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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Posts about Vikings

Christian and Tarvaris are the same quarterback

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: October 28, 2013 - 12:18 AM

Someone pointed this out in my Twitter feed in the late stages of the Vikings' blowout loss to Green Bay on Sunday night: At least quarterback Christian Ponder still was attempting to compete until the end of the no-contest, which is more than could be said for many of his teammates.

That's remindful of Daunte Culpepper in the infamous 41-donut loss in the NFC title game in January 2001. Culpepper still was trying in the fourth quarter, while everyone around him had long ago given in -- starting with Randy Moss from the opening snap.

The difference is, Daunte was a much more accurate thrower and much more decisive in his actions than Ponder. He had a few years as an elite NFL quarterback because of those qualities, as well as his mighty legs.

Ponder made his quarterback destiny obvious to all once again in the Metrodome. Ponder not only won't be elite; he won't be average.

His destiny is to become a journeyman, moving from team to team as a backup until he's 33, 34, and there's no longer such a job. His destiny is to go from the 12th overall choice and advertised franchise quarterback to Sage Rosenfels.

Ponder was 0-3 to start this season (his third), sat for the next three games, and returned for this 44-31 loss to the Packers. As was the case in the first three losses, the defense was the No. 1 cause of the Vikings' failure on Saturday, by a slight margin over Ponder.

The defense was so horrendous, in fact, that amateur lip readers were able to discern from a closeup that Jared Allen said, "I've never played on a defense this bad,'' as he stood on the sidelines in the fourth quarter and watched his defensive mates.

Then again, the collapse of that defense started with Aaron Rodgers buzzing two of the quickest, past-a-defender's-earhole shots in history for touchdowns -- one for a short TD to Jordy Nelson and another that became a long touchdown to Nelson.

Rodgers was fantastic. It made no difference that two of his three best wide receivers and his best tight end were unavailable. Rodgers has become what Tom Brady was for so long in New England: a quarterback who can make succulent chicken salad out of a receiving corps consisting of chicken feathers.

With Ponder, we no longer have to strain for the proper comparison. Forget that Rosenfels reference. Ponder absolutely is the second coming of Tarvaris Jackson.

As with Tarvaris, he's OK if the first place he looks there's an open receiver, and Christian's just peachy in garbage time against soft-playing defenses. But he's inept when facing the serious complications required to play the position at the major league level.

I can use that, right? Bert doesn't have it copyrighted, I hope.

Ponder's legs are fine. His arm strength is marginal. And his instincts are non-existent.

More than being unable to duplicate the Rodgers' throw that zinged past Josh Robinson's helmet as he oft-burned cornerback was turning to look for a football that was about to smack into Nelson's hands ... our guy Christian couldn't even have envisioned throwing that early to make such a connection possible.

Tarvaris was the Vikings' starter when healthy in his second season (12 starts in 2007), he was benched and then returned for a time in his third season, and then he became yesterday's news. He played for Seattle in 2011, only out of the Seahawks' desperation ... not with the idea that he actually could be their answer as a winning quarterback.

Jackson watched in Buffalo last season, and now he's back in Seattle, standing on the sideline as a caddy for Russell Wilson. He'll probably get a few more years of paychecks as a veteran backup, whether it's in Seattle or elsewhere.

If Ponder (26 next February) is curious amid the Vikings' quarterback chaos as to where his NFL career is headed, all he has to do is look where Tarvaris is as 30-year-old, bcause they are the same player.

QBs, cologne, arenas, urinals and dead birds

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: October 8, 2013 - 1:24 PM

Tuesday, 5:35 a.m., the always-interesting Holiday station located northwest of Target Field and across the street from the garbage burner.

I'm at the cooler, loading up on the day's supply of Diet Cokes. Those new, smaller 99-cent bottles. Those are the ticket.

An employee is stocking nearby. He's also a Concerned Purple Fan. He says: "Patrick, what are the Vikings doing with the quarterbacks?''

Me: "I think they want a guy who can throw the ball 50 yards down the field. Josh Freeman can do that.''

CPF: "He might be OK, but he's not that great of a quarterback.''

Me: "They want a quarterback who can offer the football to Adrian Peterson, suck in the eight defenders near the line, take the ball away, step back and let it fly with some accuracy to Jerome Simpson, or Cordie Patterson, or to the Mad Mentorer (a k a, Greg Jennings).

"They found out in London that Matt Cassel can do that better than Christian Ponder, and there's a very good chance that Freeman can do that better than Cassel.''

CPF: "I don't know. If Freeman was better than average, why did Tampa Bay let him go?''

