Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Mom was right: Odell Beckham Jr. hit 'genetic jackpot'

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: November 24, 2014 - 8:50 AM

Odell Beckham Jr. is the most-famous football player in the country after "The Catch'' for the New York Giants on Sunday night television.

 

His mother, Heather Van Norman, remains the most-honored athlete to compete for Windom High School in southwest Minnesota.

I went to Windom to write a long (and to me, enchanting) story on her a month after her high school career ended in 1988. I've written about Heather a few times since then, including in 1993 when she was an LSU athlete, and last fall, as her son was starring for LSU.

Heather said in that 2013 piece that her son, Odell, had "hit the genetic jackpot,'' in reference to her and his father, Odell Sr., a former LSU football player.

Here are some excerpts from past Star Tribune pieces. They make for an extra-long blog post, but as I said, she was an enchanting kid.

JULY 24, 1988:
WINDOM, MINN. _ It is late in July here on the prairie. Heavy gray clouds are being
swept along by a strong breeze. There is an occasional sprinkle of rain. It is a cool, moist interlude to Minnesota's hot, dry, discouraging summer.

The change in the weather has done nothing to alter Heather Van Norman's outlook. She's bored and restless. She's anxious to get started on the next step in her life: college.

"Windom is a great place to raise a family. I would recommend it to anyone," Heather says. "But when you get to be a sophomore or junior in high school, there's nothing to do ...''

"Heather's problem is that most of her friends are busy. They are out of town, or they have jobs," says her mother, Millie Van Norman.


A visitor asks Heather if it's tough to find a summer job in Windom, a town of 4,500 in southwest Minnesota. Before Heather can answer, her father jumps into the conversation. "It depends on if you look or not," Don Van Norman says.

There is laughter around the Van Norman dining room table. Heather's secret is out. The most dominant high school track star in Minnesota's history isn't exactly a whirlwind when it comes to
household chores or pursuing employment opportunities.

BUSDGET CRUNCHES are common for Minnesota's school boards. Windom went through it early in this decade. A town meeting was held in an attempt to figure out where the cuts would take place.

"One of the things brought up at that meeting was the possibility of dropping track," Don Van Norman said. "I got up and said, `I have a little girl in the fifth grade who can run like the wind. If we don't have track in Windom, where is she going to run?' I turned out to be
more prophetic than I thought."

Track and field survived Windom's budget cuts. … By the eighth grade, Lyle Riebe -- the boys' and girls' track coach at Windom for the past 30 years -- had convinced Heather to move from junior high to varsity competition. It was the spring of 1984, and Heather finished third at 200 and 400 meters in the state Class A meet.

For the rest of her high school career, Heather was unbeaten – as a freshman, as a sophomore, as a junior and as a senior. She won the 100, 200 and 400 meters in the Class A meet all four years; the "quadruple triple" is what they call it in Windom. She finished her high school career in June with a winning streak of 147 races.

"The high school kids here like to hang their medals on their letter jackets," Don Van Norman said. "If Heather pinned her medals on her jacket, she would be bulletproof."

JUNE 15, 1993:

The NCAA outdoor track and field championships were held early this month in New Orleans. There was an item in the Star Tribune concerning the confusion that surrounded the women's 400-meter relay. Louisiana State wound up being required to win the race twice, while it was romping to the women's team title. The LSU foursome - Debbie Ann Paris, Heather Van Norman, Youlanda Warren and Cheryl Taplin - ran an official time of 43.49 seconds, the fastest in the world this year.

And there was the name from several years past: Heather Van Norman from Windom, Minn.

Don and Millie Van Norman adopted a biracial baby girl in 1970, and Heather turned out to be the most dominant high school track star in Minnesota history.

Heather was contacted by the track powerhouses from the South. Her father, a strong believer in Ski-U-Mah, lobbied for Minnesota. Heather signed a letter of intent to accept a Minnesota scholarship, and then had immediate regrets. Her father, working in the Windom post office, already had mailed the letter.

Five years ago, on a July afternoon in Windom, Heather said: "My goal is the Olympics. I want to go to a school in the South, where reaching my goal might be possible. There was a big snowstorm on my birthday this year. My birthday is in April. A snowstorm in April . . . give me a break.''

