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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Random and not-very-deep thoughts on the day in sports:
-I don't know if Bill Musgrave will be a good offensive coordinator, but I like that he's interested in highlighting the Vikings' existing talent, and that he's not married to the West Coast offense. (That's the subject of my Friday column.)
-My NFL picks for Sunday:
AFC: The Steelers beat the Jets because their pass rush will get to Mark Sanchez, and because Ben Roethlisberger is that rare athlete who plays his best at the end of close games.
The Patriots didn't have enough athletes on defense to either stop the Jets running game or hassle Sanchez. The Steelers' defense is good enough to do both.
I believe the keys to modern football are having a quarterback who can make plays down the field and a defense that can disrupt the opposing quarterback. The Jets are talented enough to keep it close, but the Steelers win this one, say, 20-17.
NFC: The Bears are far better than I thought they were, but they're not as good as the Packers, not the way the Packers are currently playing.
Aaron Rodgers is better than Jay Cutler. The Packers' pass defense is better right now than the Bears'. For the Bears to win, Julius Peppers will have to have one of the great postseason games ever by a defensive end. I think Mike McCarthy is smart enough to find a way to limit Peppers' influence, and the Packers' passing offense will roll. Call it Packers 34, Bears 23.
-If hockey players are so tough, how come, when a team is getting beat, it displays the emotional maturity of a bunch of 8-year-olds who didn't get their naps?
The Wild gets up early on Edmonton, and what do the Oilers do? Start cheap-shotting the Wild.
Toughness is taking a hit and accepting that, as a hockey player, you are going to take hits. Toughness is not whacking an opponent in the ankle with your stick because you're losing.
-It wasn't long ago that there were rumors about Todd Richards' job status. I never thought he should be fired, and now I think he has a chance to be coach of the year.
The Wild lacks goal-scorers and has watched its two top goalies suffer injuries, and yet Richards has the team playing its best. His players almost always play hard, they move the puck, they play inteligently, and when they score a few goals, they get credit for how disciplined they are on defense.
-The re-visit my last column: I'm serious when I compare Mike McCarthy favorably to Vince Lombardi. Lombardi was great in his era; my point is that the modern era of football is much harder on coaches. It's much harder to win championships in a 32-game league, it's much more difficult to manage today's players and today's media and today's workload, and that football has become increasingly complex over the years.
I'm sure Lombardi would have found a way to be a good coach in today's environment, but there is no way he would have been adaptable enough to dominate the modern NFL.
-It's interesting to see Leslie Frazier adapt to his new role. I asked him about that, about going from being friends with his fellow assistant coaches to telling people like Darrell Bevell and Brian Murphy - both exceptionally nice people who had plenty of success in their roles - that their services were no longer required.
His answer: ``It's a difficult process, especially in this case where you worked with guys for a number of years like I have. Now you're making decisions that are going to affect peoples' lives. It's a part of our profession. I've been on the other side of it. I know what's required and I know that my purpose in being here is to bring a championship to Minnesota. Anything less than that and we'll be parting ways down the road. That's the way this business is. But it's hard because you have feelings. These are friends. It's a tough deal, but it's the business we've chosen.''
Hard to argue with that. Coaches complaining about getting fired is like sportswriters complaining about deadlines. It's what you signed up for.
-I liked what Musgrave had to say about his offensive philosophies. New special teams coordinator Mike Priefer startled me, though, when he talked about the possibility of kicking to Bears return specialist Devin Hester.
To quote John McEnroe, ``You cannot be serious!'' Priefer said that if a punt unit executes properly, it can handle a good return man. That's what everyone says until they see Hester make all of their players fall down. You cannot kick to Hester. He is the best return man ever, and the rare return man who has demonstrated longevity. Without him, the Bears might have been a .500 team. -In October, I spoke with a Twins official who said that the team would like to bring back Carl Pavano, perhaps to a two-year deal worth about $17 or $18 million. Then, as happens in free agency, Pavano solicited other offers, and tried to find a three-year deal, and watched Ted Lilly sign a three-year deal worth $33 million, and must have believed that his market value had risen. And then he signed with the Twins for two years and $16.5 million. That's some pretty good negotiating by the Twins, getting the best remaining pitcher on the free agent market for perhaps even a little less than they expected to spend. And for those saying the Twins need to spend more money to bolster their bullpen or their infield, please remember that the best Twins teams have not traditionally been those that had set rosters when they left for spring training. The best Twins teams have been those that have kept their best players healthy and developed key role players as the season progressed. Right now the Twins have three end-game relievers - Matt Capps, Joe Nathan and Jose Mijares - and six starters, meaning one of those starters could become the long reliever. Let's say that guy is Kevin Slowey, and let's say that Glen Perkins is at last a left specialist. That would leave the Twins with one bullpen opening and a bunch candidates, like Pat Neshek, Jeff Manship, Alex Burnett, Rob Delany, Anthony Slama and the fast-rising Carlos Gutierrez, as well as the two relievers arriving in the J.J. Hardy deal. This isn't a crisis. This is business as usual for almost any big-league team. Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 today, then on the station in Joe Soucheray's stead from 2:40-6 p.m. on Friday. On the station, Sunday Sports Talk will feature appearances from Kevin Seifert and Tom Pelissero, and I'm working on a Wild or Twins guest as well. Also, you can follow me on Twitter at Souhanstrib, although I wish you'd really just mind your own business. Please congratulate me: I didn't mention Brett Favre once.
