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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I was at the Twins Diamond Awards on Thursday night when emcee Dick Bremer and the team surprised Tom Kelly by announcing that his No. 10 will be retired on Sept. 8.
Kelly was so broken up by the news that he waved and stumbled off the stage, unable to speak. I caught up with him a little later, and he said the moment reminded him, strangely, of managing some of those lousy Twins teams in the '90s.
``Late in the game, if we were down, and we often were, I'd go up and down the dugout telling the boys, `Let's ambush somebody,' '' Kelly said. ``Well, I got ambushed tonight.''
The moment reminded me of a great TK moment. During Kirby Puckett's retirement press confererence, the two most eloquent people in the room were Puckett and Kelly. Puckett gave us the beautiful quote, ``Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.'' Kelly simply said: ``I got to see every one of Kirby Puckett's hits in the major leagues. How lucky am I.''
I covered Kelly for a long time. Because of his hard edge, few people realized just how emotional he was on a daily basis. I believe he spoke about his players staying on an even keel because he was so emotional himself.
Congratulations to Mr. Kelly. I think it's fitting that the Twins should honor the only manager or coach in the history of major sports in Minnesota who won two world titles.
This week's highly-irrelevant and self-serving Local Power Rankings:
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Love deal is fascinating. The fact that he was eligible for five years and was given four with an opt-out after three years could mean a lot of things. I think it says a lot about Glen Taylor's paranoia and David Kahn's ambivalence about Love.
Taylor probably fears another mega contract that could weigh him down, the way Kevin Garnett's did, and Joe Mauer's is killing the Twins. And you can't forget that Kahn is desperate to justify his existence as a personnel boss, and he can't take any credit for Love.
This could work out well, in that the three-year option will force Taylor and Kahn to build around Love and Rubio and not settle for having Love locked up. But it's also dangerous, because Love the second-best player in franchise history could destroy the team's plans in three years.
2. Gophers hockey
They've earned their ranking as one of the best teams in college hockey, but you'd like to see them sweep a good team every once in a while, and the Gophers have begun to resemble the underachievers of recent history. Does this team have a surge in it, or has it already played the best hockey of the year?
3. Gopher basketball
So many fans love to overreact to individual games, or even individual weeks. I'm still not sure we know much about this team.
The three-game winning streak wasn't all that impressive, given Indiana's collapse. And the loss to Michigan State was hardly surprising or damaging. The Gophers weren't going to win at Michigan State with Tom Izzo going for his 400th victory.
I think this is going to be a long, unpredictable Big Ten season. I wouldn't congratulate Tubby Smith, or write off his team, for quite a while.
4. Minnesota Wild
Two straight victories kept them in the playoff picture entering the All-Star break. Despite their collapse, that's still better than I expected from this team entering the season.
5. Minnseota Twins
I keep hearing that Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Denard Span all look primed for bounce-back seasons, but there's nothing cheaper than winter baseball talk. I want to see if Morneau and Span really look recovered from their concussions, and I don't think we'll know anything about Mauer until well into the regular season.
6. Minnesota Vikings
The Rick Spielman-Leslie Frazier duo is going to be tested in the next year. Spielman needs to dramatically upgrade the roster, and Frazier needs to prove that he can coach, and that he built a staff that can coach.
7. Gopher football
Three victories? Really?
Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk on 1500espn from the Metrodome, from 10-noon, with a bunch of Twins guests. On Sunday. Of course. I make an appearance every afternoon with Reusse and Mackey on 1500espn at 2:05 every weekday afternoon. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Quick thoughts on the Wild loss and Gophers' win last night:
-It appears that hockey coaches have only one card to play. Last night, Wild coach Mike Yeo complained about his team's lack of effort in a lopsided loss to the Blackhawks.
I like Yeo. Even considering the Wild's slump, I think he's done a good job and is very promising. I see this season as evidence that he was able to get his players to overachieve for a span rather than as an indictment of his work of late.
But it's always the same with hockey coaches: Win, and your guys showed grit; lose and everyone's a dog.
It's just not true. The X-factors in hockey and basketball are shooting. If the Wild had the skill to finish more odd-man rushes with goals, they'd win more games and spend fewer postgame interview sessions complaining about effort. Last night, the Wild lost to a far superior team on the road. It's a game of skill.
