Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Twin Cities sports fans Let's enjoy today.
We wake to one of the best sports days of the year - NFL championship Sunday - after a day during which the Timberwolves, Wild, Gopher basketball team and Gopher hockey team all won.
While we can, let's cite a few positive developings in our winter of discontent:
-Andrew Wiggins keeps getting better. The Wolves' incompetence has given him and opening, and he has walked right through it, becoming more assertive as an NBA rookie than he ever was at Kansas.
-The Wild's trade for goalie Devan Dubnyk has paid off instantly. I believe the Wild would have been better off losing big this year, securing a high draft pick and resetting for next season, but Dubnyk has been better than expected. Maybe the positive development here is that the Wild gets to give Dubnyk a full tryout and decide whether he can become their goaltender of the future.
-It's been a terrible season for Gopher senior Andre Hollins. Saturday, he hit 7-of-10 three-pointers, and the Gophers won. That link shouldn't surprise. College basketball might be the most overanalyzed game in existence. The team that hits shots usually wins.
-Gopher hockey has been a disappointment. Saturday, the Gophers earned a blowout victory over a bad Wisconsin team.
As I wrote about in the Sunday paper, the four coaches and four quarterbacks in the NFL title games today all offer wildly different resumes. You never know who the next great quarterback or coach is going to be.
Strangely, of the four great or potentially great quarterbacks playing today, I think I'm most fascinated by Russell Wilson. Being a short, scrambling, running quarterback with average receivers is not supposed to be a formula for success in the modern NFL, but Wilson has made it one. He makes the right play at the right time, and is not only the best running quarterback in the NFL, he may be the only one who seems to know exactly how to avoid big hits.
Enjoy today...and yesterday.
Latest podcasts at SouhanUnfiltered.com: Strib hockey writer Michael Russo, former Viking Leo Lewis (who recalled that he and his father were both cut by Bud Grant), Twins GM Terry Ryan...and a lot of other fascinating people.
A Monday morning three-pointer:
1. Wrote Sunday that the Wild is so buried that there is no easy fix that will make this a playoff team, not even a competent goalie.
My theory is that at this point this team should hope for the best possible draft pick, which means not trying to salvage a lost season.
But, for the first time since Mike Yeo became the Wild coach, I think he's lost his team. His tantrum at practice last week was an indication that he's run out of reasonable tactics to spur his players on. And the last five periods the Wild has played have been an embarassment to the sport, as well as the perpetually-mediocre hockey club in St. Paul.
HIs players didn't offer much effort in the second and third periods against Nashville, and they were a step behind all night against Chicago.
If I were owner Craig Leipold, I'd fight the urge to salvage a 10th-place finish in the Western Conference, and I'd hope to finish poorly enough to land a high draft pick that could help this team as early as next season.
But if he wanted to fire Yeo, he would now be justified. This team has quit on Yeo, despite his good intentions.
2. I was sitting in the end zone in Miami when Peyton Manning won his only Super Bowl.
Manning is the greatest regular-season quarterback in NFL history. Sunday, hampered by injuries that left him with little arm strength, he managed 13 points in a home playoff game.
There are two things you should know about his postseason resume:
-He hasn't been as bad as you think as an overall playoff performer.
-He was lucky to earn his one Super Bowl victory.
In regular-season games, Manning has a completion percentage of 65.5, a yards-per-attempt average of 7.7 and a rating of 97.5. In the postseason those numbers are: 64.0, 7.3 and 88.5. The small dip can be explained by facing superior defenses, including many of Bill Belichick's, and not always having a productive running game to keep defenses honest.
But he might have become the new Dan Marino - an amazing passer without a Super Bowl ring - if not for a bit of luck in Super Bowl XLI.
That day in Miami (well, Miami Gardens), Manning completed 28-of-38 passes for 247 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was facing a good Bears defense. He was also facing Rex Grossman.
