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.
Remember 23 months ago when the Timberwolves were the funniest joke in town and the Vikings had maybe the best team in football?
This weekend, the franchises passed each other, the Wolves heading up, the Vikings landing with a splat.
Throw out whatever qualifiers you want about the Wolves' exhibition opener - facing a bad team, exhibitions are meaningless, etc. - but that was entertaining basketball we were treated to on Saturday night. Rick Adelman, Derrick Wililams, Ricky Rubio, J.J.Barea and a slimmed-down Kevin Love give us five good reasons to care about the Wolves.
And that's not all. You could see Michael Beasley having an excellent year offensively in this system, and at least paying attention on defense. I think this team's biggest challenges will be figuring out what to do at center and shooting guard. Darko and Wes Johnson haven't proved themselves yet.
At center, Love playing inside might often be the answer. The problem for Johnson is that if he can't shine in this system, he's probably not an NBA player. He's got to prove himself quickly.
While the Wolves looked more promising than they have for years, the Vikings embarrassed themselves. This is becoming a trend. They got Brad Childress fired last year with a pathetic performance against Green Bay at the Dome. Now they've turned in three stinkers this season, at Chicago, at Green Bay and now at home on Sunday against the Saints.
I came to Minnesota in 1990 to cover the Vikings. This is easily the worst Vikings team I've ever seen in person. W'hich is amazing, considering this team has three stars in their prime in Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and Percy Harvin.
I'm about to start working on my column for the Monday paper, and I believe this is the question that needs to be answered: Should anybody's job be safe right now? Leslie Frazier's? Christian Ponder's? Any coach's?
This was a pathetic display. Frazier said after the game that he took responsibility for his team not being prepare. He also said he wants to see how Ponder performs the last two weeks so he can judge him on a larger body of work.
I think Frazier and Ponder both will be trying to save their jobs the last two weeks, even if noone wants to admit that.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Monday and every weekday with Reusse and Mackey. Thanks to Terry Ryan for his bluntness when we had him on Sunday Sports Talk this morning.
Was off for the holidays last week, so I haven't offered my second installment of the all-important LPR: Local Power Rankings of our mostly-woeful revenue sports teams.
Here's Round 2:
1. Minnesota Wild:
Impressive that Mike Yeo could get this team to respond after a two-game losing streak, and on a back-to-back with a goalie who got pulled the night before. Right now Yeo might be the best coach/manager in town, and he's still getting used to having his own parking space at the X.
Also: Cal Clutterbuck, long a favorite of mine because of his toughness and hustle, was outstanding last night. As was Mikko Koivu and Backstrom. This team continues to overachieve, and in this town, if you overachieve you're an easy No. 1.
2. Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team
We're seeing some slippage here. They've slipped to No. 5 in the national rankings, and the specter of all of Lucia's recent underachievers is rising into view. In this town, they're still easily No. 2, but they have to prove they can win games while they're under pressure. This has been a soft, soft program for a long time.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
That's right, just planning to practice within the next two weeks moves the Wolves to No. 3. In this case, the devil you don't know is better than the devils you know. Plus, the 66-game schedule almost ensures that the Wolves won't lose 50 games again.
4. Minnesota Gophers men's basketball team
What does it say about Tubby's program that one injury can destroy all expectations for an entire season even before the Big Ten schedule begins?
Actually, it says a lot.
5. Minnesota Twins
The signings of Doumit and Carroll are good, common-sense moves that could solve glaring problems. What's more impressive is the way Terry Ryan (and Bill Smith before he was fired) started fixing the baseball operation. The hiring of Wayne Krivsky (Smith deserves credit for that one), the re-hiring of Ryan, and the hiring of Gene Glynn as Triple A manager are moves that might not affect the 2012 standings but should help the Twins regain their respectability and set them up for future success.
The Twins would also benefit from luring Smith back into the fold. He has many skills that can benefit the business side of the operation. He's been a good soldier for this organization for a long time and should be treated as such.
6. Minnesota Gopher football team
Three victories against a weak schedule is not impressive, but Kill and his staff at least coaxed some improvement from Gray.
7. Minnesota Vikings
This team is an imperfect storm of lousy personnel and poor coaching. I think personnel depth is the bigger problem, but a team with Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and Percy Harvin in their prime should have more than two victories.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 with Reusse and Mackey, and at 6:15 with Tom Pelissero. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
In real time, sitting in the press box at the Georgia Dome, I didn't like the Vikings' play calls on their four-down series inside the Atlanta 5-yard-line in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
But is it possible I didn't like the play calls simply because they didn't work? And didn't one of them essentially work, in that Percy Harvin found himself in the end zone with the football and at least one referee telling him that he had scored?
The Vikings are 2-9. Their coaches are easy targets right now. But with the benefit of time spent thinking about this, I'm not sure they messed up Sunday, even if Leslie Frazier blamed himself for not kicking the field goal.
First-and-goal from the 3: Christian Ponder rolls right and gets sacked. It's not really a bad play call. Using Ponder's speed on a rollout makes sense. I question having only one receiver in the area that Ponder could have easily thrown to - Devin Aromashodu - but the rollout itself wasn't a bad idea.
