An announced crowd of 37,355 watched St. Thomas defeat St. John's 20-17 in a football game Saturday at Target Field that destroyed the previous Division III high-water attendance mark by almost 20,000 fans.
The game came together thanks to a perfect storm, so to speak, of circumstances. When the Twins' 2017 schedule was being put together in the summer of 2016, MLB had them on a 10-game road trip at the end of September that freed up Target Field. That schedule gap aligned with the already scheduled St. John's vs. St. Thomas game and came on a weekend when the Gophers football team had a bye.
Given those parameters, the nature of the rivalry between the schools — ratcheted back up in recent years by the resurgence of St. Thomas — and the curiosity of the first football game ever at Target Field, organizers were optimistic they could draw a big crowd. But 37,000-plus?
"When the game was conceptualized and talked about originally, we were pretty confident we could push toward 25,000," said Twins President Dave St. Peter. "But I don't think any of us believed we'd push beyond 35,000."
Dan McKane, the MIAC's executive director, was even more blunt when asked about the crowd that watched his conference's most notable football rivalry.
"I didn't think we'd get anything close to (37,000) when it was first announced."
But they did, and given the success of the day from the standpoint of logistics, finances and most importantly crowd enthusiasm — "I have not heard a single negative thing about the game yet," McKane said Monday — the logical question becomes: When are they going to do this again?
If you do a game like this too often, the novelty wears off. Both schools also want to exploit their own home-field advantages most years (Saturday's game was technically a St. Thomas home game).
St. Peter said Target Field never would host a football game in October (to avoid any potential playoff conflicts). That takes 2018 and 2019 out of the equation for Tommies/Johnnies at Target Field since the rivals are scheduled to meet in October both of those years.
September isn't great, either, because it requires a long Twins road trip and time to repair the field before the Twins return to play. The Twins, in fact, lobbied to have their 2017 schedule changed when they saw their marathon late-season road trip. When MLB couldn't accommodate that request, they pivoted to football, St. Peter said. Ideally, St. Peter said, a rematch between the teams would happen in November — after the end of MLB's postseason when the field wouldn't be used for anything else for months.
The MIAC football schedule is complete through 2027, and if we peek ahead we see St. Thomas and St. John's face each other in November each season from 2020-2023. The 2021 and 2023 games are St. Thomas home games.
"There's a chance it could work for us in 2021 or 2023 — a rematch, so to speak," St. Peter said.
Given the overwhelming response combined with the way the future schedule breaks , it seems logical to at least pencil in a rematch sometime in the early 2020s — this time in November.
"I think certainly it's something we'll talk about down the road," McKane said. "The novelty of this was so huge and that's part of what made it a huge success. But I think there will be other opportunities."