Manning's one touchdown pass came on a busted coverage that left Reggie Wayne wide open for a 53-yard touchdown. And the game was still in doubt in the fourth quarter, with the Colts leading 22-17, when Grossman threw an interception that the Colts' Kelvin Hayden returned 56 yards for a touchdown and a 29-17 victory.
If the Bears don't leave Wayne wide open, and if Grossman doesn't throw a pick-six, Manning's postseason record might be seen as even worse than it already is.
Overall, Manning's play didn't take a huge statistical dip in the postseason. But unlike Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and even Joe Flacco, he didn't raise his level of play when it mattered most.
3. Dez Bryant's sideline antics have been intriguing us for a long time. Sunday, he walked onto the field holding his head in disbelief, then slumped on the bench in utter depression.
That was the appropriate response.
You saw the play - Bryant made an amazing catch that may have won the Dallas Cowboys a playoff game on Sunday. After he leaped, caught the ball, secured it, landed, dove for the end zone and had his elbow hit the ground, the ball came loose. After Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play, the officials ruled that he had not ``completed the process'' and ruled it incomplete.
This is the problem with NFL officiating; Even when the refs get one technically right, they can be utterly wrong when it comes to the spirit of the rules and common sense.
Everyone knows that was a catch. And Bryant still had the ball secured when his elbow hit the ground, which should end the play. He shouldn't have to carry the ball all the way to the team bus for it to be a catch.
The NFL should want to reward brilliant plays like Bryant's, not parse them out of existence with verbose language and bureaucratic excess.
A catch is a catch, and that was a catch.
On a recent podcast, Twins general manager Terry Ryan told me that he used to have long, red hair and ride a Harley. And that he still rides a Harley. Next podcast is 5 p.m. Wednesday at The Local, with my guest Leo Lewis, the former Viking who is now the athletic director at North High. Leo is not only a fellow Mizzou grad, he's the rare person in this market who knows what life is like inside the Vikings, the University of Minnesota (where he used to work) and on the high school scene.
All podcasts can be found at SouhanUnfiltered.com. Thanks.
I've picked seven of the eight NFL playoff winners correctly. I missed on the Broncos.
My pick for the NCAA title game tonight: Ohio State, maybe big.
I love everything about Oregon football, but Urban Meyer is the best coach in college football. His team is more physical and has plenty of speed. Oregon has lost several key players to injuries and suspensions. My guess is Ohio State 34, Oregon 22.
Here's our conversation:
Parise, retired and living in his son's old house in Prior Lake, played and coached for the North Stars. He married the woman honored as the 2-millionth fan to pass through the Met Center's turnstiles. He recently visited Moscow as a member of Team Canada that played in the Summit Series in 1972, and dined with Vladmir Putin.
His hockey life gave him a son, Zach, who became a star at North Dakota and in the NHL, and brought him into contact with half of the Minnesota sports Hall of Fame. The man can tell stories about Lou Nanne, Bud Grant, Herb Brooks, John Mariucci, Bill Goldsworthy and the days when the NHL featured six teams, and on a recent weekday at a restaurant near his home, he did just that.
He remembered his buddies making fun of a slow-witted North Stars teammate, saying, "He's strong like bull, and smart like tractor.'' So one day Brooks called for "Deere" to take the ice, and the players gave him a funny look. "Deere?" Parise remembers thinking. To which Brooks said: "Yeah -- John Deere.''
He remembered Mariucci running a Stars practice, and telling players to "work on what you're good at.'' So one of Parise's teammates skated to the bench, sat down, and practiced opening the door.
He remembers leaving a North Stars luncheon and being stopped by Grant, who praised Parise's gritty style. "That, I can tell you, was the greatest compliment of my life,'' Parise said.
He remembers his friend Tom Reid, then a North Stars defenseman and now a Wild broadcaster, listening to the National Anthem before a game and telling Parise, "You know, every time I hear that song I have a bad game.''
Parise can tell stories about the time he was arrested when a teammate got into a late-night fight at a Philadelphia Denny's, and the time he locked himself, naked, out of a Pittsburgh hotel room, but he also thinks deeply about how hockey changed his life.
