Tuesday, November 20, 2012

John Gagliardi--two stories from an opposing team

Congratulations to John Gagliardi on an amazing football career at St. John’s University.  Sixty years of coaching football at the same school, 489 wins?  Wow.

I played football for Carleton from 1982-1985.  Our team played St. John’s three times in my career and like the other twenty-six times Carleton played St. John’s we lost.  Since my playing career was over I have followed MIAC football and especially Carleton football very closely.  John Gagliardi deserves every kudo that is given to him.  However with the utmost respect I can’t help but say I’ve never seen a coach able to win games that seemed out of reach.  I wouldn’t at all call him lucky as he was a brilliant coach who ran a brilliant program.  But I wouldn’t hesitate to call him charmed.

When I heard the news yesterday that he had retired two stories came to my mind.

The first happened on September 21, 1985, my senior year.  This was the third year that Carleton played in the MIAC.  We had taken our lumps the first two years, but we felt ready to contend for a championship.  We had routed the first two teams and now we had St. John's where we wanted them.  We were at home, and playing with confidence.  The week before St. John’s had barely beaten Bethel, who at the time finished at the bottom of the conference. 

This was going to be our statement game.

The game was rugged.  We scored at the end of the first half to take our first lead (10-6) ever against St. John’s.  Gagliardi was pacing the sidelines.  We were down by three early in the fourth quarter when our offense went on a signature drive.  We went deep into their territory.  A pass put the ball inside the five yard line.  We were going to score and win the game!  But then—.  A penalty was called on us.  Our quarterback was sacked.  We tried a field goal to tie the score—no good.  They took over, and we suddenly couldn’t stop them.  A touchdown for St. John’s and then a field goal.  St John's 23; Carleton 10.

In about 20 minutes the direction of each of our seasons changed. Something had dramaticially happened in the game—could it be the charm?  St. John’s went on to win the conference—aided by another charmed win the following week against St. Thomas.  We finished the season at .500—which did start a run of almost a decade of upper division finishes in the MIAC for Carleton.  But we had come to win the game—and somehow we lost.

The second story is one I will never forget.  In the fall of 2008 Carleton went on an improbable run of victories.  We were one victory away from our second conference championship.  The only team that was left to beat was St. John’s.  Again we had them right where we wanted them—at home, we were playing with confidence, St. John’s was not as good as in the past. 

By this time I knew about the Gagliardi charm.  I went to the game telling myself not to believe Carleton would win the game.  I had been disappointed too many times in the past.  I wouldn't give in to believing.

The game again was close and rugged.  I had the privilege of sitting next to two Carleton teammates and my revered coach, Bob Sullivan (Sully).  With little time left in the game Carleton was down by four and had fourth and goal.  We held our breath to see if the Knights would finally break through.  The Carleton quarterback dropped back, threw a fade in the end zone and it was ………….caught—touchdown Carleton!!! 

We were finally going to beat St. John’s and win the conference.  The charm had been broken, and we were already celebrating.  My teammates, Sully, and I jumped up and down like giggly kids who had received the greatest gift possible from Santa Claus. 

Carleton kicked off.  We were still celebrating as St. John’s returned the ball to the 40.  They completed a pass, then a long pass, and then the pass we won’t forget.  A long arching spiral down the St. John’s sideline that went for a touchdown.  You—have—got—to—be—kidding—me.  St John's 14; Carleton 10.  I immediately knew the mistake I had made.  I had disrespected the charm.   
Congratulations, John Gagliardi.  You were brilliant.  Your teams broke my heart, but they always earned my respect. 

No comments: