Every year, a sea of red and purple fills the stands of a college football field in observance and anticipation of one of Minnesota’s most well-known sporting traditions. This is, as many in our area may know, the Tommy-Johnny football game between St. John’s and St. Thomas universities. It’s a grudge match between two of Minnesota’s top private colleges, and an event that draws much alumni and media attention. As a first-year student at St. John’s myself, I came in this year with a lot of background about this event but never having actually attended it, I made sure to mark the date. It was certainly an event to remember.
Though the original reason for the rivalry is long faded into history, passions were alive and well that Saturday afternoon, Oct. 13. Walking into Clemens Stadium, you could see the clear dividing lines where supporters of each school were seated. Standing in the St. John’s section, the energy was apparent as scores of students came decked out in school gear and with signs to show their support. There was a buzz in the air as the kickoff started the game. The moment people had been waiting for had begun.
Once the game was underway, the crowd held its breath as the Johnnies and the Tommies moved up and down the field with spectacular offensive plays. Both teams had lots of energy, and there were several long-range throws that connected for huge yards and run plays that made it far down the field before they were stopped. Turnovers didn’t help, often when they occurred close to when the team losing the ball might otherwise have scored. The people in the crowd were on the edge of their seats. This could be anyone’s game.
In the end, the Johnnies’ offense was too much for the Tommies. Scoring two unanswered touchdowns before the Tommies could respond, SJU built a lead they would maintain for the rest of the game, ending in a 40-20 victory and breaking St. Thomas’s four-game streak over the Johnnies. It was a hard-fought effort by both sides, with the better team coming out the victor that day.
That a dispute over a player named Ignatius O’Shaughnessy, who was expelled from St. John’s for skipping prayers and who then transferred to St. Thomas in 1901, still carries on today is truly remarkable to me. It shows a long memory between the two schools and the value they place on tradition.
Another tradition on the minds of Johnnies everywhere that day was that of famous coach John Gagliardi. Passing away on Oct. 7, you could see the fans and the players paying tribute to a man who in many ways defined St. John’s athletics throughout his 60 years of coaching. He was a huge presence on campus and in the lives of so many St. John’s alumni, including some of my own family who attended the university.
I can certainly say the Tommy-Johnny game lives up to the hype I had heard throughout my younger years, and it was truly a sight to see two teams and schools that have such influence in the region duke it out for the pride of victory. In sports, it’s rare to see a rivalry that’s both contentious but civil, and this is one of those cases. I’m proud to be a part of it at St. John’s and I’m looking forward to seeing it again next year.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.