I would be a lot more interested in this game if the Gophers were going to Houston to play in the Bluebonnet Bowl. First of all, it would be a game named after a flower, and as a wise man said when bowls started to pop up in new locales in the 1970s:
"You want to play in a game named for a fruit or a flower, not a concept.''
There are few fruits or flowers today, of course, as most of the third-tier bowls among the 35 are named directly after the corporate sponsor. The leader in the locker room at this moment is the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham. As well know, BBVA is the acronym for Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria.
Sadly, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria has chosen not to renew its sponsorship after Vanderbilt and Houston play on Jan. 4, as Papa Johns.com chose not to do a few years earlier. That leaves the city looking for another sponsor, or it can go back to calling itself the Birmingham Bowl, as was the case between sponsors.
The game the Gophers are playing in Houston on Dec. 27 has the same problem. A year ago, when the Gophers played Texas Tech in Reliant Stadiun, they were proud combatants in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. I kind of liked that, because I could call it the Meineke Who Cares? Bowl and get a laugh for myself, if no one else.
Unfortunately, Meineke bailed, and no sponsor was found, so now the Gophers will be playing Syracuse in the Texas Bowl.
With no corporate sponsor to placate, why didn't these Houston guys with the big hats bring back the Bluebonnet name? And if a local favorite such as Tacos A Go Go eventually signs on as a sponsor, they could put that in front of Bluebonnet and let we oldtimers feel a connection to this event.
The Bluebonnet Bowl started in Houston in 1959, which was the same year that the Liberty Bowl started in Philadelphia. This was the makeup of major college football in 1959:
The major conferences were Big Ten, Pacific Coast (in its last year before reforming), Big Eight, Southwest, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern. Notre Dame, Miami, Florida State and the major programs in the East were independents.
There were five traditional bowls for these teams: Rose (continuously since January 1916), Orange (1935), Sugar (1935), Cotton (1937) and Gator (1946). The Sun Bowl in El Paso and the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando were inviting teams from the second tier of college football.
The Bluebonnet and Liberty expanded the number of bowls trying to attract major college teams to seven. The main thrust of the Bluebonnet Bowl was to pit a team from Texas (not the Southwest champion, which was committed to the Cotton Bowl) against a team from some no-account other state.
The first game was played at Rice Stadium on Dec. 19, 1959, with Clemson beating TCU 23-7. That would've meant the guys wearing boots in Houston had Clemson coach Frank Howard to entertain them.
I later had a chance to interview Frank (long retired) before the Gophers played Clemson in the 1985 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. I got him on the phone, identified myself as being from the St. Paul Dispatch and Frank bellowed:
"The St. Paul DISS-patch. Does that paper get out of the city limits, boy?''
And it got funnier from there, including Frank's appraisal when he asked what was the Gophers' record and I was forced to say, "Six-and-5.''
"Yeah, that's our record, too,'' Frank said. "This ain't no bowl game. This is a battle of pissants.''
There are 25 of those now, out of 35 total, but when Frank brought his Tigers to Houston for the first Bluebonnet Bowl, hey, it was a college football game to watch ... as he waited for the New Year's Day feast.
The Bluebonnet Bowl moved out of Rice Stadium and into the Astrodome for the 1968 game. The game was called the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl and was played on New Year's Eve. A crowd of 53,543 filled the Astrodome, as SMU and Jerry LeVias defeated Oklahoma and Steve Owens 28-27.
LeVias was the first black player to receive a scholarship in the Southwest Conference. Owens would win the Heisman Trophy in 1969.
The Bluebonnet Bowl was played on New Year's Eve from 1968 through 1971, played earlier in the month for four years, and then became a New Year's Eve staple until it died off after Texas beat Pittsburgh (and Ironhead Heyward) 32-27 on Dec. 31, 1987.
The Texas connection to the game wavered in the final decade of the Bluebonnet Bowl. Two Big Ten teams played in the game: Purdue (27-22 over Tennessee) in 1979 and Michigan (33-14 over UCLA) in 1981.
