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.

      

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