Me: "There are distractions for 25-year-old NFL quarterbacks. Rumor has it, Josh liked to stay up late, causing a bit of tardiness at the Bucs' practice facility. And with a coach [Greg Schiano] who acts as if he's still at Rutgers, rah-rah defeated reason and Freeman was run out of town.''

CPF: "I'm still surprised. His stats aren't that much better than Ponder's. What do the Vikings really see in him?''

Me: "I think they see last October, that Thursday night when Tampa Bay came in and ripped up the Vikings 36-17. The Vikings couldn't stop the runs of Doug Martin, and that gave time and opportunity to Freeman, and he had three touchdowns with no interceptions.

"I think they see Freeman and what he did a year ago in the Dome when he had an outstanding running game. And the Vikings figure they have that every game with Adrian Peterson on their side.''

CPF: "So, what's it going to take for this work?''

Me: "Freeman getting out of bed in the morning. He has to be getting up at this time of the morning, not getting home.''

 * * *

I always stop at this Holiday on my one or two early mornings per week. Gas, Diet Cokes and seeing what the city folks and early commuters are up to ... that's the menu.

A couple of weeks ago, a guy in his 20s walked over and said, "I can give you a great deal on some cologne; $120 worth of Gucci cologne for 20 bucks.''

Response: "I'm not really a Gucci guy. Here's a buck. You keep the cologne.''

He seemed satisfied.

* * *

The majesty of the garbage burner is a reminder of my defiant middle years as a Twin Cities sports columnist (1979-present). It was 1990 and Target Center was the first major sports building in this area to carry a corporate name.

I rejected this. I was holding out for stadiums and arenas named after great people, such as Hubert Humphrey or John Mariucci, or noble concepts, such as Metropolitan Stadium and Center, or the Civic Center.

I went a couple of years without writing Target Center in a column. My favorite euphemism was the clumsy, "Marv and Harv's, the new arena near the garbage burner.''

Eventually, my spitting into the wind got tired, and it became Target Center, and Target Field, and TCF Bank Stadium.

As for Xcel Energy Center ... well, after going four days without power this spring and having my basement flooded, I'll probably go with "the Wild did such-and-such on whatever night in St. Paul'' when in attendance this winter.

The one corporate name I've never been able to choke down is Mall of America Field.

I proudly voted for Hubert to be the president of the entire 50 states of America in 1968. It was a loss more heartbreaking than the Twins to the Red Sox at the end of the Great Race in 1967, or the Vikings in the Super Bowl after the 1969 season.

Heck, one of the finest moments of my sportswriting career came at Met Stadium in 1970s, when I had a chance to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Hubert at the urinals in the small men's room behind the football press box on a cold December day.

That still stands as my No. 1 urinal moment, even though I was in the same position -- shoulder-to-shoulder -- with Leonardo DiCaprio at the Staples Center, during the Wolves-Lakers series in 2004.

"How's life?'' I asked.

"Very good,'' Leonardo said.

Anyhow, any chance that I would ever willingly have Mall of America Field appear under my name ended in 2010. The Vikings had been trumpeting Mall of America Field as the title of their stadium ... and had been lobbying hard with decision-makers at local media outlets to do the same.

Then, the roof collapsed under the stress of a monumental blizzard, and suddenly all those Vikings' news releases promoting Mall of America Field started referrring to the stadium as the Metrodome.

The Vikings even started telling us that another good reason for giving them a new stadium was that the "Metrodome was dangerous'' to their customers. Apparently, those customers were safe in Mall of America Field, but they had a chance to be mortally wounded in HHH's Metrodome.

Hopefully, we can all make it out alive until January, and then start working on the new place, the Taj Ma Zygi, where the main danger will be the bloody ends faced by songbirds, ducks, geese, owls and bald eagles after they smash into all that glass as they head for the lights at night.

Vikings had Browns right where they wanted 'em ...

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: September 22, 2013 - 9:53 PM

The Vikings spent the week describing this as a must-win game. If they couldn't win at home against the Cleveland Browns, it was almost a certainty that the season would be lost for the Purple.

The quarterback, in his second full season as a starter, had little to offer in the first half. There were boos for him and the Vikings as they left the field at halftime.

The Vikings increased the defensive intensity and the home team started to rally in the second half. Eventually, victory was there to be had, but it would take a well-arced heave to the end zone by the quarterback and maybe a lucky ricochet.

And there it was: the ball tipped perfectly into the hands of the veteran receiver, and he secured it, and the crowd responded madly, and the Must Win was just that for the Vikings.