Houston didn't return to the bowl business until 2000, when the galleryfurniture.com Bowl was played in the Astrodome. It was moved to Reliant Stadium as the EV1.net Houston Bowl in 2002. That bowl operation couldn't pay its bills, folded, and was replaced by the Texas Bowl, and then the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, and now the Texas Bowl once again.
You tell me ... galleryfurniture.com, EV1.net, Meineke Car Care, or the Bluebonnet Bowl, named in honor of the state flower of Texas?
Always, when a team has a choice in accepting a bowl invite, go with a fruit or a flower.
Baltmore returned to the NFL with the Ravens in 1996. The Vikings have now made four trips to America's second-best eating town (behind New Orleans) and all have been eventful.
The Ravens were in the new stadium that lured Art Modell away from Cleveland for a first season in 1998. The Vikings brought Brian Billick's record-setting offense into the city where Billick would later win a Super Bowl with a mighty defense.
Randall Cunningham threw for 345 yards, Cris Carter had 11 catches and the Vikings won 38-28. There were three kick returns for touchdowns: one for 88 yards by the Vikings' David Palmer, and two by Ravens that covered 95 and 97 yards.
The Vikings were back to end the 2001 season, and it was eventful because Dennis Green had been fired earlier in the week. Mike Tice was coaching as the interim, and sent out the redoubtable Spergon Wynn as his quarterback.
Even then, I recall a few of us media types talking with Tice in the hotel lobby the night before the game. Tice's jauntiness said he expected to get the job as Green's replacement.
Wynn passed for 86 yards and the Vikings lost 19-3 to finish the season at 5-11. And a week later, owner Red McCombs did give the job -- to rebuild on a tight budget -- to Tice.
When the Vikings returned in 2005, Tice had managed to turn a budding disaster of a season into a playoff push. They went through the Love Boat scandal, and Tice's ticket scalping mess, and were 2-5 after Daunte Culpepper blew out a knee in a blowout loss at Carolina.
Brad Johnson took over at quarterback and the Vikings won six in a row, before losing to Pittsburgh in the Metrodome. One week later, the Vikings had a Christmas night game in Baltimore.
I have two clear memories: A couple of hours before the game, a few Twin Cities reporters were in a mostly empty press box and a guy I know said, "That nickname, Ravens ... I think it has something to do with literature. I'm going to check on that.''
I also recall the Vikings' defense making Kyle Boller look like an NFL quarterback for one of the few times in his career. Boller went 24 for 34 for 289 yards in a 30-23 victory.
The loss eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs. A week later, the Vikings closed with a win over the Bears, and 20 minutes later, Tice was fired by Zygi Wilf.
None of the previous trips to play the Ravens will live in the infamy as will Sunday's affair. It started with two teams slogging in a snowstorm, and wound up with a shootout that wouldn't have been believable if it had been dramatized on what ... Friday Night Lights?
At 11:55 a.m. on Sunday, I couldn't have had less interest if it was five minutes to the start of the MLS title game. Still, I turned it on for a peek, and it was snowing, which made things intriguing for a few minutes.
That got old quick, and I made a couple of stops, and came into the Strib office. Time passed and there there were a couple of minutes left, and the Vikings were going to win. And then they were going to lose. And then they were going to win on Toby Gerhart's 41-yard rumble, and then they were going to lose on Jacoby Jones' 77-yard kickoff return, and then they were going to win on Cordarelle Patterson's 79-yard streak across the turf after a flip of a pass from Matt Cassel, and then they lost 29-26 on Marlon Brown's acrobatic catch in the back of the end zone with four seconds left.
Baltimore 7-6 going into the fourth. Vikings 12-7 after Jerome Simpson's TD catch in the first minute of the fourth.
And it stays that way, and it stays that way, until the Vikings and the Ravens exchange 36 points in the final 124 seconds.
That's the magical pull of the NFL: It has a product that can turn indifference into fascination in an instant.
