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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You never know what you’re going to get when you sit down to interview a star.
You might catch them on a good day, or a bad day. They might have something else on their minds. They might like, or not like, something you’ve written about them in the past. They might not have anything to say, or go into the interview with the intent of getting through it without saying anything notable.
I visited Bud Selig in his office after he threatened the Twins with contraction. He gave me an hour. For an hour, I tried to get him to admit some culpability in the situation, to offer some details about the Pohlads’ willingness to have their team contracted. He deflected every question.
Yesterday, I sat down with Adrian Peterson after practice. I prepared questions on five different topics, hoping he would be interesting on at least one of them. I started him with questions about being around other celebrities at the celebrity softball game at the All-Star game at Target Field.
Then I started asking football questions, and he offered up all of the interesting stuff that is in today’s column: That he wants to break Emmitt Smith’s record, that he considers Barry Sanders the greatest back of all time, that he wants to be the greatest player who ever lived, that he wants to retire as a Viking, and that he thinks Norv Turner’s offense will be the best he’s played in.
I’d like to take credit for masterfully dragging all of that out of him, but I can’t. Peterson was ready and willing to open up, and I was lucky enough to be there.
I’ve always found him to be a remarkably engaging and approachable superstar. Here are a few of the things he said that didn’t make the column:
-The importance of winning a Super Bowl: ``One thing people will be shocked to hear me say is, I’d give it all away for a Super Bowl. I’m not a selfish player. I’ve never been a selfish player. It’s not about me. I set my goals, but if we win and I’m rushing for 75 yards and helping us win, I’m happy. This is a team game and the ultimate goal is a championship.
``Any way I can help, in the passing game or a running game, I’ll help. It might take 200 yards rushing. It might take catching the ball. Whatever it takes, I’m all in. I want to hold the ultimate trophy up, and look at all the guys I played with, and know they can’t take that away from us. That’s what I’m all about.’’
-His willingness to set dramatic goals for himself, like rushing for 2,500 yards this season: ``You only live once. Why limit yourself?’’
-What it was like playing in the All-Star game celebrity softball game at Target Field, and having Jenny Finch throw a couple of fastballs by him: ``That was fun. It was a great experience to be around some different people. That was my first time experiencing the celebrity all-star game. Hopefully I’ll be invited back. It was cool to be around some of the legends who play baseball, and Nelly, and the celebrities out there.
``And Jenny Finch? I knew she looked athletic and a lot of people were talking about her, but you thought, `A woman? Shouldn’t be too bad.’ She proved me wrong. It was fun. It was for the fans, and I enjoyed it.
``She threw that fastball, and was like, `Whoa, this just got serious.’ I thought maybe I should have just had her stick to underhand pitching. But I love challenges, so I was like, bring it. I tipped one of them, at least.’’
-Being a low-profile superstar, who had other stars bowing to him: ``I know! I noticed that, too. I thought, man, I guess I have some pull. My friends tell me this all the time – the way you react, you don’t realize the type of star ability you have. It definitely stood out in that setting. Being around them and still getting recognized, it was cool. I just enjoyed blending in.’’
-Being a star who doesn’t seek every endorsement or photo op: ``That’s definitely by design. It’s just my mentality. That’s my vibe. I’ve always been that kind of low-key, solo-type guy. I really don’t like too much attention. That’s the way I’ve always been. I’ve been dealing with it since Little League, and then I had that little blank area of my life where I got off-track, but then in high school, my junior and senior year I was the No. 1 player in the nation. There was a lot of recognition that came with that. I’ve always shied away from attention since that.’’
=On entering a season as a 29-year old at a position where being 30 is dangerous: ``It just means that time flies. But, to be honest, I feel like I’m a different breed than 99 percent of the running backs in the league.’’
I'll be on 1500ESPN at a different time today, 11:15 instead of 12:15. Back to regular programming after that.
We'll run Sunday Sports Talk 10-noon on Sunday at the 1500ESPN stage at the State Fair.
Been at Winter Park the last two days, and head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have both taken shots at Pro Football Focus' preseason individual grades.
Their message: Someone watching film who doesn't know what the players' assignments were on every play can't know how well they performed.
My takes on this:
-These guys have every right to tell us when we are, or PFF is, wrong. We also have the the right to be dubious about NFL coaches offering accurate assessments of their own players, because they so rarely do.
-Our job in the media is to use stats, whether old-school versions or advanced metrics, to illuminate subjects. But it's also our job to add the context that can make a statistic worthwhile. You have to use a combination of data, sourcing and first-person observation to complete the picture.
This is why good beat writers are so valuable. They're capable of filling in the blanks when a player has an apparently poor performance. Maybe the guy next to him missed an assignment. Maybe he's playing with a bad foot. And, yes, maybe he just played lousy.
I think Pro Football Focus does a masterful job of evaluating film, but I wouldn't take their grades as gospel, just as I wouldn't take anything an NFL coach says in public as gospel.
When I was covering the Vikings in 1999, I watched the tape of a game and downgraded the offensive line. I showed up at the facility the next day ,and Mike Tice, then the offensive line coach, called me in and showed me where I was wrong. Since then, I've been very cautious about grading out offensive line play. It really is a mystery to just about everyone who isn't in the team's offensive meeting rooms.
Over time, you get a good sense of how well a player performs - it didn't require much studying to judge Randall McDaniel as one of the best football players who ever lived - but picking apart one play or one game is risky.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at an unusual time tomorrow - 11:15 a.m.
We'll run Sunday Sports Talk from the fair, Sunday 10-noon.
