This is not the usual football story about which team won, the number of yards gained and touchdowns scored. To me, those are statistics. I like to focus on the play of individual players, the formations used, and the grit of a running back to squirm forward for an extra yard. Those are not statistics. Instead, they often dictate what sort of success one will attain in real life. So allow me to enjoy this year’s opening game for “the Johnnies.”
Upon graduation from high school, I still had a desire to play some more football. A medical problem called polio held me back. And living in central Minnesota meant, in all likelihood, that I would consider trying out for the St. John’s football team. But the best of plans sometimes go awry. They did, and my career took a sudden liking to become a broadcaster.
My school buddies and I often hitchhiked out to St. John’s of Collegeville to explore the campus tucked back into the woods complete with a small pond of water, surrounded by woods and with the monks in long back clothing that sort of kept watch over all things. Johnny bread was special, and still is. Conversations with the monks were not a given, and often, we dared to roam the campus wondering when we would be told to leave. That didn’t happen.
Fast forward to Saturday, Sept. 2, of this year. I was invited by a former varsity player, Bill Kauffman, to come and enjoy the opening game of the season. As part of the weekend, our four daughters and myself were guests of the before-game tailgating. That was a surprise for all of us, to visibly see and meet some of the past players and to fill our tummies with brats and burgers. I have always felt that Packer tailgating at Lambeau Field was above and beyond any similar efforts elsewhere. Let me quickly add that Johnnie tailgating was an equally refreshing experience, reminding me of a “family affair.” The numerous hugs and embraces were better than a picture of a thousand words.
Just being around all of the action, tailgating and the game, erased some 30 or more years from my senior age. The best was yet to come as we headed for the stadium, a natural bowl that I remembered from my high school days. Changes were quickly evident. One end of Clemen’s Field was enclosed by a field house. I remembered a small white shack that served as a shelter for maintenance equipment back then.
The game was set to begin at 1 p.m. Without a doubt, the “shining moment” of the football weekend was evident when 180 jersey-clad players swarmed onto the field and lined up on the home sideline, stretching from one end zone to the other. Yes, 180. That was a routine adopted by coach John Gagliardi during his many years of coaching. Think about it. What parent wouldn’t be proud to see their son run onto the field in a St. John’s uniform? Add to that, the good vibes that each player will carry with them in remembrance of the 2017 football opener.
Gary Fasching is now St. John’s head coach, following John Gagliardi’s retirement in 2012. During Gagliardi’s 60 years of coaching, his teams won four national championships.
So what about the 100 yards of football jerseys? Inside of those jerseys were 180 young men destined for success as an athlete and a student. And yes, they all got to play in the season’s opening game.
My closing comment. John Gagliardi is more than a winning football coach. He is a lifetime coach who personifies the Golden Rule.
Some good reads:
“A Legacy Unrivaled, the Story of John Gagliardi” by Boz Bostrom with a forward by Lou Holtz.
“Just Call Me John” by Ann Jonas.
“No-How Coaching, Strategies for Winning in Sports & Business from the Coach Who Says ‘No!’” by Jim Collison with forward by John Gagliardi.