The deal for the Vikings' new stadium (a k a, the Taj Ma Zygi) includes $498 million in public money. That is the most ever for an NFL team. And it includes $150 million from the City of Minneapolis, which spends a great deal of time looking under sofa cushions for change to try to remain financially upright.
The committment to the Taj Ma Zygi caused the city and the Timberwolves to settle for a paltry upgrade of $97 million for the now-antiquated design of Target Center -- a building the city actually owns.
The deal for the Vikings stadium would not pass muster as a great move for Minneapolis because there will be a single Super Bowl played here in the future, or that a Final Four might some day return. This only way it works is if the plan of the city, Ryan Cos. and Wells Fargo for a grand project for the eastern part of downtown comes to fruition.
The $400 million deal is in place. A first step would be tearing down the Star Tribune building, despite the suggestion from some heritage lovers that the building on Portland Ave. has historical significance and should be preserved.
My favorite idea from these brainiacs was that perhaps the building could be turned into a brew pub. A four-floor, square block brew pub ... man, me and a lot of other converted alkies in the Twin Cities are going to have to resume our over-drinking to make that a viable alternative.
As it turns out, the real obstacle to getting final approval for this $400 million development isn't some pie-in-the-sky heritage group but the Vikings. The pigs at the public trough have no conscience when it comes to making a fuss ... and now they are trying to stop Wells Fargo from being able to put a prominent sign of its existence at the top of the new office towers.
The signs would require a change in the Minneapolis zoning code. The change would be a tradeoff for Wells Fargo putting $300 million into the towers and bringing an estimated 5,000 employees downtown, five days a week (minus holidays), 52 weeks a year.
"We are making a $300 million investment -- that's what's on the table here,'' said Peggy Gunn, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo. "And we think it's reasonable that some signs reflecting this investment be allowed.''
Any reasonable entity, especially the Minneapolis City Council, would have to agree. The council should approve the zoning change immediately ... IMMEDIATELY! IMMEDIATELY!, harumph, harumph.
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority also must sign off on the term sheet of the deal for the Ryan Cos./ Wells Fargo development.
Les (Wants More) Bagley, the front man for the stadium demands of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, was at it again in Friday's Star Tribune, protesting that the Wells Fargo signage could limit the team's efforts to sell naming rights for the stadium. Rumors have it that U.S. Bank is a leading contender for naming rights.
"The way the stadium legislation is set up, our agreement with the stadium authority is that all decisions on the project have to be unanimous berween the ... Vikings and the stadium authority,'' Bagley said.
U.S. Bank or another financial institution might be less inclined to give the Vikings checks for $7, 8, maybe 10 million a year if Wells Fargo's presence nearby was prominent. I mean, what if there was an event at the Taj Ma Zygi large enough to attract a blimp flying over Minneapolis and, horrors!, the Wells Fargo signs came into view.
I have to say, if you don't despise the Vikings' conduct in this greatest-ever blackmail of Minnesotans for a stadium, you're not trying.
We're going to turn down two office towers, 5,000 private-sector employees, 400 apartments and a middle-of-the-city park that will put vitality into a lifeless part of downtown, so that Zygi can get a couple more million bucks per year to put a name on his stadium?
We're going to do this for a guy who eventually will sell in four or five years and go back to New Jersey having made a billion dollars or more on his investment?
We're going to do this for the guy who with one picture -- the evil grin throwing dirt in our faces -- said a billion words about his team's attitude about being a partner with the public in this new stadium?
Here's hoping the council allows Wells Fargo to put up a sign that would make that portion of downtown look like a couple of blocks of Glitter Gulch in Las Vegas.
Louie Nanne made a commitment last week to play hockey for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., starting with the 2014-15 season. Louie is playing for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL this season.
Any news that surfaces about RPI and hockey is a reminder of when I discovered the existence of the sport.
It was March of 1954, a time when the Twin Cities and the northern climes were Minnesota's lone hockey areas. We might as well have been downstate Indiana as the southwest corner of Minnesota. It was all basketball once the Gophers' football season came to an end.
