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.
Find him on Twitter
Quick thoughts on a Monday afternoon, awaiting the kickoff of the only college football bowl game that really matters:
-I’m most interested in how Cam Newton handles tonight’s game. The pressure of being the Heisman Trophy winner. The layoff between games. The hectic schedule required of a Heisman winner. The increasing awareness that he could have made money playing for Mississippi State and now he is, of course, trying to win a national title for a school that would never, of course, ever consider paying him.
-I hate college football’s system, but I love college football, and tonight’s matchup is an example of why this can be the most unpredictable and atmospheric sport of all. Auburn and Oregon never play each other, so the matchup is filled with mystery. Cam Newton will never get another chance at a national title. Few of the participants will get another shot at a national title. This is like Game 7 of the World Series, only with both World Series teams graduating or losing most of the players that made a World Series berth possible.
-Love the Oregon uniforms, and that’s not like me. i generally prefer staid, traditional unis, like Alabama and Penn State. To me, simplicity bespeaks class. But these uniforms work for Oregon. They’re named the Ducks, for one thing. They have little tradition of which to speak. They play in a college football outpost and compete with grander programs like USC, UCLA and Washington, and they play an innovative, breakneck style. Most teams would look silly wearing their garish colors and fake wings. For Oregon, it works.
-I think Chip Kelly is the best coach in college football. Others might say Nick Saban, but it’s easier to wake a giant than to build one. If you watch Oregon play, they’re really not all that fast. Or big. They have been coached to play with great skill and pace, in a system that creates huge running lanes and open receivers. I’d take Kelly over anyone.
-I missed on my Saturday NFL picks and nailed my Sunday NFL picks. I thought Dom Capers would find a way to limit Michael Vick, and I feel this is the postseason in which Aaron Rodgers will place himself among the top handful of NFL quarterbacks, if he hadn’t already. I love that Packers coach Mike McCarthy went to a power running game with an obscure back because he knew power running would work against the Eagles’ overrated front.
-I still don’t know why Jim Caldwell called timeout. His timeout late in the Colts-Jets game, as Cris Collinsworth said, gave a rattled young quarterback time to go to the sideline for a pep talk, and allowed the Jets time to realize that Braylon Edwards was matched up one-on-one with a smaller cornerback. I’m always amazed at how even good coaches (Andy Reid, McCarthy, Caldwell, Tubby Smith) can screw up clock management at the end of games. And Rambis, too.
-The Bears are receiving almost a free pass to the NFC title game. We should have known it was their year after the Calvin Johnson call, still the worst call I’ve seen, ever, in sports. You know why it was so bad? Because the officials all knew he had caught the ball and scored a touchdown, but on the field and then after reviewing the play, decided to make an example of Johnson to aggressively enforce a new rule. Also, that call has me trailing Brad Lane by one pick in our Sunday Morning Sports Talk NFL picks. Not that it matters to me. Just thought I’d mention it.
-Quite a week for me. Last Wednesday, my daughter had her wisdom teeth removed. Today, it was my son. Thank god for Tivo, and ice cream.
-The Big Ten Network has been a dramatic success in terms of ratings, but the announcing can be awful. When Talor Battle hit a big shot to beat Michigan State, one of the bozos yelled - in an outburst that I’m sure was in no way premeditated - ``You sunk my battleship!’’ I’m not making that up.
-Anyone else think the Wolves could be 5-10 games better if they had a coach who knew how to run a team in the fourth quarter? Maybe Kurt Rambis is learning on the job. But is he really going to get much better after all these years of learning under Phil Jackson, after all these years of playing for and working as an assistant coach on championship teams? Shouldn’t he know what he’s doing by now?
-Yes, Kevin Love is an All-Star. The guy leads the league in rebounding by about 2.5 a game, and he’s scoring in the 20s. What more can he do?
-I’ll credit the Gophers’ interior defense with taking Ohio State out of its comfort zone and turning the game ugly enough that the Gophers had a chance to win it late. But the most intriguing part of the day was Al Nolen’s assertion that his team should run more, trying to create more easy baskets. I could not agree more, especially since the Gophers seem so unsure of themselves once they set up in half-court. If they didn’t have Mbakwe attacking the offensive boards, they would be even worse offensively.