Minnesota refused to give Van Norman a release from her letter of intent. Coach Gary Wilson told Heather to come to the university for a year and if she still was unsatisfied, the Gophers would grant the release.

Heather was amazed at the contrast in lifestyles she encountered, from the prairie of southwest Minnesota to the poverty-filled, swampy areas that surround Baton Rouge. "It was the first time I really saw the poor side of life," she said. "Everything was so comfortable growing up in Windom. I found out I was spoiled …

"The group I'm closest with at LSU, naturally, is the track team. Most of the girls are black, and they are my best friends. But Windom is home. It's a wonderful place. My five-year class reunion is Aug. 7, and I'm excited about going back."

Heather will have some baby pictures to show off at the reunion. She became the mother of a boy - Odell Beckham Jr. – last November. The father, Odell Sr., played football at LSU. "We call the baby O.J.," Heather said. "He is 6 months old, and he already is a traveling man."

NOVEMBER 17, 2013: 

Louisiana State hung with Alabama until the middle of third quarter eight days ago, then gave up the last 21 points and lost 38-17 to Nick Saban’s dynastic Crimson Tide. This was the third loss of the season and put the Tigers in position to be the most talented team America won’t see in a BCS game.

“We were right there with them in the second half, but beating Alabama in its stadium is so tough,” Heather Van Norman said. “We did it to them over there when Odell was a freshman … the season that they got us back in the national championship game.”

Odell Beckham Jr. is a junior receiver and returner for the Tigers. A 6-foot, 195-pound jet, he is expected to announce for the NFL draft …

… [Van Norman] is now in her second season as the women’s track and field and cross-country coach at Nicholls State. She lives in New Orleans with 11-year-old daughter Jasmyne.

“What makes me proud of Odell is the way he goes about being a talented athlete,” she said. “He truly is a humble person. He is as excited for the success of a teammate as he is for himself.”

Whirlwind romance of Murrays worked out OK

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: November 23, 2014 - 11:59 PM

Murray Oliver scored 20 goals as an NHL rookie for the Detroit Red Wings in 1959-60. The Red Wings were loaded at center, and 46 games into the next season, he was traded to the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins finished last in the six-team league. Four made the playoffs, so Murray was home in Hamilton, Ontario early in the spring of 1961. He spent a hunk of the offseason playing what was called “inter-county’’ baseball in Canada.

A player on the same team introduced his 18-year-old sister-in-law, Helen Murray, to Oliver.

“You won’t believe it, but that was my maiden name – Murray,’’ Helen said. “Murray and I met in May, and we were married the next April, and for most of the time in between, he was gone, playing in the NHL. You could say it was a whirlwind romance.’’

It worked out OK. Murray Oliver and Helen (Murray) were married for 52 years.

Murray played six-plus seasons for the Bruins, then three years for the Maple Leafs. The NHL had expanded to 12 teams in 1967, and Oliver was traded to one of the new six -- the Minnesota North Stars – before the 1970-71 season.

Oliver played five seasons for the North Stars and scored 83 of the 274 regular-season goals that he would put in the net in his 16-season career. By the time we was done playing, the Olivers had found their place to raise a family.

“We bought this house in Edina in 1972, and never moved,’’ Helen said.

She was in the Edina home on Sunday night, with children Sue and Mike, with grandchildren, and with spouses. They were exchanging warm memories of the good times that took place in that house, in Minnesota, and with Murray.

In a brief phone conversation with Helen, it sounded as if there were equal parts sadness and gratitude as the family talked of a husband, a father and a grandfather.

Murray Oliver had a fatal heart attack late Sunday morning. He was 77, and had some heart issues earlier, “but we thought those were behind us,’’ Helen said.

Fifty-two years of marriage, and the last 42 in the same house in Edina.

“We were just talking, ‘What if he had not been traded to the North Stars in 1970, what if it had been somewhere else, and we never had this home in Minnesota?’ ‘’ Helen said. “And even my grandkids were saying, ‘That would’ve been terrible.’ ‘’

Murray Oliver carried the nickname “Muzz’’ when he came to Minnesota. Best I can tell, Canadian lads with the first name Murray almost always find it shortened to Muzz.

We don't have  many Murrays here in Minnesota, and thus not many Muzzes. For over 40 years, all that was required in this state’s hockey sphere was to say “Muzz,’’ and everyone knew it was a reference to Murray Oliver.

