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.

Biggest change: Gophers did not fade away

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: November 30, 2014 - 10:44 AM

Melvin Gordon is better than Montee Ball, better than James White. He’s going to be a better pro than Ron Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner.

I was stunned by Gordon's greatness in watching the Gophers and Wisconsin from Camp Randall on Saturday. I also was beyond impressed with the Gophers’ defensive effort against him.

There had to be a half-dozen times when Gordon made a bounce at the line of scrimmage, saw some daylight and was a half-step away from going 40, 50, 60 yards, as he did continually against Nebraska, and a Gopher – Damien Wilson, Cedric Thompson, someone – would corral him with a certain tackle.

The Gophers finally relented, and Gordon shook open for 24 yards to trigger the fourth-quarter drive that put the Badgers in front 27-17.

Tracy Claeys’ defense was so Gordon conscious that the Gophers did seem to be catching their collective breath a couple of times when Melvin was on the sideline, and Corey Clement gashed them with blasts up the middle.

In the end, Gordon wound up with 151 yards, but he’s so dangerous, it could have been double that if Minnesota didn’t tackle like mad men late into the afternoon in Madison.

Coach Jerry Kill lied all week about the prospects for his star running back, David Cobb, to play because of a hamstring problem. Cobb came out and ran with the same ferocity that he has displayed for two wonderful seasons, and the Gophers had the Badgers in retreat for most of the first half.

Ten quick points at the end of the half cut the Minnesota lead to 17-13, and then the Gophers’ offense put way too much pressure on the defense in failing to move the ball in the second half.

The Gophers had only two first downs in the second half by the time Wisconsin had its second touchdown (to make it 27-17), right?

The only real play the Gophers made in the second half was the one moment when the Badgers lost track of Maxx Williams, and the outstanding tight end turned a two-yard pass into a 53-yard gain.

No matter what we hear between now and the Gophers’ bowl game, I’m betting that Williams – a third-year sophomore – gets enough positive reinforcement about his draft potential to enter the 2015 NFL Draft.

Maxx’s numbers aren’t dazzling, for two reasons: the Gophers run the ball on an incredibly high percentage of plays, and quarterback Mitch Leidner is a very erratic thrower. The scouts won’t care about his numbers. They have seen the wheels, the hands, the willingness to block. Maxx is a montster.

As for Leidner, It would have been interesting, if Phil Nelson hadn’t decided to transfer and then allowed his life to be ruined with a moment of violent stupidity, who would have been the quarterback down the stretch for the Gophers this season?

Kill and his coaches like Leidner for his running ability and toughness, and Nelson was only an average thrower, but there were times (such as Saturday) that Leidner’s duck ratio was so high that the Gophers could have used an experienced alternative.

Following every disappointment, the last two being Ohio State at home and Wisconsin on the road, Gopher zealots still have the need to emphasize the improvement in the “program’’ since Kill took over … as though that’s new information.

Yeah, the Gophers are better than they were with Tim Brewster. Let’s get on with life.

Here’s what does impress me: The attitude that has been infused into Gophers football – whether it comes from Kill, his staff or the competitive nature of the lead horses on this roster.

Cameron Botticelli, the Wisconsin boy … how disruptive was he on Saturday until the Badgers started giving him extra attention?

And Cobb. And Zac Epping and Tommy Olson, in the middle of the offensive line. And as I said, Cedric Thompson, with his magnificent, hard-nosed approach to playing safety.

Anyway, here’s what truly impresses:

In 2013, the Gophers stunk it out in the Big Ten opener at home vs. Iowa, stunk it out at Michigan, and you looked at the schedule and wondered if 0-8 in the conference was an actual possibility. And then the Gophers came out of a bye week and put together a four-game conference winning streak that included a historic victory over Nebraska.

This season, the Gophers started 2-0 in the Big Ten, then needed a big rally to edge an awful Purdue team 39-38 at TCF Bank Stadium, and then lost to an awful Illinois team on the road.

You saw those two games of putridity in October, and looked at the finish – Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin – and figured it was a 50-50 shot to lose all four.

As in 2013, the Gophers rallied from two weeks of lousiness. They overwhelmed Iowa, provided a challenge for Ohio State, beat up Nebraska in the second half, and hung with Wisconsin for most of the game (by hanging on for dear life vs. Melvin).

What’s different about these Gophers the last two seasons than their predecessors can be summarized succinctly:

When knocked to the deck, they have refused to stay there.

I’m saying they win a bowl game this time, mostly because Botticelli, Thompson and Wilson, Cobb, Epping and Olson, and a few other senior warriors, will refuse to leave without having done so

Arcia says he will play in a game this weekend

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: March 8, 2013 - 2:34 PM

FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Oswaldo Arcia took batting practice Friday and also made throws from the outfield. Arcia communicated this by making gestures for a swing and a throw. Then he said: "Everything's good. Saturday or Sunday.''

Dustin Morse, the Twins' media director, said: "In a game?''

Arcia nodded. There was confidence in that nod, even though Arcia still had a large ice pack wrapped to his side as he sat with teammates in the Twins clubhouse at mid-afternoon Friday.

Manager Ron Gardenhire was around the corner, in his office, finalizing the names of players that will be the making the trip to Bradenton for Saturday's exhibition game vs. Pittsburgh. First, there would Friday's game against Boston at Jet Blue Park -- the first of an unprecedented seven night games over the final 23 exhibitions scheduled in Florida.

"Road, road, road,'' said Gardenhire, looking at this stretch of schedule that had a Twins' squad on the road for seven games in 11 days, including pain-in-the-hind quarters trips to Jupiter (twice) and Clearwater.

A night game followed by an early departure to Bradenton isn't the best of scenarios, but Gardenhire was hopeful that the trainers would clear Arcia to take the bus ride and play against the Pirates.

"I'll change the lineup I'm working on right now to get to see him,'' Gardenhire said of Arcia.

Thje 21-year-old lefty-hitting Venezuelan was the Twins Minor League Player of the Year in 2012. He 61 extra-base hits (17 home runs) and 98 RBI in a 124 games played at Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain.

B.J. Hermsen, the minor league pitcher of the year, was a teammate in both places.

"That kid can definitely hit,'' Hermsen said. "I've been with him all the way up and he also became more of a leader. He came to the ballpark every day with the attitude that he was going to do something to help us win a game.

"He hits for power, but I'd also he's above average as far as speed goes. He gets the job done in the outfield and he throws well. He knows how to hit, but he also knows how to play the game.''

One item Arcia didn't know to do was to stay in his best shape over the winter. He reported 10-12 pounds heavier than the Twins preferred. And then he pulled the muscle in his side and hasn't played yet in a game.

That could change Saturday. And everybody wants to see him swing the bat, including Aaron Hicks, the current talk of Twins' camp and front-runner to open as a rookie in center field.

I mentioned Arcia to Hicks in a radio interview Friday afternoon and said: "I'm told there is some life in his bat.''

Hicks gave the smile that comes with first-hand knowledge and said, "Oh, yeah, there's some life in his bat. Oswaldo's supposed to be getting close. We all want to see him play.''





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