I'm not sure I've ever seen a finishing flurry quite like the one in the Vikings' 29-25 loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
It's remarkable how hard the Vikings hsve played in the weeks since it seemed their season was doomed. What I'll explore in my Monday column is why it took so long for this coaching staff to put its best players on the field. With Matt Cassel at quarterback, Cordarrelle Patterson starting at receiver and Xavier Rhodes starting at corner, this is a competent team, a team that could be at or near .500 and theoretically in the playoff race if those players had started earlier this season.
This was a Vikings team that made all those dramatic plays with its backup quarterback, backup running back, and a lot of backup defenders on the field.
We'll have extensive coverage in the Monday paper and on startribune.com, complete with videos.
We'll also update Adrian Peterson's health as soon as possible after the game, Indications now are that he has a sprained ankle and nothing more. It will be interesting to see whether Leslie Frazier plays him next week, or lets Toby Gerhart have a start.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
NFL games shouldn't end in ties.
Enough about that.
If you, like me, are watching Vikings games more to discern what next year's team will look like than what this year's final record will look like, there were a few interesting developments on Sunday, in the Vikings' 26-26 tie with the Packers.
Here are two key developments:
-Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the 29th pick in this year's draft, was credited with four passes defensed, of the Vikings' nine total. He aquitted himself well against a pretty good group of receivers, and saved a touchdown by knocking the ball from the hands of James Jones.
He also injured his leg and returned to the field, a promising sign of toughness.
-Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson finally - finally! - looked like a big part of the offense. He had 11 passes thrown his way. He caught a eight. Both totals were team-highs.
He gained 54 yards. He returned the opening kickoff 57 yards. That return caused the Packers to kick the ball out of bounds while trying to keep the ball away from him on a subsequent kickoff.
Patterson could have had a much bigger day. He was unable to hold onto a long pass down the left sideline, and he had the ball bounce out of his hands in the end zone after it was tipped on the Vikings' first drive of overtime.
Patterson said he should have caught that pass.
I've been saying all season that Patterson should be a bigger part of the offense. He's too talented to leave on the sideline. He can catch short passes and turn them into long gains, and he should be able to take the occasional handoff or reverse, like Percy Harvin used to do.
He should be the Vikings' featured receiver the rest of the season.
-Aaron Rodgers is probably wishing he could ask for a raise.
The Packers have lost four straight since he was injured, and have tried three other quarterbacks. Without him, the Packers' receivers are less productive, the offensive line looks worse (because the ball doesn't leave the pocket as quickly) and the defense looks shoddier (because the offense doesn't sustain as many drives or create leads.)
And it's no longer too early to say that Greg Jennings made a dire mistake by leaving the Packers and Rodgers. Jennings caught two passes for 29 yards in five quarters on Sunday, and dropped a key third-down pass.
It's almost as if Jennings is so embarrassed by his decision to leave Green Bay that he's gone into a shell.
-Chrisitan Ponder amazes me. I've never before covered a quarterback whose performances could look so different on the field and on paper.
Watching him today, I thought Ponder had terrible pocket awareness, threw a potential pick-six that was dropped, was too eager to pull the ball down and run or scramble. Then I look at the stat sheet and he was 21-for-30 with a touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 103.9.
There are a lot of modern statistics that offer great insights into the games we watch. There are also statistics that contradict eyesight and common sense.
I was more impressed with the Gophers' loss to the Badgers than any of their victories this season.
They stood up physically against a program built on tough, physical play. And while Phil Nelson did not have a good game, I have to believe the cold affected his accuracy and touch. His receivers dropped a handful of key passes, and when he missed ,he often missed by a wide margin. He's better than that.
Had a friend today tell me an interesting story: That last year, Jerry Kill was coaching on the sideline, and he dropped to one knee to look at a play chart. A half-dozen Gophers coaches and officials rushed to him, thinking he was having a seizure.
Kill said at that point that he needed to coach from the press box, so he wouldn't be a distraction.
It will be very interesting to see whether Kill stays in the press box the rest of this year, and for the rest of his career. He's found something that works - Tracy Claeys running the sideline, and Kill seeing the big picture from upstairs, rather than arguing with officials.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15, and on 1500ESPN at noon for my regular weekday hit with Judd&Dubay. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
There are rational reasons for starting Christian Ponder on Sunday.
I'm just not sure the Vikings are employing any of them.
Here are possible behind-the-scenes explanations for starting Ponder, or at least not starting Josh Freeman:
1. If Freeman has looked lost in practice. It would be hard for an NFL head coach to believe that a quarterback who has trouble running the offense or completing passes in practice would be able to do so in games, especially on the road.
2. The Vikings have decided to tank the rest of the season to obtain the highest possible draft choices. I could see the front office wishing for this outcome, but Leslie Frazier is incapable of trying to lose a game. A coach would tank only if he was assured of coming back next year, and there's no way the Vikings can be making assurances to their head coach given the ineptitude of this team.
3. The Vikings' offensive coaches don't know what they're doing.
Starting Freeman is the most logical decision, but if he's not ready to start, then it's tough to figure out why the Vikings wouldn't start Matt Cassel. Cassel has given the Vikings their best-quarterbacked game of the season, against Pittsburgh, and would give them their best chance to win on Sunday at Green Bay.
I can't think of a good reason for starting Ponder. Worse, the feeling in the Vikings' lockerroom is that starting Ponder is an embarrassment.
Frazier has done much to build trust and respect in the Vikings' lockerroom. He's sabotating his credibility by starting Ponder when everyone knows Ponder's career is effectively over in Minnesota.
For all of their problems, the Vikings have continued to play hard even as their season has slipped away. It's tough to put your body on the line when your bosses keep handling the most important position on the team so poorly.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon with Judd&Dubay to discuss this, the Wolves, the Wild, and the Gophers.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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