La Velle E. Neal III's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.


St. Thomas has come a long way from the red brick facility that Tom Pacholl attended while he played for the Tommies.

Now there are modern buildings, an expanding campus and, this season, a Division I football program to offer.

"This is really something," Pacholl, 94 and a World War II veteran, said. "Who would have thought we would have gone from Division III to Division I? It's a big move but I think they will do all right."

Pacholl was the honorary captain on Saturday as St. Thomas played its first home game as a D-1 program, leaving his walker on the sideline as he strolled to midfield for the pregame coin toss. Later, he spoke while St. Thomas rolled up more than 400 yards of offense during its 36-0 rout of Butler that had the student section yelling at the Bulldogs to stick to basketball. Butler was the first Pioneer League opponent for the 2-1 Tommies, who play at the University of San Diego on Saturday.

Pacholl was captain of the 1949 Tommies team that took part in the Cigar Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

The Cigar Bowl was played from 1947 to 1954, usually on New Year's Day, while highlighting the local cigar industry. After falling behind 13-0 to Missouri Valley, the Tommies rallied and the game ended in a 13-13 tie. A big play was an 80-yard punt return score by Jim "Popcorn" Brandt, who would play for the Steelers.


"He had a brother whose nickname was 'Peanuts,' " Pacholl said.

Tommies coach Glenn Caruso had Pacholl out for practice during the week and had a surprise for him. Caruso had a picture of the seniors on Pacholl's Cigar Bowl team, smoking cigars in front of the old O'Shaughnessy Fieldhouse. He put the photo on the video board and watched Pacholl's eyes tear up before he talked about each teammate.

"That speaks to the depth and the breadth of the emotion that football evokes on a campus," Caruso said. "That's what you saw out there today."

Pacholl watched the Tommies roll from reserved seats on the east side of O'Shaughnessy Stadium. He was opposite of the main grandstand that was nearly full, with an announced crowd of 5,051. The return of fans coupled with the move to Division I led to a crowd as large as ones for games against old rivals St. John's and Bethel.

"It was just the perfect storm," defensive back Rian O'Connor said, "and awesome to play in front of that crowd."

Kaprizov impresses again

Kirill Kaprizov needed an interpreter for the first couple of questions Wednesday as he discussed signing his five-year, $45 million contract with the Wild. But he broke out his best English when asked if there would be pressure to live up to the deal.

"No, there's no pressure," Kaprizov said. "Now it's easy for me when I sign and now I just want to play."

He then exhaled while making a flushing motion with his hands. The Russian winger is just 24 years old and understandably more comfortable on skates than at the negotiating table. With those talks now in the past, he can focus on building off of a rookie season in which he scored 51 points in 55 games and won the Calder Trophy.

Another impressive move on his part was that he arrived in the country last week to give himself time to quarantine and get vaccinated so he could take the ice on Day 1 of pre-season with his teammates.

Saluting Morneau

Two things stood out about Justin Morneau during his first major league spring training camp in 2002: The helicopter-like twirl during his follow-through when he swung and how the ball exploded off his bat.

Joe Mauer would eventually be nicknamed, "Baby Jesus," by our Patrick Reusse. But it was in the Hammond Stadium press box on a February afternoon that year when I turned to another scribe and said: "Morneau is the way, the truth and the life."

Morneau eventually won AL MVP honors in 2006. He was on his way to a monster year in 2010 when a concussion in July ended his season and altered the remainder of his career. Not the slugger he used to be, Morneau adapted, winning the NL batting title while with Colorado in 2013.

Now Morneau is the newest member of the Twins Hall of Fame, quite an honor for the kid with the goofy grin from British Columbia.

... and two predictions ...

Twins' final week will match season

The Twins will close out the season by going 2-4 over their final two series. They will end up with around 70 wins, their fewest in a 162-game season since they were 59-103 in 2016.

Russ will cook Vikings again

Dalvin Cook is irreplaceable. So him entering a big game with a sore ankle is concerning. With Cook not at 100%, the Vikings will lose 27-20 to Seattle and fall to 0-3.