Excuse me. You didn't think we were referring to Sunday's game vs. Cleveland Browns II at the Metrodome, where the Vikings came in 0-2 and would be dead in the water with a loss, did you?

Nope.

This was a recollection of the game with the original Cleveland Browns on Dec. 14, 1980, at Met Stadium. The Vikings at 8-6 and in need of a win to squeeze into the NFC playoff field. A loss would've sent them to Houston in need of a win against Earl Campbell and the Oilers in the regular-season finale.

The Browns led 13-0 at halftime. There were boos for quarterback Tommy Kramer and his mates.

The Vikings scored to open the second half, on a 31-yard pass from Kramer to Joe Senser, but Cleveland came back to make it 23-9 in the fourth quarter. That was the score into the final five minutes, when Kramer threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Ted Brown, and then a 12-yard TD to Ahmad Rashad.

There was no two-point attempt in 1980, so Rick Danmeier's PAT made it 23-22. By the time the Vikings got the ball back, there were14 seconds left and they had the ball at the 20 ... their 20.

No chance? That was never the case with team coached by Bud Grant, who already had been dubbed "Horseshoe Harry'' by a smart-alecky St. Paul sports columnist, in honor of the luck that Bud's boys seemed to find.

On the first play, Bud ordered his favorite late-gamer -- the hook-and-ladder. Kramer made a quick throw to tight end Senser, halfback Brown came scooting past to take a pitch, and it went for 35 yards. That gave the Vikings one shot (4 seconds on the clock) from Cleveland's 45.

Kramer arced the ball toward the end zone, Cleveland safety Thom Darden and Vikings receiver Terry LeCount battled for it, and it went to Rashad on a rebound. Ahmad corraled the football and the Vikings had a 28-23 victory and a place in the playoffs.

They lost the regular-season finale in Houston 20-16, and then lost to Philadelphia's first Super Bowl team, 31-16, in a playoff opener.

On Sunday, Christian Ponder, in his second season as the starting quarterback, had one heave toward the end zone that could have reversed the Browns' 31-27 lead, and it was knocked down. On with the final gasp, Ponder was swallowed up by defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (a guy from Harvard) for a sack, and that was it.

No final play heave to the end zone. No fortunate ricochet. No "Miracle Catch.'' And a lost season with 81 percent of the schedule remaining.

Eyewitness update on Nishi, now an All-Star

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: June 30, 2013 - 8:06 AM

Joe Steinberg from Burnsville sent along this eyewitness account of a scouting mission to watch Tsuyoshi Nishioka play in the Japan League:

"My son Kyle and I went to a Hanshin Tigers' game last night to watch All-Star second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka-san play. How did he return to All-Star status so quickly, you ask?

It was obvious to us that there were five small things overlooked by the Twins' scouts when they signed him:

1-He plays on an all dirt infield in Japan  and thus can't lose routine ground balls in the grass.

2-He has a Japanese-speaking hitting coach to constantly remind him to keep his feet 'in' in the batter's box when he swings the bat. He does that here.

3-He likes wearing his number, 7, and not having some other "slugger'' wearing it.

4-Japanese baseball fans have organized and loud cheers for each player when he's at bat. Nishi badly missed his cheers in Minnesota; obviously, the boos didn't work.

5-When you play baseball in Japan, your batting average can go up by 50 points or more. Nishi is now batting .278.''

Thanks, Joe, for the Nishi update. The latest numbers I was able to find on our old friend were .277, two home runs, 18 RBI in 267 at-bats. He had played in 65 of the Tigers' 66 games.

Nishioka was a runaway leader in the competition to be the Central League's starting second baseman in the Japan League's All-Star series. In recent years, Japan has started having three All-Star games, scheduled during a one-week break in the regular schedule in mid-July.

Steinberg had one other note to offer from his trip to a Japanese ballgame: 

"The Japanese have come up with a novel way to sell and serve beer at their baseball games: Attractive and strong young ladies walk around with kegs on their back. Don't ever let the Vikings see this. They'd have their cheerleaders pulling double-duty all game long.''

Joe sent along this photo of a woman vendor humping her keg through the stands:

 

 

 

Deduno serves as a reminder of Joe Decker

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: June 8, 2013 - 7:48 AM

There will be a column on Frank Quilici in Sunday's print edition. Frank was an infielder, a coach, a manger and a broadcaster for the Twins from 1965 to 1982, with a couple of interruptions. He was the manager in 1974 and 1975, when I first started covering the Twins as a beat reporter, and I love the guy.