-Matt Garza to the Cubs? I like it for both teams. The Rays have to be aggressive in trades, so they don’t get stuck with overpaid players killing their payroll and leaving in free agency, and the Cubs have no reason not to spend money on pitching. Especially now that the Brewers have dramatically upgraded their rotation. I can’t ever think of the Cubs without remembering a conversation I had with Andy MacPhail after he took over in Chicago. We were talking in spring training, and he said he didn’t believe in the `C’ word. That was before Bartman. I think he believes in curses now.
Yes, I agree with the Eagles' decision to postpone their game on Sunday night.
I believe I'm alone in expressing this sentiment. I know the rest of the Twin Cities media stuck in Philadelphia with me for four days - four days! - disagrees.
I get their arguments. This is football. Football gets played in bad weather. Football fans know how to deal with bad weather. This sets a terrible precedent. The Eagles may have postponed the game because they'll have a better chance to win on a clear field on Tuesday than in slop on Sunday night, since the Eagles have more speed and better skill-position players.
While I agree with all of the above, I also walked outside on Sunday night. Star Tribune photographers Jerry Holt and Carlos Gonzalez and I walked through the blizzard to what might have been the only restaurant open in Philadelphia on Sunday night.
The wind was howling. The streets were slick. Snowplows were out, but weren't winning the battle. And I watched all day as local TV stations talked about closing bridges and terrible traffic and injury accidents.
Which leads to my ultimate point: While the postponement is an inconvenience for everyone involved, the Eagles did right by their fans.
It was their fans who would have had trouble making it to the game. I saw one estimate that the attendance might have been as low as 20,000 for a team that always sells out, that features one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports. It is their fans who would have sat in 40-mile-an-hour winds, getting snow and ice blown in their faces. It is their fans who would have gotten stuck on the sides of roads or in traffic jams, trying to get home at midnight on Sunday.
NFL fans spend lots of money on their teams, and they are guaranteed just eight regular-season home games a year. Whether their motives were pure or diabolical, the Eagles wound up doing right by their fans, and while their decision has messed up my personal and professional schedules, I can't argue with the decision.
The NFL really has a fascinating product, doesn't it?
I do NFL picks with Brad Lane and Tom Linnemann on Sunday Sports Talk, and I might have had my worst week of the season this week. I believe the only pick I got right (we usually pick the five or six best games) was the Packers over the Giants.
Which is why I love writing about the NFL. It is unpredictable because of random variation, and luck, and weather, and circumstance, but also because every time you think you have a team figured out, something changes.
Just when we thought Peyton Manning was having his worst season as a veteran, he produces two great, clutch performances to re-elevate his team.
Just when you thought the Jets may have turned it on, they get swamped by Jay Cutler. Who would have thought before this season started that we'd see Cutler picking apart a secondary that includes Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie?
Who saw this coming from the Bears, at all? I keep calling them frauds, and they keep proving me wrong, and now they've beaten the Eagles, Jets and Packers, and they're suddenly scoring like the Patriots West.
In a season in which no NFL team looks supreme, maybe the Bears can make a run.
I'm thoroughly impressed with the Packers, from Mike McCarthy to Aaron Rodgers to Clay Matthews to Charles Woodson to Dom Capers.
Donald Driver has always been one of my favorite NFL players. How many receivers his size have his toughness and longevity?
What's best about this Packers team is its ability to survive injuries without whining or making excuses - or letting those injuries keep it out of contention.
We're entering the phase of the year where you'll start hearing the Vikings whine about injuries and their stadium and travel woes, but they still had enough talent on the roster to contend this year. They just didn't have what it takes.
Despite my support of the Eagles' decision, I've gotta say, this is a lousy week to be stuck in Philly. I was going to do some fill-in work on 1500ESPN, and my daughter flew in from DC on Christmas Eve to spend a week at home, and I'm spending two days that I would have been home stuck in a downtown Philly hotel, wishing I hadn't already read everything Lee Child and just about everything Stephen Hunter has written.
(I used to be a heavy literature guy; now I like well-written, well-executed escapism.)
This would be a good time to be a movie buff, but I just don't find many movies worth a two-hour investment.