In basketball, shooting fixes all kinds of problems. I remember having a conversation with Larry Johnson's high school coach in Dallas. He played Johnson at center and surrounded him with four shooting guards. I praised the concept once, and the coach, ol' J.D. Mayo, told me: ``You know what? When we make shots, I look really smart. When we miss shots, it looks like we've never been coached.''
Simple, but true. The Gophers beat Indiana last night because they made shots. They made three-pointers, and Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman and Rodney Williams finished their drives.
Credit Tubby Smith with having his team ready to play last night. Credit the players for performing well in a tough place. But if Tubby tries to complain about a lack of talent on his roster at any point this season, remember that the Gophers were the more athletic and gifted team last night. Rodney Williams was the best player and athlete on the floor, and the Gophers had more quickness and depth than the Hoosiers.
Win or lose, my position on Smith is that he should not be allowed to make excuses. He has enough talent to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.
-Today's LPR - the Local Power Rankings that are a transparent device in which I can comment on the development on all the local teams:
Crazy to rank a 3-7 team No. 1 locally?
Maybe, but I think sports are as much about entertainment and atmosphere as winning championships. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love justify the purchase of a ticket, and the atmosphere at home games this year has been fun. That puts the Wolves way ahead of the pack in this market.
2. Gopher hockey
Lucia's boys are in a typical slump, failing to capitalize on their early promise. This weekend's games at North Dakota could tell us a lot about the state of this team and Lucia's program.
At this point I don't expect the Wild to make the playoffs. I would be more disappointed if I thought before the season that this team would make the playoffs, but I didn't. This slump may be a good thing in one way: It may allow the Wild brass to continue focusing on building for the future, instead of making a deal that might help this team.
Fletcher and Yeo need to recognize that this team isn't ready to make a playoff run, that they need more scorers to have any staying power. And I think Fletcher does.
4. Gopher basketball
Impressive win at Indiana. I think the Hoosiers are overrated, but give Smith credit for orchestrating a victory that keeps the season alive.
5. Minnesota Twins
I hasn't been an offseason filled with blockbusters, but the Twins have never made blockbuster signings, and making lopsided trades is harder today than it was when Terry Ryan was stealing from everyone in baseball in the late '90s and early 2000s. I think the Twins have had a reasonable, sane, rational offseason, and their fortunes will be decided by the health of their star players and the ability of their starting pitchers to provide quality innings.
I'm not particularly optimistic about either, but no flashy signing was going to change either of those realities.
6. Golden Gopher football
I'm surprised Jerry Kill hasn't gotten a contract extension for avoiding losses for the last two months.
7. Minnesota Vikings
I'm not impressed with the Vikings' search for a defensive coordinator. Rick Spielman is going to have to have a great draft to change this team's fortunes.
49ers-Saints: The Saints don't perform as well on grass as on turf, but I think this is such a mismatch that secondary factors won't matter. The 49ers excelled because of a weak schedule and division this year, and won't be able to keep up with the Saints. My guess: Saints 30, 49ers 17.
Texans-Ravens: The Ravens' defense ain't what it used to be, but it's good enough to win at home against a third-string quarterback. This game, to me, points out just how weak the AFC is this year. (And I still can't believe a great defensive coordinator like Dick LeBeau would make life so easy for Tim Tebow in a playoff game.) My guess: Ravens 23, Texans 15.
Broncos-Patriots: The Patriots have been lousy in the playoff since their last Super Bowl win. The Patriots have a mediocre defense and running game. You can seize on either trend and pick against the Pats, but I wouldn't. Belichick will not make the same mistakes against Tebow that LeBeau did. Belichick will find a way to contain Tebow and force him to read zone coverages.Tom Brady, facing a superior defense, will nevertheless move the ball enough to outpace Tebow and the Broncos My guess: Patriots 27, Broncos 12.
Giants-Packers: As with Broncos-Patriots, there are plenty of good reasons for picking an upset, and I'm not buying into any of them. The Packers' flaws (offensive line, porous defense, may have peaked too early this season) indicate that the Giants could win another big playoff game at Lambeau. The Giants have the better running game and defense. But I'm going big-picture here: The Packers remain the best team in football, they should be healthy again following their bye week, and they're playing at home. I'm not picking against Aaron Rodgers here, or for the forseeable future. My guess: Packers 31, Giants 26.
