Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Doing some housecleaning here as I sit in the FedEx press box...
-A lot of people are thanking me today for writing about Jim Kleinsasser, but I'm the one who is thankful, for the opportunity to meet some great people while reporting the story. Kleinsasser's family and friends are as they appear, down-to-earth, hard-working, straightforward Midwesterners.
I know a a few Viking employees who say Jimmy has always been one of their favorites. I met him at his wife's Make-A-Wish fundraiser a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck by how naturally Jimmy fit into the scene. He stood by the cheese tray, greeting friends, neither acting nor being treated as a celebrity.
And I was struck by how his peers raved about him. NFL players are rathered hardened by their experience. Pro football is a brutal, Darwinian existence. I've never heard Steve Hutchinson gush the way he did about Kleinsasser, and Matt Birk would have talked all day about him.
-I'm taking a vacation after today's game, so I'll miss the Wolves' opener. This is the first time in a long time I can say that's a bad thing. I think it would be a mistake to assume the Wolves will suddenly leap into contention. They still have holes and defensive flaws, and Rubio and Derrick Williams will have growing pains. But it's going to look like basketball, and there are going to be nights when they shoot the lights out.
I'm most interested in seeing how Kevin Love handles all the changes, in his body and in the organization. I don't blame him for chasing stats last year - it was a way to stay motivated during a horrid season - but I want to see him play a more well-rounded game this year, and I think, under Adelman, he will. He strikes me as a much more mature guy this season.
-I've known Fred Zamberletti, the former Vikings trainer who became the team historian, since 1990. He's breaking a streak of 1,049 straight Vikings games today, as he missed the trip with an illness. The Vikings assure me he's doing OK.
The man is a great storyteller who loves the old Vikings. He's also a keen football analyst. I can't count the number of times he's made an observation that wound up being dead right.
Get better, Fred.
-The more I think about it, the more I think the Vikings would be foolish to do anything other than play for the Andrew Luck pick. They would either be able to trade that pick for great value, or would be able to install Luck as their quarterback and trade Ponder (not for value, but for a second or third-round pick.)
I'm not quite as high as most people on Luck. I don't see the next Tom Brady. I see a guy who is a very safe bet to be a good NFL starter for a long time. Of course, I could be wrong. I just haven't seen a lot of NFL-style throws from Luck. I've seen a guy who is very smart and controlled and knows how to operate a ball-control offense.
And now for today's LPR, the highly-irrelevant Local Power Rankings, my transparently shallow way to assess the key local sports teams:
1. Minnesota Wild
Slipping but still overachieving. As he did last year, Mikko Koivu is proving his worth by being injured. They're a very shallow, limited team without him.
2. Gopher hockey
Feels like college hockey begins at the start of football season and ends at the end of basketball season.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
I haven't been this excited for a Wolves opener since about 2005.
4. Gopher basketball
I can't wait for the Big Ten season to start, so the Gophers will be forced to play someone worth watching. What a disgusting, irrelevant non-conference schedule. Ticket-buyers should be livid.
5. Minnesota Twins
I liked and understood every move Terry Ryan had made this winter, until he signed Jason Marquis. I don't get it. NBy definition, a free-agent pitcher who can be had for a one-year, $3 million contract is viewed as nearly irrelevant by the free-agent market. The best argument for the signing, I guess, is that there is less chance that he will completely implode than one of the Twins' kid. But I would have been happy to see Anthony Swarzak take a shot at the fifth starter job. At least he has a little upside.
6. Minnesota Vikings
They're the worst and most disappointing team in town, but the possibility of landing the No. 1 pick adds value.
7. Gopher football
I'm hearing that Coach Kill is blaming the local media for recruiting woes. Coach, this is not a co-op. It's our job to reflect reality, not create a fantasy land that serves your purposes.
