There was an official announcement made on Monday morning at Target Field that St. John’s and St. Thomas will play their annual football game at the ballpark on Sept. 23, 2017.
This is a St. Thomas home game that was imagined by Twins president Dave St. Peter several years ago, when he ran into Tommies coach Glenn Caruso at a concert.
The schedule had to break in a proper fashion for all parties to make this game possible, and that’s what happened in 2017 with both the MIAC and major league baseball.
The Johnnies and the Tommies were again scheduled to play on the second Saturday of the conference schedule. The Twins were on a nine-game road trip from Sept. 18 to Sept. 28, before returning home for the final series of the season.
What about the field condition for baseball after a football game?
The Twins played baseball games after Vikings games at Met Stadium in August, September and early Octobers for 21 years. And with modern knowledge of agronomy and equipment to maintain fields, even a football game played in rain would not prevent Target Field from being ready to go five days later.
There are a couple of other advantages with this being the date for the Johnnies and the Tommies to play the first-ever football game at Target Field:
One, the Gophers have a bye on Sept. 23, limiting the competition for drawing a crowd for the 1 p.m. kickoff.
Two, the MIAC presidents passed a special one-time permit for beer to be sold at a conference event for this game.
(Note: When word of this game did leak out last week, I went to Twitter to warn Johnnies fans that they should be ready for beer prices considerably higher than what they pay at the LaPlayette in St. Joseph before and after games.)
The Johnnies and Tommies did play at the Metrodome when the MIAC had a weekend of football scheduled in 1996 and 1997. Gene McGivern, the Tommies sports information director, also found games between the two schools at Lexington Park (St. Paul's minor league ballpark) in 1901 and 1908.
The Johnnies also played twice at Met Stadium. It was early in coach John Gagliardi’s dynastic run at St. John’s, and his 1963 and 1965 teams played NAIA playoff semifinals in our big-league stadium.
The NAIA became the first organization for four-year schools to hold an official national championship for football in 1956. Two teams were selected for the two games in 1956 and 1957, and then it was expanded to a four-team playoff in 1958.
The NCAA had a university and a college division in those days, and did not create Divisions I, II and III until the early ‘70s. The first Division III football playoff was in 1973.
Until then, most current Division III schools – and many Division IIs – competed in the NAIA.
Gustavus was selected for the first NAIA four-team playoff in 1958 and lost in the semifinals. St. John’s was the next MIAC team to get an opportunity in 1963.
The Johnnies played Emporia [Kan.] State at Met Stadium on Nov. 30. There was a gloom over the land due the assassination of President Kennedy eight days earlier. It also was freezing cold. A crowd of over 10,000 showed up to watch the Johnnies hammer Emporia 54-0.
One week later, at the Camellia Bowl in Sacramento, the Johnnies scored a 33-27 upset of mighty Prairie View A&M (does the name Otis Taylor ring a bell?) to win the NAIA title.
Two years later, the Johnnies defeated Fairmont [W.Va.] State 28-7 in semifinal game at Met Stadium. They followed that with a 33-0 shellacking of Linfield [Ore]. in the NAIA title game in Augusta, Ga.
Concordia (Moorhead) also was in a pair of NAIA playoffs, tying Sam Houston State 7-7 to share the title in 1964, and losing to Texas A&I 32-7 in the championship game in 1968.
The MIAC switched its main allegiance to NCAA Division III in 1973. There’s now a 32-team playoff, in which the Tommies defeated the Johnnies in the second round last season – the schools’ first-ever playoff meeting.
The top football level of Division III is now blessed with much-improved facilities and an impressive quality of athletes. The Tommies and Johnnies are both competing at that level today, and if they get a great autumn day, 25,000 would be a reasonable expectation for next September’s renewal of the rivalry.
Bob Alpers, the St. John’s athletic director, said once word of the game spread last weekend, he started getting calls from alums asking how to secure tickets – 11 months in advance.