It was rivalry weekend all across college football, which made for great viewing. A cozy fan could have run the gamut of games and conferences from the comfort of his or her own couch Saturday.
For hardier souls, though, two great options existed in the great outdoors: St. John’s at St. Thomas in the Division III playoffs at noon Saturday as well as Wisconsin at Minnesota in the Big Ten regular-season finale at 2:30 p.m.
And those among us who love college football and like to see a grand plan come to fruition decided that if one of those games was a good idea Saturday, attempting to go to both games was twice as good. Here are a few observations from the doubleheader day:
• Heeding the advice a colleague, who had frozen his toes off the week before at the Gophers-Illinois game, I wore my heaviest pair of socks and winter boots. It felt excessive while getting dressed, but after being almost exclusively outside for several consecutive hours, I’m a believer. The head and toes are the keys to being warm at these late-season games.
• That weather tip might seem like a no-brainer fundamental, but that’s how life works. Sometimes we just need a reminder of the things we know. In football terms, this presents itself in the form of play along the line of scrimmage.
It of course makes sense that the team which controls the line of scrimmage will dictate the flow of the game and in the vast majority of cases the scoreboard as well. Saturday was a stark reminder of that.
After watching long stretches of both games from field level, it was clear: St. Thomas looked like it could get 5 yards anytime it wanted to, while for St. John’s modest gains were a struggle. Same goes for Wisconsin, which pushed the Gophers around.
Final scores, of course: St. Thomas won 38-19, while Wisconsin prevailed 31-21 despite giving up a pick-six early. (At least the relative blowout at the first game made it possible to leave a little early and get to the second on time.)
• The atmosphere at St. Thomas was great, with a nearly even split between Tommies and Johnnies backers. In a smaller setting like that, it was easier to get a real sense of the rivalry between the teams and fans. As students lobbed taunts back and forth — fueled, it seemed, by some early morning quenching of thirst — the magnitude of the first playoff meeting between these rivals was palpable.
It was a stark contrast going from St. Thomas to TCF Bank Stadium, where the energy was still evident but everything was comparatively on such a large scale.
The focus there was more on the field, where seeing D-III and D-I games up close within 30 minutes of each other showed the differences in size and athleticism at the levels. Even the difference in punts was clear.
By the time it was all over, morning had become night. Rivalry week will happen all over again next year, though it’s hard to say when the same opportunity as presented itself Saturday will come again.