To quote John McEnroe, ``You cannot be serious!''
Priefer said that if a punt unit executes properly, it can handle a good return man. That's what everyone says until they see Hester make all of their players fall down. You cannot kick to Hester. He is the best return man ever, and the rare return man who has demonstrated longevity. Without him, the Bears might have been a .500 team.
-In October, I spoke with a Twins official who said that the team would like to bring back Carl Pavano, perhaps to a two-year deal worth about $17 or $18 million.
Then, as happens in free agency, Pavano solicited other offers, and tried to find a three-year deal, and watched Ted Lilly sign a three-year deal worth $33 million, and must have believed that his market value had risen.
And then he signed with the Twins for two years and $16.5 million.
That's some pretty good negotiating by the Twins, getting the best remaining pitcher on the free agent market for perhaps even a little less than they expected to spend.
And for those saying the Twins need to spend more money to bolster their bullpen or their infield, please remember that the best Twins teams have not traditionally been those that had set rosters when they left for spring training. The best Twins teams have been those that have kept their best players healthy and developed key role players as the season progressed.
Right now the Twins have three end-game relievers - Matt Capps, Joe Nathan and Jose Mijares - and six starters, meaning one of those starters could become the long reliever. Let's say that guy is Kevin Slowey, and let's say that Glen Perkins is at last a left specialist. That would leave the Twins with one bullpen opening and a bunch candidates, like Pat Neshek, Jeff Manship, Alex Burnett, Rob Delany, Anthony Slama and the fast-rising Carlos Gutierrez, as well as the two relievers arriving in the J.J. Hardy deal.
This isn't a crisis. This is business as usual for almost any big-league team.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 today, then on the station in Joe Soucheray's stead from 2:40-6 p.m. on Friday.
On the station, Sunday Sports Talk will feature appearances from Kevin Seifert and Tom Pelissero, and I'm working on a Wild or Twins guest as well.
Also, you can follow me on Twitter at Souhanstrib, although I wish you'd really just mind your own business.
Please congratulate me: I didn't mention Brett Favre once.
Catching up after taking a break. I'm on my way to Vancouver, and will post updates and observations here. You can follow me on Twitter at souhanstrib.
-Reason No. 20,291 I don't bet on sports: Who could have predicted that the key moments in the Super Bowl would be Pierre Garcon dropping a third-down pass in the second quarter, an onside kick to start the second half, or a former Big Ten cornerback (Tracy Porter, from Indiana of all places) picking off Peyton Manning and returning it for a touchdown.
Everybody in my business spends a lot of time researching and making predictions. If sports were predictable, though, we wouldn't care so much about them.
The Vikings' blowout over Dallas? A surprise, even if, like me, you thought the Vikings would win.
The way in which the Vikings lost to the Saints, playing superbly for much of the game but fumbling six times and throwing two interceptions? Utterly unpredictable, unless you believe the Vikings are cursed, in which case you may continue to wallow in self-pity. Just don't expect me to join you.
The Saints beating the Colts after failing on a fourth-and-goal from the one, getting lucky on an onside kickoff and beating Manning with a key interception? I didn't see it coming. If you did, congratulations.
This postseason demonstrated why the NFL is the No. 1 sport in America. It's such a spectacle. I've never been more impressed by a game atmosphere than I was in the Superdome for the NFC championship game. And the ratings were immense throughout the playoffs, even when so-called lesser markets were involved. New Orleans, Indianapolis and Minneapolis aren't exactly New York and LA, yet the ratings were huge.
The plays, the momentum swings, the coaching decisions, the personalities are so dramatic, and let's be honest, the specter of violence and injury makes the action that much more compelling. You wouldn't watch an action movie in which nobody got hurt.
-My prediction: Brett Favre returns. Eventually.
Last summer, all of the variables entering into his decision were negative. He didn't know how he'd adapt to a new set of teammates. He couldn't be sure he still had ``it.'' He was required to undergo surgery, and he hates surgery.
