For ordinary sports fans, traveling 452 miles to cheer on their home team may be out of the question. But for a special group of dedicated St. Thomas football fans, it’s loyalty over a long car ride.
The seminarians who form “Caruso’s Crew,” sporting hard hats, faux-mustaches and oversized handyman tools at each game, would not let a seven-hour drive stop them from taking purple pride on the road for the first round of the NCAA playoffs.
At 3:15 a.m. Saturday, the alarm clocks in St. John Vianney Seminary sounded as these fans, led by their rector the Rev. William Baer, piled into a pickup truck and a 16-passenger van to make the trek to Monmouth, Ill.
“It was a long day, but it was worthwhile for a victory,” said senior seminarian, Patrick Cooley. “As Father Baer always says, loyalty is very important to us as a seminary. So, staying loyal to the Tommie football team, to coach Caruso and to all the players is very important to us.”
With playing cards, good conversation and general anticipation for the game, some managed to stay awake while others, like senior Jim Rolph, couldn’t keep their eyes open.
“It was a beautiful day for football and for driving, but I slept most of the way,” Rolph said.
Arriving just as St. Thomas started playing in its first NCAA playoff appearance since 1990, the seminarians were right on time.
“We had to go slightly above the recommended speed to make it on time, but we did make it,” said Rolph. “It’s okay, we prayed beforehand.”
Hoisting one another in the air and waving their tools in support of Caruso’s program built on a hard-working mentality, “Caruso’s Crew” of seminarians stayed energized throughout game. St. Thomas’ game-changing plays and unstoppable defensive performance in the second half kept the fans wound up.
“We’ve been supporting the team all year and we feel that it’s a big part of what we do here at the seminary – supporting the local teams and groups on campus,” said Rolph. “We really want to be a part of the life on campus, and we feel a big part of that is supporting the football team, especially with the big turn around that they’ve had.”
While the seminarians attend each game out of loyalty to their Tommies, they always know they are in for a good time.
“Let’s be honest, it’s just a great time at the game,” said Cooley. “We love getting the crowd involved and trying to help out on defense by making some noise. It was a blast, and we’re looking forward to more rounds.”
Sally Schreiber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org