The idea that I had to talk to Frankie came about indirectly: I was watching Sam Deduno pitch two starts ago, and decided that he was remindful of Joe Decker, who made 80 starts for the Twins in the mid-'70s, and then decided I had to talk to Frankie, who was the manager for 68 of those starts.

Joe Decker doesn't get a mention in Sunday's column, which is the reason we have these things called "blaaghs,'' so we can get back to the premise, in case it gets lost along the way.

As with Deduno, Decker was a pitcher gifted with a darting fastball and an exceptional breaking ball. And, as with Deduno, the problem for Joe was to convince those pitches to stay in the area of the strike zone.

Only the talent and unpredictability were similar for Deduno and Decker. The career paths were completely different.

Decker was a ninth-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1965 (the first year of the major league draft). He made his major league debut with the Cubs at age 22 in 1969. He pitched his last game for the Twins at age 29 in 1976, and pitched in the big leagues only briefly with Seattle after that.

Deduno was signed by the Rockies for a few bucks as a 19-year-old Dominican in 2003. He didn't reach the majors with Colorado until 2010, when he made four relief appearances at age 27.  He pitched twice in relief for San Diego in 2011, and didn't make his first big-league start until last July 7, for the Twins vs. Texas.

He is scheduled to make his 18th big-league start in Sunday's split doubleheader with Washington. He will turn 30 on July 2.

Decker was an off-the-wall character. He was among my favorites, probably because we had an equal fondness for late-night cocktails in those days. If you filed a game story and made it under the wire to the hotel bar, there was a good chance to encounter Joe Decker.

Or, George Henry as we often called him, since that was his full name. Where the Joe came from, I can't remember.

Decker was 25 and had pitched in a total of 54 games (23 starts) for the Cubs when he was part of a trade on Nov. 30, 1972. The Twins sent Dave LaRoche, a well-regarded lefthander, to Chicago for veteran starter Bill Hands and Decker.

Joe was little-used out of the Twins' bullpen in the first two months of the 1973 season, then made his first start in the second game of a doubleheader on June 6. He beat Cleveland with six strong innings and was in the rotation for the rest of the season. Included in his 24 starts was a 4-0 shutout of the White Sox on June 26 in Comiskey Park -- when he struck out 15, walked three and allowed four hits.

Decker finished 10-10 with a 4.17 ERA. There were 109 strikeouts (and a Deduno-like 88 walks) in 170 innings. He was set for the rotation when the Twins went to spring training in Orlando in 1974.

Bob (Buck) Rodgers was the new pitching coach on Quilici's three-coach staff (yes, three coaches). "I told Buck to keep an eye on Joe as closely as he could ... try to make sure he would get his 'rest' before making a start,'' Quilici said. "Buck did a great job with that. He got the best a team ever was going to get out of Joe.''

Decker went 16-14 with a 3.29 ERA in 37 starts. He pitched 248 2/3 innings and had 11 complete games in 37 starts. He struck out 158 and walked 97 (under 3 per start, a tolerable number).

As I recall, it was during the second half of that season that Joe developed his cough. The cough seemed to be a nervous habit, although Joe also liked his cigarettes. By spring training in 1975, the cough was more constant.

Quilici said: "To tell the truth, I went in to see Calvin [Griffth] after the 1974 season, and I said, 'We should trade Joe for something good. He's not going to be able to repeat what he did this year. He's not wired for long-term success.' Calvin thought I was crazy.''

Mysteriously, the Twins had let go Rodgers after the 1974 season and replaced him with Lee Stange. The Stinger was more than competent, but taking away Rodgers from Decker was the equivalent of taking away offensiver coordinator Scott Linehan from the Vikings' Daunte Culpepper after the quarterback's great 2004 season.

Decker showed up in spring training and was challenged to keep his pitches inside the cage during batting practice. Veterans Twins' hitters were doing everything possible to avoid taking a turn against Joe during live batting practice.

He had 36 walks in 26 1/3 innings for the Twins in 1975. He spent much of the season on the disabled list. Quilici was fired after the season and replaced by Gene Mauch. Joe made 12 starts for the Twins, was 2-7 with a 5.28 ERA, and was released on June 25, 1976.

He made it back to Seattle for nine games and two starts in 1979. He pitched in the minors until 1983, a journey that included stops with the Mexico City Reds and Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican League.

I gave Quilici some bad news on Friday that I had run across a year ago while looking up some info on Decker: He died in March 2003 at his home in Frasier, Mich. He took a fall and was found at the bottom of the basement stairs. If Joe's death received a mention in the Twin Cities media at the time, I missed it.

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