Collegeville is one of the most gorgeous campuses in the country. Apple orchards ripen nearby and St. John's Bread is for sale.
COLLEGEVILLE -- Many people take golf vacations.
Others embark on fishing and hunting excursions.
While I like to golf, and I fish about once a year, sports travel is one of my favorite leisure-time activities. I like going to spring training in Arizona or visiting major league ballparks. Eventually, I hope to attend football games at schools like Notre Dame, Florida State, Michigan and Nebraska.
One trip I should have made much earlier was the 75-mile drive to watch St. John's University football.
Thanks to my gracious hosts, Mike and Ruth Zauhar of Brainerd, whose son Michael is a starting defensive back for the Johnnies, I had the opportunity to make that excursion last weekend. It turned out to be one of the best trips I've ever made.
Collegeville is a popular destination this fall as the Johnnies' legendary head coach, John Gagliardi, attempts to become the winningest coach at any level of NCAA football. Gagliardi had 402 wins after last weekend's 24-10 victory over Wisconsin-Eau Claire, leaving him six shy of tying the all-time record held by Grambling's Eddie Robinson.
The 76-year-old Gagliardi has built St. John's into one of the most prominent programs in the nation. St. John's is the winningest Division III football program in history (.692 win percentage). The Johnnies have won three national titles and are .689 in postseason play.
Gagliardi's unorthodox approach attracts talent. This year he has two of the best players in the country, quarterback Ryan Keating of Minnetonka and receiver Blake Elliott of Melrose.
The Johnnies don't use blocking sleds, don't run sprints or laps, don't tackle in practice, don't practice outside in bad weather and don't practice on Sundays or Mondays.
Gagliardi's list of "Winning with Nos" include no player is too small to play and no player doesn't play in a lopsided game (the Johnnies' squad size averages 150 players).
TV cameras follow Gagliardi onto the field for pregame warmups. He obviously is uncomfortable with the attention that is focusing on him as he chases Robinson. But any coach who has Gagliardi's sense of humor should be able to handle the media blitz.
A few years ago, Gagliardi spoke at an Associated Press meeting at Cragun's. One of his humorous lines was, "Behind every successful man is a very surprised mother-in-law."
Another Gagliardi tale dates back to the mid-1970s when friends of mine played on the Johnnies' national championship team. One of my friends used to talk about a film session that showed an opposing ball carrier dashing around end and one of his blockers inadvertently cartwheeling a St. John's defender into the running back, knocking the ball carrier to the ground.
Gagliardi stopped the film and exclaimed, "Did you see that? That's great coaching."
Collegeville is one of the most gorgeous campuses in the country. Apple orchards ripen nearby and St. John's Bread is for sale on campus. When the sun saturates the campus, located about 10 miles west of St. Cloud, it can be a delightful day to watch college football.
The ambiance and enthusiasm was exhilarating. Clemens Stadium, which was jammed with about 8,000 fans, is tucked into a hillside. Many fans sit on the hill or bring their own chairs to watch the game. Other fans stand behind the end zones on the spongy Sprin Turf.
A college football atmosphere would be incomplete without wacky students leading cheers. At St. John's, about a half-dozen male students, with faces and hair painted, wearing skirts and red long underwear, try to coax the adult fans to cheer.
When a penalty is called against the opposition the "cheerleaders" yell, "You've got to play by the rules, cheaters."
And, I can't imagine any other campus, with the possible exception of Notre Dame, that announces at the game that mass will follow.
Even though I graduated from St. Cloud State, I thoroughly enjoyed being a Johnnie fan for a day.
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