This summer, all of the variables will be positive. Once his ankle heals, and his ankle will heal, he'll be healthy. His teammates love him and will begin texting him soon to beg him to return. He and Darrell Bevell worked extremely well together. Despite the ``schism'' and ``spat'' talk, he gets along fine with head coach Brad Childress. He is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. And please don't assume he doesn't need or crave the money. He will never again have the chance to earn $12 million for six months of work. The team he plays for could give him a chance to end his career with a Super Bowl appearance or victory.
I don't think there's any doubt he'll come back. Eventually.
-I'm starting to revisit my thoughts about the Wolves eventually trading Al Jefferson. I thought it might be a necessity. Now I think they should trade him only if they get back excellent value in return.
Here's why: The Wolves have spent the last five years desperately seeking NBA-quality players. To trade their best player just to clear a spot for another good player would not represent progress. I'd rather see Kevin Love and Al Jefferson continuing to play together, continuing to learn how to play together, than see the Wolves trade Jefferson to bring in an average wing or center.
We've seen all kinds of different combinations of players win big. We've seen three-guard sets and point forwards and hybrid guards. I'd rather see the Wolves try to make this work than trade Jefferson just to trade him.
-I don't know if I've been as impressed by a Twins winter since the Twins brought in Chili Davis and Jack Morris. They didn't just add good players who should fit well; they did so without compromising their future, trading away valuable assets (since I consider the Gomez-for-Hardy deal to be the best move of the winter), or committing money that will hur them in the future.
Fans always want the Twins to spend big right now, but they will always operate under some sort of payroll limit, and landing good players on one-year deals is still the smartest way for them to operate. I'd love to see them sign an everyday third baseman, but leaving that position in flux does give them the opportunity to see a player - Harris, Tolbert, Casilla, Hughes, Punto or Valencia - surprise them. And the Twins always have at least one pleasant surprise. (My pick this year is Casilla. There's too much talent there for him to continue to flounder, and he'd be the perfect No. 9 hitter for a manager who still wants to play small-ball on occasion.)
-I may write about this more later, but I think the idea of being offended by a female athlete's bikini photos is ridiculous. so Lindsey Vonn posed for some provocative shots.
Female athletes wear provocative clothing when they compete, if you want to look at them that way. Would you let your daughter leave the house wearing one of those figure skating costumes? Or a skin-tight ski suit? Or a body-hugging speedskating outfit?
I'll say the same thing to the women's groups decrying Vonn's photos as I would say to the mouth-breathers who spell out their sophomoric pantings in the comment section of stories referring to Vonn's photos: Grow up, and get a life. The human instinct to be attracted to and by well-toned muscles isn't exactly what's wrong with the world.
-I land in Vancouver tonight and will start writing for the paper in Friday's editions.
This week, I"ll continue to appear at my usual radio times - at 6:40 a.m. on KSTP-AM with Reusse and Co. Next week, we'll move that time back.
I'm finishing up my work for the paper in the press box at the Superdome, and I'm afraid to outside.
Local TV is showing shots of Saints fans partying all over town. I don't expect this to be like Detroit or Chicago - I'm not expecting anyone to set fire to cars - but Saints fans have no experience dealing with this kind of success, so I don't know what to expect.
This was the best atmosphere for a game I've ever experienced. It wasn't just loud - it was loud and festive and people were enjoying themselves. Too often, for me, NFL fans look enraged. Considering the plight of this city and the history of this team, this was a joyful experience for the New Orleanians.
I generally dismiss all talk of sports curses, but this one made me wonder. For the Vikings to handle the crowd noise as well as they did all game, and then get penalized for too many men in the huddle when they were within range of a game-winning field goal...that's a bit bizarre.
Favre said it was a ``communication issue,'' and nobody I talked to was willing to call out the player who made the mistake.
My prediction for the game was 31-28, Vikings, with Favre driving the Vikings into position for a game-winning Ryan Longwell field goal. I almost nailed it.
After the game, Favre looked like he had been beaten with tire irons. He said he isn't ready to decide whether he'll return next year. My prediction: He'll take about a month, then announce he's coming back. I think he had a blast this year, and likes working with Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell, and feels like he might be able to win a championship next year.
I tend to agree. Maybe Favre will prove to be too old next year, but I thought he was too old going into this year, and he put together the best statistical season of his career.
I think the Vikings need to find a play-making safety or two, and need to cure Adrian Peterson's fumbling. Take care of those problems and get Favre to return, and I would make the Vikings the favorites to win next year's Super Bowl.
I'll be on with Reusse at 6:40 a.m. on am-1500, then on WJON at 7:14. I'll write a column wrapping up the Vikings' season for the Tuesday paper. I'm heading to Vancouver for the Olympics on Feb. 10.