If you want to know how confident I am in any of these picks, please consider that I never bet on sports.
-Spoke with former Gophers quarterback Adam Weber for today's column. I wasn't joking when I said I think he has a better NFL future than Tim Tebow.
Weber had horrible coaching and little support at the U of M, yet still was highly productive. With good coaching and a great work ethic, I'm sure he can complete more than 46.5 percent of his passes, which is what Tebow did this season.
I'd rather put my money on Weber than Tebow or Brady Quinn. And anyone who thinks that Tebow is somehow a better human than Weber is a religious fanatic. You don't have to quote scripture to be a good human being. I'll take Weber as a guy as well as a quarterback.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey and at 6:40 with Tom Pelissero. Tom and I will run an abbreviated Sunday Sports Talk on Sunday from 10-10:30 a.m. before making way for Gophers women's basketball. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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.
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.
I watched the Heat and Bulls last night, but didn't realize until this morning, watching Mike & Mike, that Joaquim Noah used a slur against a fan in Miami - the same slur that got Kobe Bryant into trouble earlier this season, when he yelled it at a ref.
First of all, I spent a little time around Noah when he played for Florida, and I know a few people who have covered him. I like the guy, and like everything I've ever heard about him.
Was uttering the slur wrong? Of course. But, as Mike & Mike noted, we're getting to a point in player-fan relations where I think we have to start holding the fan more accountable.
I think sports teams should start ejecting fans when they become too abusive. Haven't we evolved? Shouldn't we have reached a juncture in civilization when buying a ticket doesn't allow you the right to scream obscenities?
During the Twins' last homestand, a guy stood up in front of the press box and began screaming and cursing at a Twins reliever - I believe it was Joe Nathan. Why should he be allowed to do that, and ruin the experience of everyone within earshot? (A Twins usher calmed the man down.)
I took my daughter to a Timberwolves game years ago - we're talking the '90s - and we wound up next to a group of people who cursed the entire game. I never brought a kid back.
And that's not a shot at the Wolves. Whatever the state of their team, they work like crazy to make their fans comfortable..
I believe we need to start looking at sports more like theater, and less like a drunken night in a dive bar.
Can you imagine buying a ticket to a show, or a movie, or a concert, and having to sit next to someone who's screaming and cursing the entire night?
I'd say ``No.'' So why should it be allowed in professional sports, where people spend immense amounts of money on the entertainment?
-As I said on Twitter this morning, even if the Twins finish in last place, if they can trade Kevin Slowey, the season will be a success.
-We had ESPN's Chris Broussard on Sunday Morning Sports Talk on 1500espn this weekend, and we wound up talking about how LeBron James is almost like Magic Johnson in his ability to dominate a game physically and win without scoring. Then last night, he played a remarkably even, versatile game while letting Chris Bosh handle most of the scoring.
James has damaged his reputation as a good, down-to-earth guy in the last year. But he may be on his way to establishing himself as one of the greatest players of all time.
-I'll be fascinated to see how the Twins draw the rest of the year. Will people come for the ballpark? Will people show up only if the weather is good? Could the Twins' struggles be good for anyone who wants a chance to attend Target Field, and perhaps find a reasonably-priced ticket?
-Nice piece by colleague Chip Scoggins today on Chris Weinke's passing camp.
I don't know whether Christian Ponder will be a good NFL quarterback. He at least strikes me as an earnest, hard-working, responsible guy. That, combined with his obvious intelligence, should give him a chance to succeed.
Look at the great NFL quarterbacks. Their common denominators aren't exceptional arm strength and tremendous athletic ability. Their common denominators are intelligence, work ethic, leadership and accuracy.
Personally, I think covering the development of a talented young quarterback is the best story in sports. I'm hoping Ponder gives us something to write about, and talk about, for years.
-Had breakfast with Jerry Kill last week, leading to the piece I wrote for Sunday.
I like the guy. I think he's genuine. I also think he has a tough job.
-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 p.m. all week, and we'll host The Ron Gardenhire Show and Sunday Morning Sports Talk from the St. Thomas University mobile press box this week. You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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