exceeded all others for emotion. The fans tell that story:
Thirty-thousand-plus at Target Field in 2017. Crowds reaching 18,000 at Clemens Stadium in Collegeville. And this Saturday, 20,000 at Allianz Field.
“I’d say it’s been amped up a bit, for sure,” Fasching said. “Right now, we’re both good, and it’s a game that’s really important to both teams and to a lot of other people.”
Saturday in the spectacular soccer stadium — and then one last time in Collegeville next November. Unless it’s moved to a larger venue?
“We’re not moving it,” Fasching said. “We like playing on our field. If it’s the last one, it should be in a true college atmosphere.”
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