So...I'll be jumping on 1500ESPN sporadically the next two days. I have my usual weekday call-in at 2:40 p.m. with Joe and Pat, and I'll be on with Joe Anderson tonight, I believe at 7:10 p.m.
I did it! Made it through a day without mentioning Brett Favre.
Ok, anyone who owns a TV can offer a thumbnail analysis of the Vikings.
The safeties don't make plays. The linebackers aren't nearly as dynamic without E.J. Henderson in the middle. Antoine Winfield is not himself. The pass rush has been thwarted by quick passes. The offense is lacking the big plays that send defenses reeling.
Or...we could simplify our analysis.
The 2009 Vikings are 7-0 at home and 4-4 on the road.
They are 9-1 on turf, and 2-3 on grass.
They have lost their last three games on grass, and their last two in cold weather.
On the first two pass plays of the Carolina game, Brett Favre slipped. Many times on Monday night, Adrian Peterson or Percy Harvin either slipped, or eased into a cut for fear of losing their balance.
The Vikings are a speed team, a turf team. Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Peterson, Chester Taylor _ they all look like different players when they can sprint and cut on turf. Favre looks more sure of himself in the Metrodome, and his cold-weather record on the road is undeniable even after his dramatic second-half comeback on Monday night.
The problem is, the Vikings now are in a position where they could find themselves playing a road game in the second round of the playoffs, or in the championship game if they make it that far. And they are not a good road team.
They also aren't strong against the pass of late, and every team likely to make the NFC playoffs can throw the ball at will.
All of which means that the Vikings are in big trouble. I wouldn't be surprised to see them beat the Giants at the Metrodome _ I don't think this team lacks gumption _ but I think that game will be meaningless in preparing the Vikings to win a road playoff game.
And after falling behind the Eagles in the playoff seeding on Monday night, they probably will have to win a road playoff game or two to advance to the Super Bowl.
-As I wrote in my column for the Tuesday paper, the negatives that led to and resulted from the loss to the Bears were trumped by watching Favre lead a dramatic second-half comeback. Isn't that why you watch sports, to see moments like that _ fourth-and-goal, 22 seconds left, Favre lofting the ball to Sidney Rice?
-Nice piece by our Myron Medcalf on Ralph Sampson III and basketball-playing sons in the Tuesday paper. Also a bunch of interesting quotes in Jerry Zgoda's Wolves feature on Al Jefferson's new view of the Triangle Offense.
Jefferson can be moody, but when he's in the mood to talk, he's a great quote, and a lot of Timberwolves people have told me he treats team employees better than 99 percent of the players who have come through town - which is a much better way to judge an athlete than by the way he treats the media or his superiors.
-I'll be on am-1500 at 6:40 with Reusse, then on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:14. I'm on with Matt Thomas on am-1500 at 7 p.m. Tuesday _ it'll be my last appearance with Matt before he leaves for Houston.
You can follow me on Twitter at SouhanStrib.
-In a very embarrassing development for Twin Cities reporters, noone in the local media discerned what was really happening in the world of Big Time College Football this week.
Urban Meyer, loyal to the University of Florida, realizes that by stepping down he can allow Florida to make a coup of a hire that will ensure the future greatness of the Gators. He realizes...that Tim Brewster might become available. Better yet, he realizes that Tim Brewster might become available and be willing to bring one of the great Gators of all time, Jedd Fisch, with him to Gainesville.
Then Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, always proactive, recognizes the peril in letting a coach of Brewster's accomplishments leave, and quickly counters Meyer's thrust with a parry, offering Brewster a contract extension. Tragedy averted.
Meyer, disappointed his ploy didn't work, agrees to return as Florida coach after a leave in which he will mourn Brewster's loyalty to the University of Minnesota.
How did everyone miss this?
-I completely disagree with Colts coach Jim Caldwell pulling his starters with an undefeated season within his grasp.
Yes, it is possible that a key player could have gotten hurt if he had kept his starting lineups intact. My arguments for playing for 16-0, though, are these:
-How often does any team get a chance to make history? The Colts could have become the first team ever to go 19-0. Isn't that worth playing for? Aren't your players motivated by that?
A team wins the Super Bowl every year. Rarely does a team have the chance to achieve a truly history feat. Caldwell blew it when he pulled Manning.
