Vikings coach Leslie Frazier learned one thing Sunday night while watching the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25.

"We have some catching up to do," Frazier said. "They are the world champions and we want to be where they are."

The Packers dominated the Vikings in two regular-season games. Given that they have the youngest team in the NFL and a number of key players on injured reserve, they figure to be a popular pick to repeat as champions next year.

While praising the Packers, Frazier noted that Pittsburgh was able to move the ball with some regularity Sunday. "[The Steelers] were able to get some good runs during the course of the game, they hit some big passes in the game, so hopefully there will be some things that we can pull from that," Frazier said.

"[The Packers] played a very good game and they beat a very good football team in the Pittsburgh Steelers and you have to give them a lot of credit," he added. "They did a great job of finishing that football game and coming up with some big turnovers."

Missed Woodson

Bud Grant, who coached the Vikings in four Super Bowls, thought the game might have been a lot more favorable for the Packers had they had not lost star cornerback Charles Woodson because of a collarbone injury in the first half. "That was a great blow," Grant said. "All the things that they could do with him they couldn't do when he was out. I think Pittsburgh took advantage of that."

And then Grant added: "The other thing is the game is played and all the strategies and all the preparation, but it all boiled down to penalties and fumbles and interceptions. The interceptions and the fumbles [by Pittsburgh] were the major turning points in the game."

U could use Nolen

Dan Dakich, the former Indiana basketball coach now working as a color commentator on Big Ten games for ESPN, worked Sunday's telecast of the Gophers' 82-69 loss to No. 1 Ohio State and noted how much the home team misses injured point guard Al Nolen.

"I did a game with Nolen in the Minnesota lineup and without him they aren't nearly as good a team," said Dakich, in his first year with ESPN after working with the Big Ten Network last year. "It's hard to win without a point guard."

And Thad Matta, the coach of unbeaten Ohio State, sympathized with Gophers coach Tubby Smith about how much the loss of Nolen made a difference to the Maroon and Gold. On Jan. 29 in Columbus, Nolen was healthy and playing point guard for the Gophers, scoring 11 points in a game the Buckeyes were fortunate to win 67-64.

"Our guys had a pretty good mentality coming into the game," Matta said. "I feel for Minnesota with the injuries. I knew it was just going to be about playing hard and match their energy and their intensity."

Nolen went down to a broken right foot suffered at Michigan on Jan. 22. The Gophers won that game and their following one against Northwestern, but they have lost three in a row since. Matta said the Gophers were a different team without Nolen and with Blake Hoffarber playing point guard.

"No question about that; I think for Blake, it's hard, it looks like they tried to get him in there and tried to bring him back off the screens, but Nolen was pretty effective against us," Matta said.

Hoffarber also played despite a knee injury that kept him on the bench for a stretch of the second half. He finished with 16 points, 10 coming in the first half, while shooting 5-for-12 from three-point range.

No doubt Hoffarber is not a natural point guard, and when he plays that position it limits his overall shooting, especially his strong contributions from long range.

The Gophers also are getting hurt in the rebounding department, where they should dominate the opposition with their three big men of Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson.

In the game Nolen got injured, the Gophers outrebounded Michigan 38-13. Since then, though, they have been outrebounded twice: Ohio State won the rebounding battle 39-33 and Purdue outrebounded the Gophers 37-32 on Jan. 29. In their other two games, the Gophers had only a 36-35 rebounding advantages against Northwestern and Indiana.

There is no doubt without Nolen out and Devoe Joseph transferred to Oregon, the Gophers are not the same team.

The Gophers' upcoming schedule is not going to be easy, starting with Illinois coming here Thursday. Road games follow at Iowa and Penn State.

But with Illinois at 5-5 and Michigan State, Penn State and the Gophers all at 5-6, anything can happen from here on out, and the Gophers play those other three teams at home as well as 4-7 Michigan.


• Dick Garmaker, a big star with the Gophers from 1953 to '55, became the eighth Gophers player to have his jersey retired, with the No. 53 going up into the rafters at Williams Arena on Sunday. Kevin McHale, a Hibbing native like Garmaker, was on hand for the celebration. "Garmaker was my hero as I grew up," said McHale, who has been doing broadcasting for NBA TV since leaving the Timberwolves. Garmaker, 78, now lives in Tulsa, Okla., where he made it big in the oil business. What this current group of Gophers need are shooters like Garmaker and Chuck Mencel, whose jersey was retired Jan. 26. They were two of the best to play for coach Ozzie Cowles.

• Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler was named an honorary captain for the Team USA vs. the World football game played in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday. The game matched the U.S. under-19 national team, comprised of 45 high school seniors, against a world team composed of athletes and coaches from 16 countries on five continents.

• Derek Lewis, the Gophers tight end coach under Tim Brewster, will take that same job at Florida. And George McDonald, who was on Brewster's original staff here and then joined the Cleveland Browns, has been hired to coach receivers at the University of Miami. ... Kevin Rogers, the former Vikings quarterback coach, is reported to be in line to become the offensive coordinator at Boston College.

• Eden Prairie had a total of 27 boys' and girls' athletes earn scholarships to various colleges around the country over the past year, and they were all honored this past week in an assembly at the school. The football team coached by Mike Grant, who also serves as Eden Prairie athletic director, saw four players sign letters of intent: quarterback Brian Athey with West Virginia, defensive back Grayson Levine to the Gophers, defensive back Rumeal Harris to North Dakota and offensive lineman Jimmy Manuel to Air Force.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. •