September 23, 2017 10:46 PM
A man of the cloth and the man who helped make it all happen were among the crowd milling on the plaza in advance of Saturday afternoon's MIAC football matchup between St. John's and St. Thomas at Target Field.
The Johnnies and Tommies played the first football game at the home of Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins, drawing a crowd of 37,355 - shattering the unofficial Division III attendance record.
Those on hand saw St. Thomas get touchdown catches from Matt Christenson and Gabe Green in the first half, then hold on for a 20-17 victory after St. John's cut a 10-point lead to just three on an Evan Clark touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
"It was just an amazing game to be part of," said Tommies quarterback Jacques Perra, who threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns. "This is something none of us are ever going to forget."
More than 35,000 tickets for the game had been already been sold by Friday.
It's a response even Twins president Dave St. Peter wasn't expecting when the Twins approached St. Thomas about moving a home game for the Tommies to downtown Minneapolis.
"I thought it would be successful," St. Peter said. "We had aspirations of breaking the (unofficial) Division III attendance record (17,535). And I thought we might be able to sell 25,000 or 30,000 tickets. But we're looking at between 35,000 and 36,000 already. There's been huge interest in this game. It's been unbelievable.
"It's really a tribute to the rivalry that exists between these two schools."
The Twins, of course, find themselves in position to earn a wild card spot in the American League playoffs. They are on the road now, but are scheduled to return home to face Detroit next Friday.
So was St. Peter worried about the impact of a football game on the playing surface?
"It's too late for that now," St. Peter said with a smile. "We can't do anything about it. But we wouldn't have gone down this road with St. John's and St. Thomas if we didn't think it was going to be OK. We have the highest confidence in (groundskeeper) Larry DeVito and his staff. We know they are going to return the field to being Major League Baseball ready."
Also on the plaza Saturday morning amidst the sea of fans clad in both red (St. John's) and purple (St. Thomas) was Donald Kettler, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud. He was there to watch the two Catholic institutions renew their 116-year-old rivalry on the biggest stage yet.
"Everything that accompanies this game is what is interesting to me," Kettler said. "It's just amazing the interest it draws. I hope this is something that is able to keep going for a long time to come."
More football games at Target Field seem a definite possibility given the interest Saturday's Johnnies/Tommies matchup has drawn. The Twins already have North Dakota State scheduled to face Butler there in 2019.
And St. Peter said others could follow.
"We're excited to have NDSU and their fans here on Aug. 31 of 2019, and then we'll see where it goes from there," St. Peter said. "We expect to continue talking to various teams. And I'd expect that dialogue will only pick up when people see the interest this game has drawn."
St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso certainly wouldn't be opposed to returning, though the 2018 game is already scheduled for Collegeville and Johnnies officials have said it will remain there.
"We love playing this game on our campus and we love playing in Collegeville," Caruso said. "But being able to play here today was a great opportunity. And if we have the chance in the future to go to the new (Minnesota) United stadium, or to a place like U.S. Bank Stadium, we'd definitely look at that.
"And how great would it be if the schedule worked out and we were able to come back here. Target Field is just a great, great location for a game."
Click the video box on this page to see the postgame press conferences with St Thomas and St John's players and head coaches
Fans certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves Saturday.
Former St. Thomas standout Neal Guggemos, who went on to play in the NFL, has a son on this season's Tommies' roster. He also went to high school with the family of Johnnies coach Gary Fasching.
But there was no doubt who he was pulling for Saturday.
"The Tommies, of course," Guggemos said. "Every other week I want to see the Johnnies do well. Not this week though."
Guggemos said having the game at Target Field is a great experience for the players on both sides.
"This is a chance for them to make memories they'll take with them the rest of the life," Guggemos said.
Fans expected the day to be memorable.
"It's just crazy," St. John's junior Hunter Hicks said. "The concourse was just filled with red and white. It's unbelievable."
Updated: September 23, 2017 10:46 PM
Created: September 23, 2017 11:13 AM
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