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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Moral victories must end for Gophers, Vikings

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: December 16, 2014 - 6:51 AM

Twenty years is considered a generation, right? That means Sid Hartman is working on his fourth generation of providing information with his unique spin to Minnesota sports fans. That makes him the sage of Twin Cities sports for all-time.

Trouble is, I think Sid is pretty much hopeless to support the upcoming declaration, so as a guy who started as a Twin Cities sports writer on Labor Day of 1968, I’m declaring myself to be Sage for a Day.

And in that role, I’m making this official:

As media and members of the local sporting public, we no longer have the privilege of embracing a defeat suffered by Jerry Kill’s Gophers or Mike Zimmer’s Vikings as a moral victory.

It is cut-and-dried going forward: If these football teams win on a given day, they are winners. If they lose, they are losers.

Please, join me in this, because I can’t stand it anymore.

The Gophers showed up with little enthusiasm at Texas Christian. From the start, Kill seemed more focused on trying to hold down the score than take the required risks to stay in the game.

And yet, when TCU turned out to be an offensive powerhouse and a top-rated team, this became the unusual moral victory awarded in retrospect by the hometown media and Gophers fans.

When the final score was close vs. Ohio State, 31-24, it was declared a magnificent moral victory and a game that the Gophers almost had won if not for a few mistakes. There wasn’t much attention paid to the fact that two big blunders from Ohio State were what kept the margin from being three touchdowns.

When the Gophers blew a 17-3 lead in Madison and lost to Wisconsin for an 11th straight time (34-24), the moral victory angle was boosted by complaints about the officiating.

The record book will say that the Gophers were 8-4 in Kill’s fourth regular season, but there was only one loss – at Illinois – that didn’t qualify as a marvelous achievement for the Gophers.

(Note: The Moral Victory Crowd (MVC) also has taken to saying that Illinois turned out to be better than thought, so even that loss stands as nothing to sneer about.)

Political maneuvering by Jim Delany, the Big Ten commissioner, has landed the Gophers in the Citrus Bowl vs. Missouri on New Year’s Day in Orlando. It’s a fine reward for the Gophers’ eight victories (particularly at Nebraska and the Iowa blowout), but I fear the MVC will again rear itself due to Mizzou’s status as winners of the SEC East.

The East is the second tier of the SEC, as is the West in the Big Ten, but the Gophers are underdogs, so a victory is likely to be labeled as a fantastic upset, and a hard-fought loss … oh, we’ll be told to be so darn proud, and so forth.

Listen: Mizzou lost to Indiana. It lost at home 34-0 to Georgia. It had narrow victories over the bottom feeders of the SEC East.

The Gophers should win this game. And if they lose, they are losers.

Kill has been much more willing to embrace magnificent defeat than Zimmer. That changed a bit after Sunday’s 16-14 loss at Detroit. Zimmer was into the “we did everything but win’’ mode on Monday.

OK, the Lions are 10-4 and probably going to playoffs. But they still are the Lions. When a player puts on the Honolulu blue, it is very difficult to overcome the urge to screw up.

The Lions went 0-and-8 vs. Mike Tice. The Lions had more to do with putting Bud Grant in the Pro Football Hall of Fame than the Purple People Eaters. And when faced with a rare opportunity for success, the Lions have been choking for more than a half-century.

The Lions were more than willing to do so again Sunday, if Teddy Bridgewater hadn’t run that one-minute drill with the aplomb of Spergon Wynn. Just because he has a stoic appearance doesn’t mean Teddy the Glove was different than 90% of young quarterbacks when faced with a chance to win a tense game on the road:

He gagged.

Sorry, no moral victory here, and none left on the schedule … with a game against the mediocre Dolphins in Miami, and a home game vs. the Bears that will be Marc Trestman’s last-ever game as a head coach in the NFL.

Two victories would lift the Vikings to 8-8. Our guy Sid said on Sunday, on the always-entertaining The Sports Show, that Zimmer should be the NFL’s Coach of the Year if the Vikings finish at .500.

I hate to argue with the Sage for All-Time, but at this point, the Vikings’ six victories have come against six losing teams with a combined record of 24-59-1.