Lou Nanne has countless friends in hockey, and, oh, perhaps, 100,000 more away from the game, but Oliver held a place of distinction on Louie’s massive list.

“I’d say Muzz is my best friend,’’ Louie said Sunday, still talking in the present.

Helen said the family had made no decisions on a service. ”We’re going to wait until after Thanksgiving, I think,’’ she said. “I talked to Cesare [Maniago] and it probably would be easier if we let everyone have their holiday, and did something next week.’’

Hopefully, it will include a wake, because when Muzz’s buddies from the North Stars, such as Cesare, show up and start telling stories ... well, it would be worth an admission fee.

Former MSU wrestler an Army hero, and Vikings take note

Posted by: Updated: November 22, 2014 - 10:01 PM

Thomas Block is a sergeant in the 75th Ranger Regiment of the U.S. Army’s Third Battalion. He was in headquarters at Fort Benning, Ga., this week, getting some paperwork finished before flying home to Minnesota for the weekend.

“Give me a few seconds to walk outside and take the call,’’ Block said.

That’s all it took, a few seconds, which was long-distance evidence of the amazing progress Sgt. Block has made since taking the blast of a suicide bomber last Oct. 5 while on a search for insurgents in Afghanistan.

Block is from Waseca. He wrestled as a 197-pound starter for the powerful Minnesota State Mankato program. It was mentioned to Block that wrestling is a sport that’s all work and no fun.

“It was fun for me,’’ he said. “I’ve always enjoyed the competition of fighting.’’

Block started Ranger training in 2010. Last October, a woman wearing a burka exploded a suicide bomb as Block was about to search a male suspect.

The detonation sent Block 35 feet in the air. The right side of his face was badly damaged. His legs were battered to the point that he had to teach himself to walk again. There were other injuries, and frequent surgeries.

The most grievous of the injuries was the loss of his right eye. The ocular prosthesis has created quite a conversation piece.

“It’s the Captain America shield,’’ Block said. “The people making the prosthetic eye said they could put anything on it. Why not Captain America? I like what he stands for.’’

In July, Sgt. Block was honored as the Army Times Soldier of the Year in Washington, D.C. The award cited Block for “tenacity, resilience and setting the bar beyond what a Ranger and Soldier should be.’’

The Vikings took note of his heroics. Block accepted the team’s offer to sound the Gjallarhorn before Sunday’s game with the Packers.

“I’ve been a Vikings fan for life,’’ Block said. “I had a couple of beers with Jared Allen and Steve Hutchinson in Mankato a few years ago. That was great. Blowing the horn before we upset the Packers will be even better.’’

Plus Three from Patrick

The wit and wisdom of Sgt. Thomas Block:

On his next facial surgery: “There’s still a ways to go to get the Brad Pitt look that I’m after.’’

On where he was when wounded: “Southern Afghanistan. That’s all you get from me on the mission. I’m a Ranger, not a SEAL.’’

On his Viking fandom: “The best day was when we signed Brett Favre, so I could buy his Purple jersey and taunt Packer fans.’’

Goodell's power madness reaches new height

Posted by: Patrick Reusse under Vikings, Adrian Peterson Updated: November 19, 2014 - 7:34 AM

Adrian Peterson entered a no-contest plea to a misdemeanor for reckless assault on Nov. 4 in a Texas court room. This was a result of Peterson taking a switch to one of his 4-year-old sons in May at Adrian’s Houston-area home.

In standing before the judge, Peterson said: “I want to say I truly regret this incident. I stand here and take full responsibility for my actions. I love my son more than any one of you can even imagine. I’m looking forward and I’m anxious to continue my relationship with my child.’’

Peterson was ordered to pay a $4,000 fine, serve 80 hours of community service, take parenting classes and spend two years on probation. If the court deems him to have complied with those guidelines and to have avoided further incidents, the case would be cleared from his record.

The mother of the 4-year-old boy released a statement supporting the court’s judgment in the case, and expressing confidence in Peterson’s ability to be a good parent in the future to her son.

On Tuesday, two weeks after Peterson’s plea, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gave Peterson a minimum of a six-game suspension – effectively eliminating Peterson from returning to the Vikings and the NFL this season.