He grew up in Ontario, and at 16 was playing for a men's team when an opponent smashed Parise's skull with a stick during the playoffs. The next game would decide the series, and Parise's coach begged him not to retaliate. "We won, 6-5,'' Parise said. "I had four goals and two assists. There was a Boston scout in the stands. If I had gone after that guy, I don't know what would have happened.''
During expansion, Parise was drafted by the Oakland Seals. When his coach upbraided him for a mistake, Parise popped off. The next morning he was traded to Rochester, which later traded him to the North Stars. He would become a two-time All-Star and eventually an assistant coach in Minnesota before working as the hockey director at Shattuck-St. Mary's, where he'd oversee the likes of his son and Sidney Crosby.
His most powerful memory involves not a goal but a conversation. Early in his North Stars career, he boarded a team flight with teammate Ray Cullen. The flight attendant asked if they wanted anything to drink.
"I gave her some wise answer,'' Parise said. "She leaves and Ray says to me, 'Who do you think you are? Why do you have to be such a jerk all the time?' I was like, 'Whoops.' This is my best friend. So I swallowed it, and it totally changed my life.
"I started being nice to people. I learned it really doesn't take much to be nice.''
Parise's manners might have paid off a few years later. The Stars were in Boston, and Parise entered a restaurant to find a teammate sitting at a table with two sisters, one of whom had won a trip with the team by becoming the North Stars' "2-millionth fan.'' Parise was invited to join them, and four years later he and Donna were married. They're still together.
At 70, reunions are not all beer and giggles. Parise misses Goldsworthy and others who have passed. He also fondly remembers the days of old-time hockey.
"We should call these Wild the North Stars, shouldn't we?'' he said. "I remember our team being a bunch of guys who were happy to be there. There was no jealousy. Money was never an issue because we never made any. Now it's kind of changed. It's, 'After me, you're first.'
"Zach wasn't brought up like that. He's a team player. Hey, I was a team player because I had to be a team player. I depended on my guys.''
Thursday, he'll get to see them again.
Doing a live podcast with Strib hockey writer Michael Russo from the Xcel Energy press box at 3 p.m. today. We'll talk about Zach, JP and Mike Yeo's meltdown.
Last night, I did a podcast with Terry Ryan at Kieran's Irish Pub downtown, and Terry talked about the managerial search, his formerly long hair, his battle with cancer and his rambunctious youth. All podcasts can be heard live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com. Thanks.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • email@example.com
All season you hear the mantra, all around the NFL: Gotta get into the playoffs. Gotta make it to the playoffs. Gotta get into the tournament.
Well, the tournament is here, and it's...kinda blah.
Panthers-Cardinals, with Ryan Lindley playing quarterback for a faltering team, facing a team with a losing record?
Ravens-Steelers, with the Ravens featuring 18 players on injured reserve and the Steelers losing their star back, Le'Veon Bell?
The Bengals, who never win in the postseason, against the Colts? At least you get to watch Andrew Luck.
The Lions and the Cowboys?
Ok, that last one has my interest.
Like it or not, the Cowboys are always fascinating, and this year they've been good and fascinating. DeMarco Murray will face a stout run defense led by a guy who should be suspended, Ndomukong Suh, and who is, in the twisted thinking of the elite athlete, somehow motivated that the NFL is out to get him, even though his proposed suspension was overturned.
One of two talented and productive quarterbacks, Tony Romo or Matthew Stafford, will be forced to win a playoff game.
My silly picks are as follows:
The Panthers are as hot as a losing team can be. Cam Newton is playing well, and the Panthers have rediscovered their running game just in time to face a Cardinals defense that has been vulnerable to the run the last five weeks. Ryan Lindley won't be able to keep the Cardinals in the game. I like Carolina, and maybe by a lot.
Losing Le'Veon Bell means the Steelers may have to rely on Ben Tate, who was cut by two NFL teams thsi year. That completely changes their offense. The Ravens are battered but their offense is much improved because of Justin Forsett and Steve Smith. The Ravens win this one.
