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.
The Vikings, with salary cap room galore, demanded a pay cut from one of the true warriors in franchise history: Antoine Winfield.
In 2007-08, I was the main reporter on a Vikings' history book. We did an unpdated version after the 2009 season, to mark the 50th anniversary season that was around the corner.
I chose an all-time Vikings team as part of the book. I made one change in the two years between editions: moving Winfield in at a corner position in place of Nate Wright.
Mike Tice's best move as a Vikings coach came in the offseason between 2003 and 2004, when he convinced free-agent Winfield to stay in Minnesota rather than go to New York to sign with the Jets. Simultaneously, he had to lobby with the frugal owner, Red McCombs, to come up with the dollars to satisfy Winfield.
I've been a huge admirer of Winfield dating to 1997, and I can prove that with this excerpt from a column written after Ohio State's victory over the Gophers in the Metrodome:
CAN MINNESOTA'S first-year coach, Glen Mason, get a victory over Indiana that will enable him to equal the 1-7 Big Ten records posted by his predecessor, Jim Wacker, in 1995 and 1996?
Saturday, Ohio State managed to squeeze out a 31-3 victory over the Gophers. The defeat continued a bit of a slump for the proud maroon-and-gold against the Buckeyes - 14 in a row dating to 1981.
To be completely candid here, it's not just those fellows with the nutty helmets who have been giving the Gophers trouble lately. Additionally, this loss was the 20th in the past 21 conference games, and gave the Gophers a 9-45 Big Ten record dating to the 1991 season.
That record includes 1-7 for John Gutekunst in '91, 0-6 for Mason in '97, with all the glory in between going to Coach Wacky. Over a five-year period, Wacker established himself as the most unsuccessful coach in the history of a Minnesota football program. He did this with an offense featuring numerous receivers, much finesse and little in the way of toughness.
Mason brought in the well-travelled Elliot Uzelac, the toughest offensive coordinator he could find. Uzelac junked the wide-open offense and put more emphasis on the run, including option plays for
Cory Sauter, a pocket-passing senior.
After months of hard work and refinements, coach Uzelac has found the balance that he sought. An offense that could only pass and not run is now an offense that can do neither ...
Leading only 24-3 halftime, the Buckeyes ordered their marvelous junior cornerback, Antoine Winfield, to flip-flop sides of the field, depending on the whereabouts of Tutu Atwell, the Gophers' No. 1 offensive weapon - a backhanded compliment if there ever was one.
"The coaches told me to man up Atwell, so that's what I did," Winfield said.
Atwell had three catches for 51 yards in the first half, and one for 4 yards after Winfield started keeping him company. Tutu's only room came on kick returns, where he brought back eight kicks
for 182 yards.
Before becoming Atwell's shadow, the 5-9, 180-pound Winfield had been coming to the line and delivering hits that interrupted Uzelac's finely honed running attack.
"He's a great player," Ohio State coach John Cooper said. "He's a hitter and he can cover."
Winfield said a lack of size never made him flinch when it came to tackling people. "I've loved the hitting part of football since I was 4-3 and weighed 58 pounds in pee-wee ball," he said.
FOOTNOTE: Antoine was a magnificent, fearless, relentless Viking. His reward was being told it was a paycut or the highway.
Maybe the Vikings have something large in the offing. Right now, it looks like a low-class move by a team that didn't need the money for cap room.
Percy Harvin was on a tremendous run through the first six games of last season. The win in Detroit was the only game where his production lagged as a receiver, and he started that one with a 105-yard kickoff return.
The Vikings were 4-2 after a mid-October loss in Washington. Harvin did everything he could that day, with 11 catches for 133 yards and three kickoff returns for 100 yards.
If a survey had been taken on Oct. 15, 2012, asking Minnesota sports fans to name their favorite athlete, the winner would have been Percy Harvin.
Adrian Peterson began his amazing stretch of rushing production in Game 7. Peterson rode that streak to the Most Valuable Player award, and the Vikings rode him to the playoffs.
Harvin also finished the first half of the schedule with fabulous numbers: 60 catches for 667 yards and 15 kick returns for 535 yards. The receiving production was exceptional, when you consider the utter ineptitude that quarterback Christian Pounder had started to display.
Then, on Nov. 4 in Seattle, Harvin suffered an ankle injury. The Vikings wanted him back a month later. Harvin said he wasn't ready to play. The Vikings placed him on injured reserve, more because they were upset with him than convinced he was lost for the season medically.
There had been a confrontation with coach Les Frazier. There was also Harvin's low opinion of Ponder as a quarterback. Most importantly, there was Harvin's frustration over playing for short money and the expectation for a holdout.
And it seems a majority of those fans who would have voted for Harvin as the best Minnesota had to offer in athletics on Oct. 15 are today lauding the Vikings and General Manager Rick Spielman for their astuteness in trading him for the 25th overall selection, a 7th rounder and a third-round selection in 2014.
It's considered quite a haul by the NFL mavens, even though Harvin turns 25 in May, which might make him three years older than the suspect the Vikings wind up getting with the 25th overall pick.
Vikings fans went goofy when the team traded Randy Moss, then 28, to Oakland for the seventh overall pick in 2005. The fact the Purple screwed up the selection mightily _ taking receiver Troy Williamson -- made it a fiasco.
One thing we're hearing from the Purple aplogists is that Harvin will continue to get hurt because of the "way he plays.'' The accusation is that he doesn't give up on a play and thus takes too many hits.
Yup. There's a bad thing: When Harvin plays, he plays too hard. That wasn't a big problem for Moss, admittedly.
Harvin had played in 55 of 58 games (counting playoffs) for the Vikings, before being injured in Seattle. Percy is much more missing practice-prone than he is injury-prone.
In four years here, the player I saw was the football equivalent of Kirby Puckett -- short, powerful, and playing his game with the best instincts you will see.
Percy Harvin is a genius of space and movement on a football field, as was Puck on a baseball diamond. You don't make a good trade for a player like that. You have screwed up as an organization when you allow a player such as Harvin to become disillusioned beyond repair.
Stephon Marbury was 1B to Kevin Garnett's 1A with the Timberwolves in 1999. The organization was unable to reconcile with him and Marbury was traded at age 22. An organization doesn't get better by trading its second best player at a young age.
Percy Harvin was 1B to Adrian Peterson's 1A with the Vikings. If Harvin can be made content and engaged in Seatttle, the same could have happened here.
This is a failure that goes to the organization.