Bob Sullivan had performed the difficult feat of putting Carleton football in the first division of the 10-team MIAC for five straight autumns, from 1986 to 1990. Then, in 1992, the Knights won their first seven conference games and were scheduled to play St. John’s on Nov. 7.
The mighty Johnnies were 6-1, having lost 15-12 to St. Thomas. The game was moved to the Metrodome because of the muddy condition of the field at Carleton’s stadium hard by the Cannon River.
Final: St. John’s 70, Carleton 7.
The Johnnies reached 70 when coach John Gagliardi ordered a two-point conversion after the 10th touchdown. To add to the bad look, Gag had reached 70 against Sullivan, a wonderful gentleman and also one of John’s former players.
There was a letter sent to the Star Tribune that appeared in print the next week, vilifying Gagliardi for his lack of sportsmanship. Jeff Bretherton, a four-year Johnnies player and the starting center, responded with a letter in Gagliardi’s defense.
And 27 years later, on Good Friday, this good Johnnie was sticking to his story: “John went for two because he didn’t want to get his kicker hurt. Our regular kicker had been injured. We found this new kicker on the soccer team, and he wasn’t very good, and then he was run into after an extra point.
“The next week, we were in the dome again, and couldn’t make any kicks. We tied Concordia 18-18, so we finished 7-1-1 in the league. Carleton won it at 8-1, went to the playoffs and was pounded.”
Bretherton worked in business for three years after college, then was Gagliardi’s offensive line coach from 1996 to 2003. In his last game with Gagliardi, the Johnnies stunned Mount Union 24-6 and won the Division III national championship.
“John always had the fear the bottom was going to fall out and, at the same time, he never sent a team into a game with the thought it was going to lose,” Bretherton said. “I saw that as both a player and a coach.”
Bretherton and his family spent 14 years in Montana, working for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Heart of the Rockies Initiative. In May 2017, he was hired as athletic director at Concordia (Moorhead).
He walked into a budding brouhaha over St. Thomas’ giant presence in the MIAC — much of it based on the lopsided scores that coach Glenn Caruso’s football team was putting up on a regular basis.
“When I left the MIAC, a lot of administrators and coaches in the conference were mad at John because of some of St. John’s scores, and when I came back they were mad at Glenn,” Bretherton said. “The difference is even in the ’90s, most people didn’t know the score of an MIAC game until the next day.
“Today, there’s immediacy. The public knows about a St. Thomas touchdown as soon as it’s scored. And when a game gets out of hand, Caruso is getting ripped on Twitter that afternoon.”
Bretherton lasted only 10 months at Concordia. He was hired with a fundraising background and felt as if the donors were lined up to allow the Cobbers to make a dramatic step in new athletic facilities.
President William Craft and his administration were not ready to make the leap. One drama that Bretherton saw coming before he departed in April 2018 was an attempt to toss St. Thomas from the MIAC.
“I mentioned what was going on with St. Thomas at an athletic directors meeting a few months before I resigned,” Bretherton said. “A few ADs said, ‘What are you talking about?’ Apparently, some presidents hadn’t said anything to the ADs about what was going on with St. Thomas.”
On Thursday, the MIAC presidents delayed a decision on whether to proceed with trying to throw out St. Thomas. Bretherton considers Caruso a friend after meeting him at various MIAC functions.
“No matter what you hear, this is about football,” Bretherton said. “St. Thomas finished third last season. The schools with football teams near the bottom have problems much deeper than Glenn Caruso running up a score.
“I’ll also tell you this, even though Glenn wouldn’t want it:
“One of our former Concordia players, Michael Herzog, an outstanding Cobber quarterback, had his fish house blow up in March and he was flown to Regions Hospitals in St. Paul with burns over 90 percent of his body.
“I called Glenn and asked if he could just drop in, see Michael, give him some encouragement. He’s been over there a few times. And Glenn texted me a photo this week from the hospital room, to show how much better Michael is doing.”