Second-and-goal from the 5: Percy Harvin runs up the middle. This may not not seem like an ideal play call, but Harvin runs with remarkable power for someone his size, and the play essentially worked, with the offensive line moving the pile and Harvin gaining three yards.
Third-and-goal from the 2: Harvin smashes up the middle again. And again, you can question why Harvin is running power plays at the goal line, except that, like the previous play, this one pretty much worked. Harvin, according to himself and a lot of people watching the game with benefit of more replays than I saw, seemed to score. So if he essentially broke the plane of the goalline with the ball, can we really second-guess the call?
Fourth-and-goal from the 1: Frazier is kicking himself for not kicking the field goal and cutting the Atlanta lead to 7, but doesn't it make sense to try to score when you're on the 1, and your last two running plays worked as designed? This is another easy second-guess I'm not sure we should make.
Toby Gerhart never had a chance on the play. I'd rather question the design of the actual play, which required pulling offensive lineman, than the idea of going for the touchdown, or handing it to Gerhart. If Gerhart is going to have value, it's going to be in backing up Adrian Peterson and running hard between the tackles. On an obvious running down, though, you might want to rely on simplified blocking schemes.
In hindsight, I don't think the Vikings' coaches should be taking so much heat for this sequence.
I spoke with Harvin after the game, and asked if he's still bothered by migraine headaches.
``That's all behind me,'' he said. ``I haven't had a headache, don't look to have one again. The training staff has been doing great on following all the protocols if anything pops up...but nothing has. We're going to keep with the menu we have and hope for the best.''
The Vikings lost again on Sunday, but what struck me were a few positiives: Harvin's incredible talent and competitiveness, Jared Allen's willingness to long-snap and his hustle while covering punts, and Christian Ponder's poise.
A couple of Viking employees told me that when veterans started expressing frustration on the sideline or in the huddle, it was Ponder who calmed them.
I asked Allen about beating his teammates down the field to force a fair catch, after he served as the long-snapper. ``Don't give me too much credit,'' he said, laughing. ``It's my strategy to beat everyone down there so I don't get blindsided.''
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today and every day this week with Reusse and Mackey, and probably joining Tom Pelissero tonight on his show between 6-8.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Charlotte, N.C. _ Yes, they ultimately won because the Carolina Panthers committed a silly penalty that erased a chance at a winning touchdown and led to a missed field goal that should have tied it, but the Vikings did show some signs of life on Sunday, in their 24-21 victory.
I give most of the credit to the Vikings' first road victory since December to rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, and he's the subject of my Monday column. It's funny how much better the Vikings' offense looks in the second half since Ponder replaced McNabb. McNabb was at his worst in clutch situations - third downs, third-and-longs, fourth quarters - and that's where Ponder has been at his best.
I'm especially impressed with the way Ponder has handled himself throughout his brief Vikings career. Here's a kid breaking into the NFL without the benefit of offseason workouts or tutoring from his NFL coaches, and he's not only played well immediately, he's handled the demands of being an NFL quarterback extremely well. He's smart, he has a sense of humor and he never seems to be overwhelmed by any situation.
I caught Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on his way to the bus on Sunday night, and he is almost giddy, feeling he's found his franchise quarterback.
-Kudos to Percy Harvin for being one of the toughest players in a league filled with tough guys. I don't know how you play football with bad ribs, and I especially don't know how you make spin moves and fight off tackles with bad ribs, but Harvin did it, and his spin-o-rama in the fourth quarter was the key to the game-winning drive.
-Ryan Longwell has been a tremendous kicker and a tremendous professional his entire career. He's yanked two kicks in two games, though, and his miss on Sunday could have cost the Vikings the game.
-Funny how with a smart, mobile quarterback, the offensive line doesn't look so wretched anymore, even with Anthony Herrera out on Sunday.
-Adrian Peterson might be the best he's ever been. I don't know what it looked like on TV, but from the press box, getting to see the entire field, it's remarkable how quickly he is sensing openings in the defense. On his catch-and-run touchdown in the second quarter, most backs would have burrowed for a few yards; Peterson had the vision and burst to veer to the outside for what turned out to be an easy score. The guy is phenomenal.
-The lockerroom was loud after the game, and Frazier walked among his players, slapping hands and hugging them, and he took extra time when he got to Harvin. NFL coaches have to have their guys play hurt to survive, and Frazier had extra praise for Harvin.
-Tim Tebow stinks.
-Erin Henderson made a few key stops. He's acquitted himself well since joining the starting lineup.
-Jared Allen is having an amazing season. He and Adrian Peterson are two of the best players in all of football, which is why talk of rebuilding must drive the Vikings crazy. It's hard to rebuild when you have superstars on the payroll.
-Everson Griffin is an amazing athlete. He's 273 pounds and yet plays gunner on the punt coverage team, and regularly beats double-teams. I don't see why he can't become an excellent pass rusher.
-Upcoming: I'll be on with Reusse and Mackey on 1500espn every day at 2:05 p.m., and I'll join Tom Pelissero a couple of times this week, as well. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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