NORTHFIELD, MINN. – Macalester had been securing bottom rungs in MIAC football for decades and Carleton had its share of issues. The administrators decided it was worth a reminder of the schools' lofty academic statuses by creating a trophy for the annual gridiron clash.
So it came to be in 1998 that the winner of the game would receive "The Book of Knowledge."
Forget all the others, even "The Goat" in all of its wooden ugliness that is exchanged when Carleton meets in-town rival St. Olaf.
The Book of Knowledge is my favorite trophy in small-college football based on the sheer pomposity of the label.
And it was early in the week that this realization arrived: I actually had never seen the helmet-wearing brainiacs battle for the dictionary (or some such thing).
As luck would have it, Macalester and Carleton would be engaged on Saturday, and at Laird Stadium, Carleton's ancient track and football facility that has been serving as the Knights' home since 1922.
For those that never had a chance to watch the Gophers play in Memorial Stadium (1924-81), the Knights' brickhouse is a mini-version worth visiting. The bleachers on the home side hold 7,500 … for D-III.
Carleton and Macalester were original members of the MIAC in 1920. Carleton left the next year for the Midwest Conference, with mostly smaller private schools, before rejoining the MIAC in 1983.
Macalester never left the MIAC. What it did was play football as either an independent or a Midwest Conference guest from 2002 through 2019.
No MIAC football was played due to COVID-19 in 2020, and Mac signed back up for a remodeled MIAC football setup after St. Thomas left for Division I in the fall of 2021.
The teams played twice in 2021 and Carleton won both, including a 48-45 shootout at season's end. Carleton's 7-3 record ended a streak of 11 consecutive non-winning seasons. Much credit is being given to veteran coach Tom Journell, hired in 2018, after his interest was piqued by his son attending and playing for the Knights.
Journell was on the sideline as his athletes warmed up 40 minutes before kickoff.
"Are you as good as you were last year with that 7-3?" he was asked.
Journell seemed surprised that a stranger would ask such a question: "Of course. Actually, I think we're better. Maybe quite a bit better."
Macalester has a new coach in Phil Nicolaides, 31. He had opened with a couple of wins against UMAC teams, before losing the MIAC opener 38-32 to St. Olaf.
The Brain Bowl element of this contest went swiftly with Mac. The opening kickoff was returned to the 26, and then on the first play — two pitches behind the line, a toss back to quarterback Michael Nadeau, and then easy throw to receiver Rex Dresso 15 yards behind the Carleton defense for a 75-yard touchdown 20 seconds into the game.
If Carleton believed in grades, the defense would've received an F-minus for flea-flicker awareness.
Fortunately for the Knights, the 59 minutes, 40 seconds were devoted mostly to blocking and tackling, running and passing, covering and getting open, and Carleton cruised to a 56-27 victory — the record now 4-0, and with talented quarterback Jonathan Singleton throwing five touchdown passes.
Carleton is now 56-12-1 all-time vs. Mac in a series that was first played in 1898. The next time the Scots visit here it will be to play on Bob Sullivan Field. The Laird Stadium turf will be getting that name during homecoming on Oct. 15.
"Sully" was the Knights coach from 1978-99. He was sitting in the low stands Saturday, next to Paul Moore, his captain as a linebacker in the mid-1980s.
"This is the most positive person I've ever met in my life … and it's 100% sincere," Moore said.
Sullivan's players wanted to have the playing field named for him. And they came up with a sure-fire way to make that happen:
Raising $1 million to endow football and track at the school.
The Knights actually won an MIAC title with Sullivan in 1992 — even though John Gagliardi, the St. John's coach who started Sully in coaching as a student, went for two on the final touchdown to beat Carleton 70-7 in the regular-season finale at the Metrodome.
"My mentor John did that, but we were MIAC champs," Sullivan said. "St. John's had lost to St. Thomas and tied Concordia. We had beaten St. Thomas and Concordia."
Sully then smiled and said: "It wasn't a tie. We weren't co-champs. We won it outright."