-The Giants proved when they won the Super Bowl that playing your best at the end of the season is an ideal way to set yourself up for postseason success, and a handful of Tony Dungy's Colts teams proved that rust does accumulate at the end of the season if you rest your starters and then sit through a bye week in the playoffs.
This is time to peak, not rest.
-How would you like to be a father who took out a second mortgage so you could take your kids to Colts games, and then, with your team on the cusp of history, you're all of a sudden watching a preseason lineup blow the game you paid so much to see?
-I'm writing this before the Bears-Vikings games, and maybe the Vikings will change my mind tonight, but right now I think I'd rather bet on the last four teams in the projected NFL playoff seedings than the top two.
New Orleans is reeling. The Vikings are slumping. The Eagles, Cardinals, Packers and Cowboys are not only playing their best, they also have passing games that would test the Saints and Vikings. Like I said, it's about peaking at the right time.
In the AFC, I'd bet everything I owned on San Diego making it to the Super Bowl - if I bet on sports.
-I continue to say that the Favre-Childress skirmish is not as big a deal as ESPN has made it out to be. That's because World War III wouldn't be as big a deal as ESPN has made this out to be.
Childress told ESPN that he wanted to pull Favre to protect his health. I believe that. I also disagree with the decision, for many of the reasons listed above. The Vikings need to play well in December and they aren't going to get sharper with Tarvaris Jackson trying to save the day. Even if Jackson had played well, that wouldn't have helped the offense prepare for the playoffs.
-This isn't exactly groundbreaking, but I believe the key to tonight's game will be the performance of the Vikings' offensive line. If the boys up front give Adrian Peterson holes and protect Favre, this could be a blowout. If they don't, even Jay Cutler has a chance to beat them.
I'll check in again after the game.
I was lucky enough to land a lengthy one-on-one interview with Brett Favre that will run in the Friday paper, as part of a bigger subject for our sports section. I spoke with him before his sideline spat with Brad Childress, so the story touches on broader topics, and what it's like for Favre to live in Minnesota as a 40-year-old icon.
I'll be taking the next few days off. Sunday I have the radio show from 10-noon on am-1500, and I'm working to line up a few guests. Sunday afternoon I fly to Chicago for what I think might be the most interesting game of the season since the Packer games. Not because the Bears are good. Because the Bears are horrible.
In other words, if the Vikings can't beat this collection of mutts, then they really are in trouble. And a victory could quiet a lot of the negative buzz around them.
Frankly, I'm not sure right now whether the Vikings are in decline, or whether in the modern NFL it's just difficult to maintain a high level of play for 16 games. I mean, they haven't felt stress entering a game since they beat the Packers for the second time, and they looked flat in two Sunday night road games.
I will also remind newer Vikings fans that, ever since moving into the Metrodome, the Vikings have not been a good team on grass, and all three of their losses this year are on grass. Which would make the Bears problematic if they weren't so pathetic.
After the Bears game, the Vikings (assuming they hold onto the No. 2 seed) wouldn't have to play on grass again unless they made it to the Super Bowl, and that would be a good problem to have.
We were also reminded Sunday night that this team needs Antoine Winfield playing well to be an elite team.
I still wish Steve Smith would have reprised the rowboat move he made in 2005 when he whipped Fred Smoot after the Love Boat scandal.
And one more time on the sideline spat: I don't think it's unique, or a problem, unless Childress is determined to bench Favre the next time he disobeys orders. Because we all know Favre will free-lance again at some point this season. I think if you're Childress you've got to bite your lip and accept it. Favre isn't going to undergo a personality transplant at the age of 40.
-Here, to me, is what the BCS has wrought: I have never cared less about college football.
I may not watch a single bowl game. Maybe I"ll watch the Alabama-Texas game just so I can discuss it, but to me it's not a national championship game, and the current system has turned every bowl game into a silly exhibition. This system isn't even as good as the last system.
If run properly, college football, with an 8-team playoff, would be the most popular sport in the country. But it isn't.
-So I won't be back on the radio until Sunday morning at 10, and I may not blog for a few days. I'll be on with Reusse at 6:40 on Monday to preview the Bears game.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter at SouhanStrib.
I was feeling generous this week, so I bought Sid a gift. It was a book: English as a Second Language.
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