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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Posts about Bears

Weekly LPR, plus Super Bowl stories

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 3, 2012 - 6:09 PM

I've covered seven Super Bowls, and I'm ambivalent about missing them these days.

I hate the pack journalism and inane questions. I also hate not being in the eye of the storm, at the game that commands everyone's attention.

Two favorite Super Bowl coverage memories:

1. At my first Super Bowl, SB XXIV, the Joe Montana/Jerry Rice 49ers blew out the John Elway Broncos 55-10. You might think that the game was boring, but it wasn't, not for me. I was fascinated at the precision of the 49ers. A friend of mine was the 49ers' pool reporter that week, and he told me on Friday, `If you could watch them practice, you'd know why they're so good.'

Also, it was my first Super Bowl, my first big trip on an expense account. Eating New Orleans cooking and drinking Abita beer was a blast, although I learned that following such a diet by eating the chocolate mint on the Hyatt pillow was like lighting a match near a munitions factory.

Also: I remember being in a French Quarter bar with a bunch of writers late at night, and hearing someone yell, `The Doctor is in the house!'' And he was. Dr. J walked in, acting and being treated like royalty.

2. My favorite Super Bowl in terms of coverage was XLI, when the Colts beat the Bears in Miami. The game wasn't very inspiring, and if the Bears hadn't busted a coverage and allowed Reggie Wayne to get open for a free touchdown, who knows what would have happened? Maybe Peyton Manning wouild have joined Dan Marino as all-time great quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl.

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, I was able to spend time with Rochester native Tom Moore. Moore had recruited Tony Dungy to the University of Minnesota and now was Dungy's offensive coordinator and Manning's personal mentor. Seeing Moore, such an anonymous yet influential figure, sitting at the back tables of the media scrums, refusing to call attention to himself, made me admire the man even more than I had previously.

Time with Moore was one reason covering that Super Bowl was worthwhile. Another: By some quirk of late deadlines and pure luck, I wound speaking with Manning alone at his locker long after the game, and he started talking about the difficulty of playing with a wet football. It had rained early in the game.

Manning explained that he had prepared for rain. During breaks in practice, he would make his longtime center, Jeff Saturday, dunk footballs into a full bucket, so they could get used to snapping a wet football.

When I finished speaking with Peyton, I ran into his father, Archie, outside the lockerroom, and told him the story. ``Wet ball drills, huh?'' Archie said. ``He really does think of everything.''

I never would have had those conversations with Moore or the Mannings if the Star Tribune hadn't sent me to the Super Bowl.

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On to this week's highly irrevelant, completely subjective and yet mildly annoying Local Power Rankings:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Didn't like the way they let the Pacers push them around. Hate the fact that the starting lineup features one guy who shouldn't be in the starting lineup (Luke Ridnour) and two who might not belong in the NBA (Wes Johnson and Darko Milicic.) But even in defeat I find this team interesting and entertaining.

It will be interesting, at this point, to see what Rick Adelman does with his lineup, and how Rubio reacts to teams that have been able to thoroughly scout him. His steals are down lately.

By the way, I rank the Wolves ahead of other teams not because of their place in the standings, but because of their combination improvement/likeability/promise/entertainment value.

2. Gophers hockey

They finally swept an opponent last weekend, and have this weekend off. What will be interesting is to see how the new athletic director will react if the Gophers flop in the postseason again. It would be tough for a new AD to fire Don Lucia. It would also be tough for a new AD to be overly impressed with Lucia if his team flames out again.

3. Minnesota Wild

I covered the team on Tuesday, and that was one of the most gut-wrenching days a coach or an organization can have: First a highly-paid veteran rips the coach, then the team blows a three-goal third-period lead and doesn't even salvage a point.

The Wild came back to win in Colorado on Thursday, more proof that fans probably invest more emotion in outomes than do players, who have been winning and losing games all their lives.

4. Gophers basketball

The Wild is still in eighth place in the West; the Gophers may have fallen out of the prospective NCAA bracket with their loss at Iowa. Most people in my business have analyzed the end of the game; i say when you score three points in the first 10 minutes of a game, you should have been thrown off the floor long before time ran out.

5. Minnesota Twins

Nothing new to report here, so I'll repeat myself: I think Terry Ryan made a bunch of sensible, strategic moves to bolster his roster and give this team a chance to compete, but the Twins need Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer to be healthy and Francisco Liriano to be outstanding if they're going to win this division.

6. Minnesota Vikings

The Giants give other NFL teams hope that patience can be rewarded. They stuck with Eli Manning when he sometimes looked lost, and he could give them a second Super Bowl victory on Sunday. They stuck with Tom Coughlin when the tabloids were calling for his firing, and he, like Manning, could win a second Super Bowl in five years. The Giants failed to run the ball as well as they should this year. They patched together an offensive line. They used multiple backs. They had a long-shot receiver (Victor Cruz) become their difference-maker down the stretch.

In other words, you can win in the NFL without setting passing records and being innovative offensively, which is good news for the Vikings.

7. Gophers football

Jerry Kill probably has the perfect personality to appeal to Minnesota high school coaches and recruits. I'm not going to rate his recruiting class, because all that matters is the scores of the games in which these recruits wind up playing.

