Jim Souhan: Combo platter of big-time football isn't filling

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 6, 2007 - 8:46 PM

The Gophers and Vikings are both pushing patience and optimism, while spiraling toward a dismally low win total.

BLOOMINGTON, IND. - Randy Taylor is director of football operations for the Gophers football team. During games, this means taking charge of morale.

Saturday, during the 40-20 loss at Indiana, he greeted deflated players with hand slaps and encouragement as they came to the sideline, displaying such resolute enthusiasm that it's time to expand his duties.

Taylor should be stationed at the exits of Gophers and Vikings games the rest of the season. The way our teams are performing, Twin Cities football fans could all use a hug.

Six weeks after the season started with a Gophers loss to Bowling Green, our primary teams aren't just unsightly; they're threatening to make the wrong kind of history.

The Gophers are 1-5, with two possible-but-not-certain victories ahead on the schedule -- Northwestern and North Dakota State. We could be looking at the Gophers' first two-victory season since 1992, perhaps their first one-victory season since 1983.

The Vikings are 1-3 and facing Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Diego and Green Bay the next five weeks. An optimist might see a 6-10 finish; a pessimist sees the first three-victory season since 1984.

The Gophers and Vikings have coexisted since 1961. Their lowest combined victory total is seven, in 1984, back when Lou Holtz was just starting to spray spittle all over Dinkytown and Les Steckel was foreshadowing Brad Childress.

In 1984, the Orwellian year of Big Brother, our football teams played like weak sisters.

Holtz won four games. Steckel won three. Holtz, like Tim Brewster, focused on recruiting talent and inflaming the tempered passions of Gophers fans. Steckel, like Childress, tried to prove that sternness and coaching were synonymous.

Since 1984, the lowest total of combined victories for the Gophers and Vikings is nine, in 2001, when Glen Mason and Dennis Green had uncharacteristically poor seasons.

The performances by the Gophers and Vikings this season are more alarming because of the optimism offered by the coaches when they arrived. Childress inherited a 9-7 team and promised better times; Brewster had his teams chant "Rose Bowl" at the end of every practice.

"No one expected this," linebacker Deon Hightower said. "We all had our dreams of winning the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl. We really believed that. That wasn't just talk. We're definitely surprised to be 1-5.

"It's like Coach said -- you have to learn how to win."

First, they need to learn how to tackle. Indiana produced 274 yards and 27 points in the first half. Brewster noted that often his players were in position and still let the ball or a ball carrier slip through their hands.

"We have to stay positive," Brewster said, his legs bouncing in frustration as he sat through his postgame interview.

Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg said he was "very shocked" to be 1-5. "We expected our record to be a lot different," he said. "We expected to come in 3-0 with three nonconference wins. It didn't happen that way. We're making mental mistakes everywhere."

As they streamed off the field after a steamy, frustrating Saturday afternoon in Bloomington, a handful of Gophers players were limping, and they all looked overheated, and perhaps a bit overwhelmed.

Who could blame them? Minnesota fans have survived Joe Salem, John Gutekunst, Jim Wacker, Spergon Wynn, Les Steckel and the Herschel Walker trade, and yet this might become the worst football season in Twin Cities history.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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