By Stephanie Haeg
Any time spent in the CSB/SJU Archives can tell you one thing very quickly: sports are a major part of our institutional history.
And at this time of year, when our emails and Facebook feeds are inundated with only one topic, you know there’s one particular event that always plays an important role in the hearts and minds of the students here: the Johnnie/Tommie rivalry.
The Johnnie/Tommie rivalry starts the 20th century with the first game happening on Thanksgiving Day, 1901. The records I have found indicate that 2017 is the 87th overall match between the football teams and the 66th straight year of this reoccurring face-off.
The rivalry is intense and real. Often good-natured, it also can occasionally get vicious. It spans well over a century, and is deeply tied to the history of both institutions.
Articles I’ve uncovered from Tommie alumni magazines echo the phrases I’ve heard in classrooms on our campuses. Every fall, t-shirts with slogans of all sorts are sold on both campuses. The memorabilia runs on their side too; I discovered a photo of a button that Johnnies wore, featuring a Johnnie smashing a club into a Tommie player’s face.
Even the slogans have history. “Go back to the woods” vs “go back to the city” was clearly a slogan which spanned decades. The games aired on national TV regularly, and in 2015, ESPN did a segment on the rivalry airing “SportsCenter on the Road” from Collegeville. The teams have faced off everywhere from the Metrodome to Clemens Stadium, and they’re about to become the first football game to ever be held at Target Field.
But why is the rivalry so intense?
Many people tie it to the similar nature of the institutions. They are located less than two hours apart, both Catholic institutions. St. Thomas is the younger of the two, being founded in 1885 to SJU’s 1857. It also offers Masters degrees; theirs are in Education and Business instead of Theology. While CSB and SJU have their historic ties mainly in the German-American community, St.Thomas’s lineage leaned more towards Irish-Americans.
Unlike some rivalries, there’s no blood feud, no stolen mascots hidden in the history (that I can find, at least) to explain why exactly students hiss and boo when they find out someone has attended St. Thomas, or why Tommie alums whose children go to CSB/SJU shake their heads and claim the grades weren’t high enough to get into St. Thomas. Instead, all we have is a relationship that spans a century, and as many similarities as we have differences.
Of course, that being said: Go Johnnies!