A rivalry that's more than 100 years old never really comes full circle. But the St. Thomas vs. St. John's football tradition that started in 1901 is almost back where it started.
That first game, a 16-0 St. John's victory on Thanksgiving, was played at Lexington Park in St. Paul. When they meet 118 years later, on Oct. 19, 2019, the venue will be only a few blocks away: Allianz Field, the soon-to-be-opened home of Minnesota United soccer.
"It's always nice when you can return to roots of some sort, especially when those roots are as deep as 118 years," St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said. "Frankly, I think that when this rivalry is at its best you have two really good football teams, and that's what we happen to have right now. To be able to showcase it in a place that is as sharp as this will make everyone pretty happy."
United spent the first two years of its Major League Soccer existence playing temporarily on a football field at TCF Bank Stadium while Allianz was under construction.
The Loons will return the favor to American football, albeit at the Division III level, with this game — which will be the first football game played at the new soccer stadium.
The Johnnies and Tommies played last season at Target Field — also the first football game at that venue — setting a Division III attendance record with 37,355 fans. Allianz can hold about half as many fans with a capacity of 19,400. Like for the Target Field game, St. Thomas will be the home team at Allianz.
"I did think it would be possible to hit 30,000 fans if everything went well. I think the fact that 37,000 fans came out showed there is a market and [people] want to see good rivalry football be played," Caruso said. "The Target Field experience was phenomenal, and the folks here at Allianz have something to shoot for and also a road map that hopefully can make this even better."
Caruso and St. John's coach Gary Fasching were among those on hand Tuesday for the official announcement at Allianz Field on a blustery day.
"Our guys still talk about [playing at Target Field]," Fasching said. "But that was on a baseball field. I think this is going to be a much different environment and much different atmosphere. It's a chance to highlight and showcase what these two schools are all about."
Combine the curiosity over seeing a new stadium with the allure of the rivalry and what should be the sweet spot for football weather in mid-October, and this game shouldn't have any problem selling out.
The bigger problem might be getting tickets. I suggested to Caruso that there will probably be ticket scalpers working a Division III game, and he laughed but didn't dismiss the notion.
"I don't know, man. I'm more worried about what blitzes we're going to call and what passes we're going to run," he said. "I do know it's going to be a hotter ticket than people would normally think in this rivalry. It would seem to me that if you put 20,000 people in this stadium, it will be rocking pretty good."