The Bengals are not going to win their first postseason game under Marvin Lewis without A.J. Green, and it doesn't look like Green will play. The Colts will pick off Andy Dalton at least twice and Luck will have a big game.
Lions-Cowboys is the toughest to pick and should be the most interesting game. The Cowboys' running game has slowed in the last third of the season and the Lions' front is impressive. But I like Tony Romo to continue his brilliant play, and as much as the Lions have improved I don't trust them to make big plays in the fourth quarter against a good team. Cowboys, with Dez Bryant making a winning play in the fourth.
Just watched Houston complete a remarkable comeback against Pitt. Houston went for the two-pointer for the win with less than a minute left, and got it, to win 35-34. I would have supported the call even if they had missed. Why not give your players a chance to gain two yards and win the game instead of hoping that circumstances fall your way in overtime? I love the call.
At 3 p.m. today, Strib hockey writer Michael Russo and I will run our next podcast. You can listen live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
Wild coach Mike Yeo met with some high school hockey coaches on Tuesday.
Yes, he said, half-joking, they had suggestions for his power play.
It's been an interesting season for the Wild. They've battled the mumps. They've signed some of their best young players to long-term contracts. They seem to have set themselves up to be contenders for seasons to come, and yet, despite all of their promise, they are ninth in their conference right now, one point out of a playoff spot.
I asked Yeo how he feels about that.
``I would say that we have room for improvement, there's no question,'' he said after practice. ``I look at the stretch that we went through and there was an awful lot of travel, and during that time I felt that our game began to slip a little bit.
``I felt in the St. Louis game that we started moving in the right direction. In saying that, I think we've won six of our last eight games. at the same time, there's a certain feel taht you have when you're watching from the bench and you feel that your team is right on it.
`i look at where we're at right now. Far more imprtnat for me than the standings, and we've won six of eight, I want to make sure that we're tracking i the right direction. We have an opportunity now, schedule-wise, to get practice in to make sure we're playing the games the right way. i would really like to see our team move forward here.''
I had a long conversation with Wild owner Craig Leipold, who said, ``In my heart, I believe we're going to be a better team as the season goes on.''
Leipold also told me that Thomas Vanek's gambling debts bothered him, and that general manager Chuck Fletcher has met with Vanek to make sure there isn't more to the story. Leipold said he thinks Vanek simply made a mistake.
As far as Yeo's comments, cover any underperforming team and you'll hear similar sentiments. In this case, I tend to believe Yeo and Leipold. The power-play can't be this bad for much longer. I spoke with several people affiliated with the organization who say they believe the key power play players have become up tight and have failed to shoot when shots are available. I've also heard from several people that Yeo should try changing up personnel, perhaps involving Nino Neiderreiter more.
But there's too much skill for the power play to languish forever.
As much as hockey people love to talk about the hard-edged aspects of the game, over a long season successful NHL teams find ways to score easy goals, either via individual skill or the power play. If the Wild's power play improves to even average it will give this team a big boost.
My full conversation with Leipold, involving Vince Gill, The Beatles, his business and leadership philosophies, the difficulty of firing Doug Risebrough, and his memories of his mother are on my podcast at Souhanunfiltered.com. Previous conversations with Paul Molitor, Michael Russo, Mark Craig, Twins' assistant general manager Rob Antony and ESPN.com football writer Kevin Seifert are up, too.
Tomorrow (Wednesday, Dec. 3) at 5 p.m. I'll host a new podcast at The Local in downtown Minneapolis. My guest will be Twins star Glen Perkins. Next Wednesday it will be at Kierans Irish Pub with Jayhawks front man Gary Louris, who is doing solo work and will play at the Cedar Cultural Center on Dec. 11. Dec. 17 it's back to The Local with guest Roy Smalley, the former Twin and great baseball storyteller.
All podcasts go up at Souhanunfiltered.com. Thanks for reading and listening.
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