As for the departure of MInnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, I'll offer a series of thoughts:

1. I never thought he was a big-time athletic director. He was a reactor, not an actor. He often made the decision that was easiest for him, not the one that would lead the department in the right direction. Some people just are No. 1s. It's not his fault; it's the fault of the guy who hired him.

2. Why is it that every time an important sports job comes open in Minnesota, everyone suggests that a Minnesotan be hired? Please. Minnesota should hire the best AD candidate they can find, wherever that person currently resides.

3. Minnesota needs an AD willing to take on lots of big, daunting problems. What do you do with Tubby Smith if he misses the NCAA tournament? What should be done with Williams Arena? How can funds be raised for a basketball practice facility? What happens with Don Lucia if his program flops again?

Minnesota athletics needs a CEO. Mr. Maturi was more like an HR director.

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Upcoming: I'm writing a Super Bowl prediction column for the Sunday paper. Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon Sunday on 1500espn. Hoping for a special guest, plus we'll talk about Tom's season-ending Vikings film work, preview the Super Bowl, do picks along with Tom Linnemann, and check in on the rest of the sports scene.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

A Winter Park Wednesday

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: September 7, 2011 - 2:46 PM

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.

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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.

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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.

Two stuck-in-the-middle teams

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: August 1, 2011 - 12:08 PM

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.

Cutler is not a wimp

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 24, 2011 - 4:49 PM

No, Jay Cutler is not a wimp. He has taken many beatings as an NFL quarterback without begging out of a game. He has proved quite durable. He has not complained about getting hit. He hasn't even complained publicly about losing games.

He is less than ideal as a public figure. He does not know how to manage perceptions. But let's forget about perceptions and deal with facts - always a useful place to start:

1. He injured his knee.

2. The Bears' medical team told him he probably shouldn't play.

3. He tried to play.

4. He could not play.

If his name were Peyton Manning, and he had left the field gripping his leg and fallen down on the sideline and pounded the turf with his fists, we'd feel sorry for him. Because he has behaved like a spoiled brat during his career, and because he is not aware enough to know how to manage public perception of him, we assumed the worst when we saw him standing on the sideline with that glum look on his face.

I've known many athletes who have damaged their knees. Having a torn MCL doesn't necessarily keep you from walking or standing. It keeps you from performing explosive athletic movements, like throwing a pass or running away from a pass rush.

I hate to defend Cutler, but he's not a wimp, and there is nothing in his professional history to make us believe he would pull himself out of the biggest game of his life unless he simply couldn't perform.

-Which brings us to Twitter, a day after many NFL players used Twitter to criticize Cutler without having any idea of what his injury was.

I have come to the realization recently that I hate Twitter.

At least I'm evenhanded about my hate.

I hate when I use Twitter.

I hate when athletes use Twitter.

I hate when the general public uses Twitter.

I hate even when some of my best friends and most esteemed peers in the media use Twitter.

I think I've un-followed (to use a term that I hope I"ll never use again) more people than I have followed.

I find Twitter useful for getting newsy updates about the teams I follow. But, as you've noticed, Twitter usually ends up being filled with garbage, including barely-formed thoughts...drunken ramblings...half-baked opinions...aimless bickering and backbiting...and all manner of self-serving bleatings.

I find that when I've used Twitter for anything other than blatant self-promotion, I've regretted it.

Call me old-school, but I've always thought that one of the most important aspects of writing was the thinking you put into your writing. Twitter allows most of its users to skip that step - the thinking step.

-My early Super Bowl pick: Packers 27, Steelers 23. I think Aaron Rodgers will beat the Steelers' blitzes with quick passes to his many fine receivers, and the Packers will intercept Ben Roethlisberger enough to keep the Steelers at bay.

I think the Packers were able to survive a pretty lousy performance against a good defense on a terrible field. I believe on the fast turf in Dallas, with two weeks to prepare, Mike McCarthy and Rodgers will find a way to move the ball against a very good defense that specializes in stopping the run.

Also, I can't help but root for Rodgers, by all accounts a wonderful guy, over Roethlisberger, one of the NFL's foremost cads.

-Don't worry, Gophers fans. Sure, you're missing Al Nolen, but this is where DeVoe Joseph will step in and handle the point guard duties.

What?

-Had this thought while during my daily appearance on 1500espn: Why don't NFL head coaches employ bench coaches? They have coaches handling everything else, including "quality control'' and ""assistant offensive line''...why wouldn't you employ a guy to stand next to you who can concentrate solely on game situations?

Like when to call timeouts. When to punt. When to go for the first down. When to run or pass inside two minutes.

It's amazing how many good football coaches make mistakes in game management. It's understandable. They're trying to be aware of everything happening with their team - offensive decisions, defensive decisions, play calling, injuries, game situations, opposing personnel packages. So why not hire someone who can help you think clearly when the game is on the line?

-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 tomorrow, as on all weekdays. We'll do Sunday Morning Sports Talk this week from TwinsFest, with a great guest lineup, including Rod Carew and a bunch of current players.

 

 

Frazier's moves

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 20, 2011 - 2:09 PM

 

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.

 

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