No doubt the player receiving the most media attention at the Super Bowl is Baltimore's Ray Lewis
, set to retire after 17 NFL seasons. He is regarded as one of the greatest linebackers ever but will always be tied to his plea bargain against a murder charge in 2000, and a performance-enhancing drug accusation this past week again has drawn his character into question.
But one person who would have a hard time finding fault with Lewis is Gophers linebacker coach Bill Miller, who coached Lewis at the University of Miami, got to know him well, and has kept in contact with him over the years.
"Well first of all, like most media things, they're concentrating on all of the negative things and all the bad things," said Miller, who joined the Gophers in 2011 with Jerry Kill. "He's a great guy. He's a great, unselfish player. He's all about the team. He's a bit of a showman, that's obvious, but he's a great, just a great teammate. He's mentored, I can't tell you, countless numbers of young linebackers. Not just on the Ravens, but all across the NFL.
"There's been a lot of guys that I've coached that he's advised and helped throughout their careers."
Miller coached Lewis for one season at Miami, 1995 -- Lewis' junior season and Miller's first season as defensive coordinator on Butch Davis' staff. That year the Hurricanes went 8-3 but were banned from a bowl game because of NCAA rules violations from past seasons.
Lewis set the all-time Miami record for solo tackles by a middle linebacker with 95 and was named an All-America. He passed up his senior season to enter the NFL draft, where he was selected with the 26th pick by the Ravens. Looking back now it's almost impossible to believe Lewis was the fourth linebacker selected in that draft.
"He was a lot smaller then, he was only about 225 pounds," Miller said. "But you know, just a very dedicated, committed, hard-working guy. He studied film, very unselfish, always, if something was wrong, he'd take responsibility for it. Like I said, he was a great teammate."
Miller, who is also the Gophers assistant head coach, defended the character of Lewis, who in 2000 was arrested in connection with an Atlanta double murder at a Super Bowl party but worked out a plea agreement for obstruction of justice to testify against two of his friends who were also arrested but ultimately acquitted.
"You know, that thing I think has been distorted by the media," Miller said. "The facts are that those were his guys that he grew up with. Now did he make an error in judgment in being with them? Yes. I think he'd tell you that, too. He's a very loyal human being, I'll tell you that.
"Everybody wants a piece of Ray Lewis now, now that he's the man. Shoot, everybody is all over him."
Miller said that Lewis was not highly recruited out of a small high school in Lakeland, Fla., where he returned punts as well as play linebacker.
Miller praised the 37-year-old Lewis for his intelligence, too. "Lewis was a great student and took his academics seriously," Miller said. "I'll tell you this, too, one thing we tried to really emphasize there, like we are at Minnesota, he graduated. He promised his mother that he was going to get a college degree and he did."
Johnson says agreement is closer
Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson told me that though the council doesn't yet have a signed agreement on the terms for the renovation of Target Center, there is a general agreement on the "project scope" for the renovation, around $100 million. The renovation was approved by the council as part of the Vikings stadium deal.
The council is working with the Timberwolves and Lynx; AEG, the firm that operates the arena; and Life Time Fitness to work out final details for the funding, with each of the three groups paying its share.
Johnson said Jerry Bell, the longtime Twins executive who was instrumental in getting Target Field approved by the Legislature, is the chairman of the public implementation team meeting with the different parties.
Ticket hire helps growth
Last April, the Gophers hired the Aspire Group of Atlanta to help their ticket sales, and the move appears to be paying off. The Gophers have raised more than $942,000 in new revenue since the week of June 15, when new ticket sales started. That total was raised through $814,000 in ticket sales and more than $128,000 in Golden Gopher Fund donations related to those ticket sales.
In terms of specific sports sales, the three main revenue sports break down like this: $264,000 in football ticket sales; $244,000 in men's basketball; and, most impressive, $306,000 in men's hockey. That total for hockey includes 324 full season-ticket packages, 260 three-game ticket packages and 371 group tickets.
• Speaking on ESPN Radio from New Orleans, former Super Bowl-winning Bears coach Mike Ditka -- who coached both Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh with Chicago -- said that he could see during their playing days that Harbaugh would be an NFL coach some day, but he didn't see the same in Frazier.
• Sports Illustrated reported this past week that Ohio State, Texas, Arizona, Texas A&M and Wisconsin are among the major universities that never have had a quarterback who graduated from the school line up at quarterback in the Super Bowl. However, the University of Delaware, an FCS school, has had two, with Ravens starter Joe Flacco joining local resident Rich Gannon, the former Vikings quarterback who led the Raiders into the Super Bowl against the Buccaneers 10 years ago.
• Unless tight end Nate Wozniak of Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., changes his mind, the Gophers will have the distinction of outrecruiting Miami (Fla.) for the 6-9, 250-pound player, who was named to the Indianapolis Star Super Team and led his high school to a 12-2 season. He had 20 catches for 331 yards and five touchdowns last season. "I just had one of those feelings that it was the right place for me," he told the Star.
• Meanwhile, it appears the Gophers might lose Gainesville, Fla., running back Rapheal Webb to Vanderbilt. And being from Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, you wonder why the Gators didn't recruit him.
• On the local recruiting front, the Gophers got a commitment from maybe the top player in the state for the 2013 class in Minneapolis Washburn running back Jeff Jones, who is rated a four-star player by Rivals. He told Gopher Illustrated that he actually committed on Jan. 6 but chose not to make it public at that time.