The great columnist Bob Verdi once wrote of the Bears, “They didn’t beat a good team all season, including in the games that they beat themselves.’’

That applies to the 2014 Vikings, and it won’t change with what happens vs. Miami and Chicago.

As Sage for a Day, I insist: No more moral victories for the football Gophers or the Vikings, as far as we can see into the future.

Role models for Tubby & the Underachievers

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: March 17, 2013 - 10:40 AM

I have no real hope that Mike Bobinski, the chairman of the NCAA men’s basketball selection committee, will accept my heart-felt plea published Friday to keep the Gophers out of the tournament when the 68-team field is announced this evening.

Every forecast tells us that Tubby and the Underachievers will get a shot, even with 11 losses in the past16 games, and with a stretch of play since late January that has caused many of this state's basketball fans to re-evaluate their winter sports passion and become hard-core puckheads.

It would not be so offensive to see the Gophers advance, without the knowledge that Tubby Smith – coming off the poorest U of M coaching performance since Ozzie Cowles was wearing his bowtie – will be in line for a $100,000 bonus when Minnesota’s place in the bracket is announced tonight.

Perhaps Coach Smith could make things right by donating the 100 grand to a new charity, such as Restore Ruined Rims. That’s it – RRR, a fund to put up new baskets with better rims, starting with all those destroyed by Tubby’s gang of clankers over the last seven weeks of Big Ten play.

There is a role model in Minnesota’s sports history for these Gophers, when permitted this unearned opportunity later this week. That team would be Denny Green’s 1997 Vikings.

This is Smith’s sixth season in Minnesota and he has yet to get a win in the NCAA tournament. Green was in his sixth season in 1997 and had been 0-4 in playoff games.

Smith’s team was flying high and ranked as high as eighth in the country, then went from 15-1 to the current 20-12. Green’s '97 team was 8-2, then lost five straight. Finally, the Vikings beat lowly Indianapolis in the season finale before a far-below capacity crowd in the Dome, to crawl on their bellies into the playoffs at 9-7.

The Vikings went to Giants Stadium for a playoff game on Dec. 27. The Giants were 10-5-1 and had won the NFC East under first-year coach Jim Fassel. They had lost only twice since the end of September.

The Vikings’ chances had looked much better in Green’s four previous playoff games – particularly the horrendous 35-18 loss to the Bears and backup quarterback Steve Walsh on Jan. 1, 1995 in the Metrodome.

There was speculation that another playoff loss might get Green fired. Denny must have felt that way, too. It was before that game he gave the interview to his media pal Andrea Kremer that a cabal of three Twin Cities sports columnists was working in concert with a Vikings official to get him fired.

Green never named the suspects, although I did write a column saying I knew Dan Barreiro, Bob Sansevere and Tom Powers to be fine gentlemen and honorable journalists who would never engage in such a thing.

The game went along as anticipated, as the Giants jumped to a 16-0 lead and were in front 19-3 at halftime.

Tiki Barber’s fumble at his 4 gave the Vikings a touchdown and some life in the second half. Still, it was 22-13 after a Giants field goal with seven minutes left. Viking fans were screaming at their TVs when Green ordered a punt to end the next possession.

The Vikings did get the ball back and Randall Cunningham hit Jake Reed with a 30-yard touchdown pass with under two minutes left.

The Vikings recovered an onside kick. Cunningham hit Cris Carter for a 21-yard gain. Cornerback Philippi Sparks, who had been seen screaming at Barber after the fumble, was called for pass interference.

Eddie Murray was left with a chip-shot field goal from 24 yards to win the game, 23-22. Minutes later, Denny would credit his decision to punt and other brilliant coaching maneuvers to this first playoff victory.

It was a job saver and, obviously, a cabal killer, since Denny wouldn’t answer postgame questions about his wonderfully wacky interview with Ms. Kremer.

Truth be told, Coach Smith's interviews aren’t the easiest to decipher these days, either, but if Tubby and the Underachievers do get an NCAA win after this freebie from the committee, we’ll let him follow Green’s example of taking all the credit and not complain.



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