You can follow me on Twitter at SouhanStrib.
While working on my Monday column (which will appear on 1A of the paper, or what some sports fans call ``The Wrapper''), I crunched a few numbers.
Brett Favre finished with the best passer rating (107.2) of his career, and the lowest interception rate (1.3) of his career. For all the concern every rational observer had about his health and his recklessness, he performed with admirable restraint and finished the season healthier that could have been expected.
He passed for 4,202 yards, and was particularly successful at home.
On the road, he completed 68 percent of his passes while throwing 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. At the Dome, he completed 69 percent for 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Let's face it - the guy was phenomenal, and his interactions with teammates in the lockeroom, on the field and on the sideline make it pretty clear that he was very popular even if he didn't spend a lot of time off the field with his teammates.
I asked Jared Allen to sum up Favre's season and he said, ``Ah, phenomenal year, great guy, great teammate, great season. What more can you say?''
``The guy has played great,’’ said Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. ``I’m happy for him on a different level.
For whatever reason, everybody wants to root against him, say, `Well, here’s why he’s washed up.’ It’s good to know he’s still playing at this high level. There are a lot of people here who had confidence he could do this.’’
Someone asked Favre how he was able to escape the pocket to make big plays. ``Speed,'' he said.
-Suddenly the Vikings' playoff chances look much better, for these reasons:
1) The bye will allow Favre and the Vikings' injured players the best opportunity to be at full speed. The bye should particularly help cornerback Antoine Winfield and defensive tackle Pat williams.
2) The Vikings will get to play a home playoff game after the bye. The Vikings are 8-0 at home; 4-4 on the road. No elaboration necessary.
3) The Saints looked terrible the last month of the season. If they lose their first playoff game and the Vikings win theirs, Minnesota would host the NFC title game.
-Again, I'll be on am-1500 with Reusse at 6:40 a.m., and on WJON at 7:14 a.m. You can follow me on Twitter at Souhanstrib.
-MCTC coach Jay Pivec has been named to the 2010 NJCAA basketball hall of fame.
When I've argued that the school is foolish to drop a basketball program that brings the school positive local and national attention, I've heard a wide variety of arguments supporting president Phil Davis' decision.
I'll keep this simple so there is no misunderstanding: Good bosses don't get rid of their best people. Good bosses see the big picture. Good bosses protect that which benefits their organization. Good bosses take command of important decisions.
Pivec does good work that benefits individuals and the school as a whole. His latest honor is another testament to that fact.
-I keep saying I like Jonny Flynn. I'm just not sure how much I like Jonny Flynn.
He isn't going to grow any more. He's always going to be a matchup problem against big guards. He can shoot, and he can be dynamic off the dribble, but he's not a natural distributor, and his performances have fluctuated wildly this season. He'll have to become more of a three-point threat to open up the offense.
Last night against the Clippers, he was awful. We could ascribe that to rookie inconsistencies or the fact that he plays for a terrible team coming off a long road trip or the fact that the atmosphere at Target Center isn't exactly electric (the Wally-looking dude they hired to fire up the ``crowd'' would keep me from ever buying a ticket all by himself). But you're a rookie who is supposed to be developing into a leader of your team. You've got to do better than that.
-I will say this for the Wolves: They may have hit on the perfect formula for tanking a season to improve their lottery position. Tank early, so you don't get accused to tanking late. Tank by running an offense that confuses your players, so you don't have to put Mark Madsen in to shoot three pointers to ensure losses.
No matter how lousy they look, the Wolves' could be transformed by one good offseason _ adding, say, John Wall and a real center or a real wing scorer. It's not impossible. It's just hard to imagine this franchise getting lucky, or making a great decision. It's been a while.
-I was glad to see Kevin Love's rip of Randy Wittman the other day. Love said that Wittman told him not to shoot outside of 10 feet. Brilliant.
I reinstate my nomination of Glen Taylor/Kevin McHale/Randy Wittman as the worst owner/GM/coach combination in the history of the world.
-Joe Girardi didn't want to give up his uniform number, 28, to Curtis Granderson, so Granderson is taking 14.
Isn't that a bit ridiculous? I'm not even sure managers should wear uniforms. Girardi wears a pullover half the time, anyway. Why wouldn't he give up a number that is meaningless when he wears it?
Not a big deal, Just annoying. He could win 10 more titles and I'd still think Girardi was a bit of a phony.
-Writing about U football for Friday, Darrell Bevell for Sunday, covering the Vikings-Panthers game in Carolina for the Monday paper.
This Sunday on am-1500, from 10-noon, I'm trying for a guest from the Wild and Wolves, and a football writer or two, plus I get to celebrate my big week of NFL picks now that I've buried Reusse and Lane. Not that I would ever gloat.
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