Upcoming: Won't be on Sunday Morning Sports Talk the next two weeks, tomorrow because of Christmas, the following week because of vacation. I'll be making my regular daily radio appearances on 1500espn at 2:05 each afternoon, and for those in the St. Cloud area, I'm on WJON daily at about 7:15 a.m.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib, and I"ll be tweeting from the Vikings game today.
Donovan McNabb conducted his first game-week press conference as a Vikings quarterback, and he was thoughtful and insightful. Must be the podium. He was a lot like Favre, except that he listened to the question and kept his answers shorter than 35 minutes. And he didn't ask himself rhetorical questions the way Favre did.
The Vikings appeared pretty close to completely healthy as we were allowed to watch the beginning of practice on Wednesday.
Here's my take on this team: I like the people, I'm not sure I like the mix.
I think Leslie Frazier has a good chance to become a very good coach. I think McNabb has a chance to have a bounce-back season. The Vikings still have elite players in Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway. They have highly-useful veterans like Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser, Steve Hutchinson, Michael Jenkins and E.J. Henderson.
But they lack the kind of youth movement that could give those veterans one last run at a championship. Kyle Rudolph may be the only young player who could be outstanding this season. The Vikings lack roster depth, are installing a new offense with a new quarterback without the benefit of offseason workouts, play in the same division as the best team in football and need to maintain close to perfect health to have a chance to post a winning record.
So, my pick for this teams is 7-9. They went 6-10 last year, and I think Frazier's steady hand will give them a chance to win one or two more games than they did during the crazy 2010 season.
Their best hope is that they can win the games they're supposed to win, that the Bears take a predictable fall and that the Lions aren't nearly as ready to win as most people think they are. To get to 9-7, McNabb will have to be sharp enough to lead the Vikings to wins in a lot of close games.
I would love to predict that the Vikings will go 10-6 and make the playoffs. After watching the Twins stumble around all season, I'd love to cover a playoff team. But I think this team's weaknesses in the secondary and on the offensive line will be exposed by quality opponents.
I hear a lot of fans whining about the Twins calling up youngsters and putting them in the starting lineup. That's the way this works, folks. Take it from me: I covered the Twins as a beat writer from 1993-97. Watching the kids come up and play in September was the highlight of those seasons.
I'm most interested in Joe Benson. He's a multi-talented guy who can run, hit, hit for power, throw, and cover ground in the outfield. He seems to have charsma. He loves Springsteen (!). He plays with the energy of a football player - he was a standout running back in high school. And unlike a lot of the kids who have been called up this season, he seems to be after more than a big-league paycheck.
With the futures of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel uncertain, Benson could be a key player for this team next year.
I highly recommend reading our hockey writer, Michael Russo, these days, even if you don't care about hockey. His piece on Derek Boogaard's death, and his quick-reacting coverage of the airline tragedy in Russia are just the latest examples of his outstanding work.
I'll be traveling to Green Bay for the season opener against the Saints tomorrow, then coming back and heading to San Diego for the Vikings' opener. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 weekdays from now on, and I'll be calling in from Green Bay tomorrow at that time.
Quick stat from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Bob McGinn: Saints coach Sean Payton's career record is 53-33. Packers coach Mike McCarthy's is 53-34. And they've won the last two Super Bowls.
Tom Pelissero and I will run the Gardenhire Show and Sunday Morning Sports Talk from San Diego on Sunday morning, from 9:30-11. We'll do our first NFL picks, along with my buddy Tom Linnemann, and we'll have ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert on to preview the games.
I'll also be calling 1500espn at 6:20 p.m. tomorrow from Green Bay.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Enjoy the beginning of football season. I know I will.
The Twins didn't trade away players at the deadline because they think they can still win the division. They didn't trade for players because they don't want to pay the high prices required for them to acquire a bullpen arm when they're in the fourth place in the division on Aug. 1.
They're stuck in the middle. I've heard outrage from both sides, that the Twins should have traded their players headed to free agency, and that they should have sold out trying to win this year.