In his letter reprimanding Peterson, Goodell made this charge:

“ … you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct. When indicted, you acknowledged what you did but said that you would not ‘eliminate whooping my kids,’ and defended your conduct in numerous published text messages.’’

The national media has accepted the “no remorse’’ angle as fact in siding with Goodell in Tuesday’s decision on Peterson.

In laying out his no-remorse case against Peterson, Goodell went back to text messages that were sent to the mother of the 4-year-old in late May, and to late summer when he testified to a grand jury and said he would not give up ‘’whooping’’ his kids.

Once the indictment was revealed, the Vikings first said Peterson would continue to play, then got together with Goodell and had Adrian placed in a mysterious limbo – where he couldn’t play but got paid.

While on what I call the commissioner’s whim list, the word from Peterson’s camp was that he had been seeing a therapist. I’m guessing they talked about the days that Adrian was whooped by his father, and that this was no way to treat a child.

On Tuesday, Goodell decided to judge Peterson on what he wrote in text messages to the 4-year-old’s mother, and what Adrian said as a man still obtuse about parental discipline when testifying before a grand jury in late summer.

Goodell paid no attention to the remorse expressed and responsibility for what Peterson now clearly saw as a wrong act when appearing before the court on Nov. 4.

The court laid out a plan that it saw as proper punishment and rehabilitation for Peterson. And the court is where the responsibility for that should rest

Goodell revels in using the muscle that the cowardly NFL Players Association gave him once again in the most-recent labor agreement. He relishes in his unilateral power to steal players’ money.

This time, though, Goodell’s pomposity has reached a new height.

Back in August, in the wake of the Ray Rice elevator tape, Goodell gave himself the power to change his discipline on the run and implement a suspension of a minimum of six games in a domestic abuse case.

Certainly, Goodell had the power to slap Peterson with those six games on Tuesday. In doling out the suspension, he also had the right to refer back to Peterson’s text messages from 5 ½ months earlier, and even his comments before a grand jury in late summer, as part of the league’s punishment for the original act.

But for Goodell to sit in New York and refute what Peterson said this month in court, and to say that he knows better than the Houston court as to what is required of Peterson to become an acceptable parent, is a power madness run amok.

You might not be affected at the moment, but remember this, dues-paying members of the NFL Players Association:

Roger Goodell is the enemy, as are all power-hungry dictators

It's all on Kill now -- the wins and the losses

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: November 16, 2014 - 4:41 PM

Ohio State receiver Jalin Marshall fumbled at the Gophers 1, and fumbled a punt later at his 10, and made Saturday’s 31-24 victory for the Buckeyes closer on the scoreboard than in reality.

There was both pride in the Gophers’ effort and sadness over a “tough loss’’ in my Twitter feed and e-mail account after the game.

I can sign off on the pride part, but to me a tough loss is when you play evenly with the other club and have a strong chance at victory. The Gophers gave up 489 yards and were dominated by J.T. Barrett, Ohio State’s terrific quarterback.

Now that I’ve reached the age of a sage, there’s an urge to provide enlightenment when being the recipient of misguided observations – such as fans using “tough loss’’ as an synonym for “heartbreaking’’ when  it wasn’t.

After pointing that out, the responses from the fans were of this vein:

“True, but this one was way different than the whipping Minnesota endured the last time OSU came to town. Different program now.’’

The Buckeyes’ last football visit to Minneapolis was in 2010, when Tim Brewster had been fired and interim coach Jeff Horton was left to rally the troops. The final was 52-10 for Ohio State.

So, the way I read it, from this gentleman and a half-dozen other communicators on Saturday, we have the need to justify a deserved loss by pointing out how much better shape the program is in than when Kill became the coach in 2010.

I’m declaring that the statute of limitations has expired on references to the program that Kill inherited as an explanation for failures for the 2014 Gophers, as well as into the future.

Here’s the truth: It would have been impossible for the Gophers to hire a head coach who wasn’t going to be an upgrade on Brewster.

Four years in, this is an exact re-run of Glen Mason after he replaced Jim Wacker in December 1996. The Gophers had to get better with Mason, and they did. Yet, I don’t recall the same need with Gopher hardcores to react to every setback by bleating, “You have to admit it’s a different program now than it was with Wacker.’’

Four seasons. Four recruiting classes. This is Jerry Kill’s team. The Gophers’ wins belong strictly to his program, and so do the losses.

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