As an 8-year-old in Fulda, I perused the sports sections of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune and the Minneapolis Star on a daily basis. And there was attention being paid to the fact the Gophers, with a coach named John Mariucci, were among four teams participating in the NCAA tournament in Colorado Springs.
The format for the NCAA tournament from its inception in 1948 through 1976 was to bring together two teams from the East and two from the West. That was it: four teams total in the tournament (which was held in Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs for the first 10 years of existence.
I didn't know any of these things in 1954. I only knew the Gophers were participating, and we were Gopher fans on the prairie.
The Gophers played in the first semifinal on Thursday night and defeated Boston College 14-1. Minnesota's legendary first line of John Mayasich, Gene Campbell and Dick Dougherty combined for 19 points (10 goals, nine assists).
Michigan, the winner of three straight NCAA tournaments, was scheduled to play Eastern upstart RPI on Friday night. A Wolverines' victory was such a foregone conclusion that Dick Gordon, on the scene for the afternoon Star, wrote his main piece for Friday's edition under the headline:
"East Too Weak, Say Puck Chiefs.'' with a subhead readng, "Urge Withdrawal After Gophers Rip BC 14-1.''
Mayasich was quoted as assessing BC thusly: "They were the worst team I've ever played against.''
Vic Heyliger, the Michigan coach, was more harsh: "Thief River Falls (Minnesota's state prep champion) could have beaten Boston College. What if the East withdraws from the tournament? Fine. Then we'll play the Canadian universities and have a much better tournament.''
Mariucci told Gordon: "If the East wants to keep playing in this tournament, it must raise its standards. But why am I worrying? If we make as many mistakes against Michigan, they'd kill us.''
The Gophers had lost 7-3 to Michigan in the 1953 title game. And this stronger Gophers team had been whipped in a two-game sweep at Michigan a couple of weeks before the 1954 tournament.
Even before leaving for Colorado Springs, Mariucci was fretting to the Tribune's Sid Hartman over the pending matchup with Michigan: "The small Colorado rink will handicap us and favor Michigan with its bigger and stronger players.''
And then RPI, in its fifth year with a hockey program, defeated Michigan 6-4. Herb Brooks' Yanks over the Big Red Machine in Lake Placid in 1980? From what I can tell reading the clips, Ned Harkness' RPI Engineers beating Michigan was the equivalent of that in the early years of NCAA hockey.
What I know from an ancient memory is that it sent me to the large console Zenith radio to try to find a broadcast of the Minnesota-RPI title game on Saturday night, March 13, 1954.
This was the first time I ever had attempted to track a hockey game. I recall the signal was static-filled and kept going in and out, making me think the broadcast wasn't on the Big Neighbor, which usually came in well on a winter night.
Maybe it was another Twin Cities station, or one from Colorado, but I hung with the Gophers, even as they fell behind 3-0.
The Gophers rallied to take a 4-3 lead, and then gave up a tying goal to RPI's Abbie Moore late in regulation. And two minutes into overtime, Gordie Peterkin scored to give RPI the second title for the East in the seven years of the NCAA tournament with a 5-4 upset of the Gophers.
RPI's victories over Michigan and Minnesota saved the East as the rivals for the West in the NCAA semifinals.
You can read archived stories suggesting that "Gordie's Goal'' also is what saved RPI as a major program during the tough times that followed Harkness' departure for Cornell in 1963.
And it made a young kid melancholy, listening on the Zenith in downstate Minnesota ... even if he wouldn't see an actual hockey game in person until he went to work at the Duluth News Tribune a dozen years later.
There's a strong conviction in the Twin Cities media and with the sporting public that Leslie Frazier will be fired as the Vikings coach at the end of this season. I'm not arguing with that assumption, but the bill of charges against Frazier cannot include the claim that his players have quit on him.
Tracy Claeys, the Gophers' interim coach, put it eloquently after the upset of Nebraska when he said his players had "fought their balls off.'' What made this so colorful was that Claeys blurted this praise in the immediate on-field interview for ESPN's telecast.