I'm just not surprised that they did neither. To trade an everyday player or a prospect for a reliever could damage their long-term plans without dramatically increasing this team's chances of winning. to trade away Michael Cuddyer, their most valuable player on the trade market, when they're still in contention would be one way of telling fans not to show up at Target Field for the rest of the season.
From a purely logical standpoint, I believe the Twins should have traded Cuddyer. But the Twins care about their clubhouse culture and rewarding the right players, and Cuddyer is the best organizational player they've had, in terms of being a personification of everything they teach and value, in a long time.
We all begin our evaluation of teams by gauging their ability to win a championship, but there is more to sports than that. If keeping Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Matt Capps around gives this team a chance to win the division and encourages people to buy tickets, then maybe this is the right approach.
I'm on record saying I would have sold pieces off to try to rebuild the franchise's talent base. But while I disagree with the Twins' decision, I also, on a gut level, like it when franchises stubbornly insist on winning, and keep trying to keep a good thing going.
As for the Vikings, this is a strange set a circumstances. They have a first-year coach, a free-agent quarterback trying to learn the offense in a short period of time, a new offensive coordinator, and a slew of very good players who might not have many effective years left in their legs.
Like the Twins, the Vikings are stuck in the middle. To win nine or 10 games, they'll need surprising performances from Donovan McNabb, Bryant McKinnie, John Sullivan, Steve Hutchinson, Cedric Griffin, Jared Allen, Brian Robison...just about every veteran on the team.
How many of their best players are sure things, presuming good health? Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway, Antoine Winfield...and that's about it. All of their other name players are either aging or coming off disappointing seasons or injuries.
So why should the Vikings avoid a true rebuilding process? Because sport is unpredictable. I still don't think the Bears were all that good last year, but they wound up on the right side of the Calvin Johnson ruling, got to face the Seahawks in the playoffs and suddenly found themselves with a chance to win the NFC title game against the team that would eventually win the Super Bowl.
So my attitude toward the Vikings is the same as it is toward the Twins: It might be smart, in a clinical sense, to rebuild, but neither franchise is willing to give up. And there's something to be said for trying to win every year, regardless of the circumstances. Remember: Rebuilding sounds good until you try it and it doesn't work.
-News just broke, via ESPN, that Randy Moss is retiring.
I think the Vikings should hold a ceremony to honor him. He can stand on a podium at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., and then, as he begins his speech, everyone can walk off, and into the locker room.
And then Matt Birk can finally beat him up.
-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 today with Pat and Phil, then on with Phunn in the 6 o'clock hour. I'm also hosting the Phunn House on Tuesday night from 6-8:30 on 1500.
I'm in Mankato until Tuesday afternoon, and I'll tweet as warranted at @Souhanstrib.
-We're all sitting here writing on deadline and eating really unhealthy food. (Judd doesn't seem bothered by this.)
-My column for the Friday paper focuses on the Vikings' trade of the 30th pick in the draft. Short version: I like the trade. I'm not sure I like who they traded with.
-There is the possibility that the Vikings could take Jimmy Clausen on Friday. I could be wrong, and we'll know soon, but I don't think so. I don't think Clausen is the right personality type for this team, a veteran team trying to win now. And I'm not as impressed with Clausen as the general public is.
At Notre Dame, his teams generally underachieved and faced mostly poor competition, and he had great receivers who could catch anything near them. I'm not sold.
I also think the Broncos are fools. They essentially traded Brandon Marshall for Tim Tebow. Marshall is one of the NFL's two best receivers. I don't believe Tebow will ever be a good NFL quarterback. And you don't spend a first-round pick on a Wildcat quarterback.
-Here's the column I wrote early in the evening, well before the Vikings picked. We in the business call it an ``early.''
Want to know how immensely popular the NFL has become?
On Wednesday, the NFL commissioner suspended a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback in his prime for six games for a sordid incident involving a bathroom, an underaged girl and alcohol.
On Thursday, the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger only added to the intrigue and suspense _ and thus the popularity _ of the NFL draft. Would the Steelers trade Roethlisberger? Which teams would trade their first-round pick for him? Would Bad Ben molest anyone between the announcement of the suspension and the end of the first round?
