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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