Claeys' FTBO certainly was an upgrade on Twins manager Ron Gardenhire's BHTO (Battled His Tail Off) that has been a trademark of his postgame interviews in good times and in bad.
And the FTBO tribute could be properly used today by Frazier toward his athletes, if he was the type of guy to blurt such candid thoughts in public.
The Vikings took the 41-20 whipping in Seattle on Nov. 17 to fall to 2-8. It couldn't have been heartening to make the flight back from the West Coast and then find out the plan was to continue to go with Christian Ponder at quarterback -- even after his dreadful interceptions led to a benching vs. the Seahawks.
The Vikings responded by showing up in Lambeau Field with numerous second-teamers, battling through five quarters and leaving with a 26-26 tie.
Yes, it was with a couple quarterback imposters -- Scott Tolzein and Matt Flynn -- as alternatives to the great Aaron Rodgers for the Packers. Yes, they managed to let a 23-7 lead early in the fourth quarter get away. Yes, they settled for field goals at the end of drives that looked like as if game-clinching touchdowns were written all over them.
This wasn't where the FTBO came in. It was most evident in turning away the Packers at the goal line early in overtime. It was in not conceding over a full 75 minutes that there nothing left to play for this flop of a season.
Same thing on Sunday, when the desperate Chicago Bears arrived in the Metrodome.
Much went wrong in the third quarter. Ashton Jeffery beat Chris Cook for 80 yards to put the Bears ahead 13-7 in the first minute of the half. Jeffery then made a catch for the ages over Cook for a 46-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 20-10 lead with 5:15 left in the third.
Cook was ejected on an asinine overreaction by the official on the scene. Cook made light contact in protesting the call to award the touchdown, rather than to get Jeffery for offensive pass interference.
The official was ecstatic to fire dramatically his flag.
What a chump.
Bashing of Cook is in vogue these days -- for good reason -- but this was simply more of the same from the flag-happy morons in referee Carl Cheffers' crew.
The announcers, Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick, paid tribute to the fine work of Cheffers and company late in regulation. Yeah, boys, they were wonderful, if you like the cheapest collection of calls imaginable at important moments.
Ponder was close to the officials in haplessness before leaving with a concussion at the end of the first half. Matt Cassel, easily the best of three quarterbacks to see the field for the Vikings this season, came in.
Cassel managed to mashal a 89-yard drive to cut the lead to 20-17 midway in the fourth quarter.
The Bears had a chance to put it away when they were second-and-1 at Vikings' 41 with under 4 minutes left. They ran Matt Forte up the gut for nothing. They did the same on third down, rather than a quick throw to Brandon Marshall or Jeffery.
And then rookie NFL head coach Marc Trestman ordered a punt.
Forget his decision in overtime to not try to move Robbie Gould closer than 47 yards for a winning field goal. Not using all four downs to get that one yard at the Vikings' 41 was Trestman's No. 1 blunder of an afternoon when he had several.
I'm guessing that favorable impression Trestman offered to Bears' fans with a 3-0 start has waned considerably through what's now six losses in the past nine games.
Frazier was much sharper in the final minutes than Trestman. As the boys in the TV booth debated what he should do on fourth-and-11 from their 8, with 1:55 (and two timeouts) left, Frazier made the only feasible decision: Go for it.
Cassel hit Jerome Simpson for 20 yards, and the Vikings went from there to a game-tying field goal.
Frazier's bunch FTBOd to get a 20-20 tie, and did so through 13:17 of more overtime, before Walsh won it, 23-20, with a 34-yard field goal.
The Vikings are 1-0-1 after 148 minutes and 17 seconds of football against their two largest rivals, the Packers and the Bears, these past two Sundays.
A coherent case probably can be made for Frazier to be fired. Part of it can't be that his athletes have quit. As the stretch run of a lost season arrived, the bulk of Frazier's players have showed a willingness to fight their privates off.
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