The NFL is so popular that it has become the first pro sports league in history to lend truth to the phrase, ``Any publicity is good publicity.’’
The draft itself has, over the last couple of decades, morphed from an oddity obsessed over by the kind of geeks who now invent fictitious acronyms so they can sound smart talking baseball into a prime-time television special that promised to garner an immense rating.
I had a buddy tell me he was going to try to put his kids to bed early so he could watch every minute, even though most of the players taken in even the first round of the 2009 draft made little or no impact on their team last season. In fact, looking back at that first round confirms that the Vikings would have been silly to consider anyone other than receiver Percy Harvin, even if they had known then the extent of his migraines.
In 1990, I covered my first NFL draft. I spent two days in the basement of Winter Park, the Vikings’ compound in Eden Prairie. The Vikings had traded just about all of their draft picks to Dallas for Herschel Walker (just thought I’d remind you) and it was pretty much a couple of writers, a couple of camera guys and a bag of chips killing an entire weekend.
At the end of each day, the Vikings’ draft gurus, Frank Gilliam and Jerry Reichow, would come downstairs from their office, shrug a few times, and say that some of the guys they took had a chance to make the team, but who could tell?
Mel Kiper had not yet been invented or laquered, and everyone’s favorite draft analyst was a guy named Joel Buchsbaum, who produced a draft pamphlet that every self-respecting writer treated as a bible, to the consternation of NFL personnel directors.
Thursday night, the Vikings were slated to make the 30th selection in the first round.
This column was written well before the Vikings made their first selection. In this case, you didn’t know who the Vikings took to know that their selection probably wouldn’t make much difference in 2010.
If they took a defensive back or an offensive lineman, that player was not likely to start Game 1 in New Orleans. If they surprised everyone (or maybe just me) and selected a quarterback, that quarterback would be at least a year away, and perhaps more, from being expected to contribute.
And that is the greatest compliment you can offer the Vikings’ braintrust: They have pieced together such a strong roster that the 2010 draft should be seen as a way to bolter future teams moreso than the current squad.
The Vikings have excelled in free agency, adding Bernard Berrian, Brett Favre (yes, he counts), Anthony Herrera, Steve Hutchinson, Ben Leber, Ryan Longwell, Visanthe Shiancoe, Pat Williams and Antoine Winfield since 2004.
Under Rick Spielman, the Vikings’ vice president of player personnel, the Vikings have excelled at hitting home runs at the top of the draft.
In 2006, Spielman & Co. took Chad Greenway and Cedric Griffin in the first two rounds. In 2007, it was Adrian Peterson and Sidney Rice.
In 2008, the Vikings traded three of their first four picks for Jared Allen, a brilliant move, and chose Tyrell Johnson _ a starter although not a standout _ in the second round.
In 2009, The Vikings took Harvin in the first round and Phil Loadholt in the second.
All of those move guaranteed that anyone the Vikings selected at the end of the first round on Thursday would play a supporting role.
-Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is complaining about the NFL preempting the NBA playoffs. Way to be a free-marketeer, Mark.
-On 1500ESPN with Joe and Pat at 2:35 Friday, then on at 6-ish with Joe Anderson before the Twins play the Royals. I have tomorrow off from the newspaper.
A video I shot with Mr. Reusse should be up at startribune.com.
You can follow me on twitter at Souhanstrib. If you followed me today, you know I think Jon Gruden is a fool when it comes to draft analysis. If I hear one more ``analyst'' try to tell me that Tim Tebow will be a good NFL quarterback because of his character, I'm going to regurgitate.
Ben Roethlisberger is a jerk, and he won two Super Bowls.
-I'm back to write about the draft Saturday for the Sunday paper, then on Sunday we've got the Gardy Show on 1500ESPN at 9:30, followed by Sunday Sports Talk with myself and Brad Lane. Trying for Twins and Vikings guests.
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