Wisconsinites were excited, as always, about the return of their beloved Green Bay Packers, who were coming off their third consecutive NFC North Division Championship and had convinced future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre to return for at least one more season.
Yet, just five weeks into the season, nearly every ounce of optimism and good will that surrounded these two teams has long since vanished. The Vikings and Packers, once the pride and joy of the five-state area, are now a combined 2-7, with both of those victories coming against the bedraggled (not to mention homeless) New Orleans Saints. Fans across the region would be wise to simply leave their TVs off on Sundays and enjoy the fine fall weather, rather than subject themselves to such ineptitude.
But for those of you with a football craving that needs to be satisfied, I present to you a better option: the St. Olaf College football team.
As it turns out, the best gridiron action of the fall hasnt been taking place at the Metrodome or Lambeau Field: Its been going on right in our own backyard, over at Manitou Field. The Oles have jumped out to a 5-0 start this season for the first time in nearly 30 years (since 1976) and its about time you stood up and took notice. If you dont, you might miss something truly historic.
The history of football in the MIAC is long, storied and surprisingly one-sided. Since 1974 (the year St. Olaf left the old Midwest Conference to join the MIAC in football) two teams have won at least a share of 80 percent (24 of 30) of the MIAC football championships St. Johns (15 times) and Concordia-Moorhead (nine times).
The Johnnies, as anyone familiar with Division III college football knows, have truly been the dominant force in the conference for the past decade and a half. Legendary Johnnie head coach John Gagliardi and his squad have won the MIAC nine times since 1990, allowing Concordia to mop up three of the remaining six titles.
Meanwhile, St. Olaf has never won the conference title outright (they finished tied for first in 1978 and 1979) and have finished second just once (1991). For over a quarter of a century, St. Olaf has been unable to unseat either the Johnnies or the Cobbers for Minnesota small college supremacy.
That is, until now.
2005 has the potential to be the season that the Ole faithful have been waiting for all these years. Predictably, the current standings put St. Johns (6-0) and Concordia (5-0) at the top, but the upstart Oles are right there with these perennial powerhouses.
Boasting the leagues most powerful offensive and a veteran-laden defense that appears much improved from a year ago, St. Olaf looks poised to snare the MIAC crown for the first time since legendary running back Ole Gunderson was tearing through defenses in the late seventies.
However, no one ever said the road to football immortality would be easy. After hosting eighth-place Gustavus this Saturday at Manitou Field and traveling to Hamline to take on the currently 2-3 Pipers Oct. 22, the Oles will undergo a test that would make even the staunchest competitor cringe. St. Olaf will go on the road in back-to-back weeks, no less to both Collegeville (St. Johns) and Moorhead (Concordia) to take on these two conference foes Oct. 29 and Nov. 5, respectively.
Winning on the road is one of the most difficult feats in college football, even more so against a high quality opponent. In order to maintain their perfect record (most likely a necessity for the eventual conference champion) the Oles will have to accomplish this feat two weeks in a row.
Can St. Olaf defy both history and the odds to capture their first championship since the Carter administration? Only time will tell, but I wouldnt put it past this 2005 squad.
Unlike the Vikings and the Packers, this is one hometown football team that doesnt disappoint.