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 NFL post-season

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.

 

NFL picks, Tice and Chili news, and Vikings hangovers

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 20, 2012 - 5:54 PM

Mike Tice is set to interview for the Oakland Raiders' head coaching job. Brad Childress has interviewed in Tampa and could be on the Colts' list.

Make all the jokes you want about Tice's mistakes and Childress' foibles, but both became good NFL head coaches while on the job in Minnesota, and both will probably be even better if given a second chance.

Tice got blamed for the Love Boat scandal. I can tell you as someone who covered the Vikings for years that Tice's leadership had nothing to do with the scandal. The Vikings held similar parties for decades, it's just that while Tice was in charge, the players got caught having that party on a boat in front of people they had not paid off.

Tice deserves full blame for scalping Super Bowl tickets. That was stupid. But he's not the only NFL coach to do so, he was just the guy who got caught.

Tice helped the Vikings improve and took them to the playoffs with a very limited roster and a JV coaching staff, because Red McCombs, at that juncture of his ownership, did not want to pay for good people. Had Scott Linehan stayed and Matt Birk stayed healthy, Tice probably would have taken the team to the playoffs in consecutive years and would have been much harder to fire.

Childress went from 6-10 to 8-8 to 10-6 to 12-4 before Brett Favre and Randy Moss got him fired. He's a smart, talented coach who drove a lot of people inside and outside the Vikings' organization crazy, but I believe he gained a lot of perspective while he was here. Put him in the right organization, with a real general manager and clearly defined responsibilities, and I bet he wins a lot of games. Tampa Bay could be perfect, because they have a talented young quarterback, and finding and developing a quarterback was Childress' main problem in Minnesota.

----------------------------------------------

As for this weekend, here are my sure-to-backfire picks.

Ravens at Patriots:

I know the Ravens destroyed the Patriots in Foxboro the last time they met in the playoffs, but I believe this Ravens team has lots of problems that will doom it on Sunday.

The defense is old and a step slower than when it was a dominant unit. Joe Flacco is playing without confidence. And the Ravens don't scare anybody with their outside receivers. If Bill Belichick can find a way to rattle Flacco and control Ray Rice, the Ravens won't score many points.

Tom Brady is playing at a high level and can use Gronkowski and Hernandez to take advantage of the Ravens' diminished defensive speed. On defense, the Patriots had a terrible statistical season but are healthier now than they've been all year, and the return of Patrick Chung could make them more formidable.

I think this one's simple: The Patriots have a chance to score a lot of points, and the Ravens don't.

Patriots 27, Ravens 22.

Giants at 49ers:

Eli Manning is better than Alex Smith, and the Giants are the best and most complete team remaining in the playoffs. In researching my Sunday column, I found out that the Giants had the least rushing yards in the NFL this season. But they remain dangerous on the ground.

Modern sports championships are won by the hottest and healthiest teams, and the Giants qualify, just as the Packers did last year at this time.

As in the Patriots' game, I'm picking the team with the best chance to score a lot of points. As good as the 49ers' defense is, I think Manning uses this game to gain the kind of recognition usually reserved for his brother, Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.

Giants 24, 49ers 16.

Upcoming: With Tom Pelissero headed to Mobile to cover the Vikings staff at the Senior Bowl, Joe Schmit will join me at the boat show to run Sunday Sports Talk, from 10-noon.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

Rob Lowe? Reminds me of a story...

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 18, 2012 - 5:29 PM

If it turns out that Rob Lowe's ``report'' that Peyton Manning will retire is erroneous, we're all going to have a big laugh at his expense. In fact, thanks to Twitter, about 18 million people have already started.

Personally, I never downgrade information because of the perceived legitimacy of the source. Jose Canseco was the best whistle-blower on the steroid era and then there was the time I was working in Dallas...

It was my first full season on a pro beat. I was covering the Dallas Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News. I was at the Cowboys' facility one day when a rumor broke that the Cowboys would trade Herschel Walker, their only big-name player, to the Minnesota Vikings for a bunch of draft picks and players.

Everyone scoffed. Johnson issued a non-denial denial when we asked him about it. We blew it off.

The source was a small-town radio guy in Florida. How could he know what was going on with the Cowboys?

Well, it turned out that the small-town radio guy was friends with someone close to Johnson. Johnson had told the friend, who told the radio guy, and there you had it: The biggest scoop in sports, broken not by a beat writer or NFL insider, but by someone who had the right relationship to gain access to the information.

Also, as several media people have pointed out today, the first person Colts owner Jim Irsay followed on Twitter was Rob Lowe.

I"m not saying Lowe is right. I'm saying that you never know who's going to break a story.

-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. every weekday, and we'll have a full Sunday Morning Sports Talk, 10-noon on Sunday.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib..

No, I wasn't kidding about Tebow/Weber

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 15, 2012 - 12:51 PM

I received a predictable reaction to my Friday column, in which I predicted that the Patriots would whip the Broncos and that Adam Weber, given a chance, would have a better NFL career than Tebow.

Instead of answering individual emails and tweets, I'll answer questions and concerns here:

1. No, that wasn't a joke. I think Tebow will fail as an NFL quarterback, just as he has failed miserably in four of his last five starts.

Tebow has had every advantage. He played for a great college team and for perhaps the best offensive coach in college football, Urban Meyer. He was drafted in the first round, ensuring that his team would give him plenty of attention and eventually give him a chance to succeed. He has been supported by an excellent defense and running game and in many of his victories, other than his impressive performance against the Steelers, he played horribly for three quarters or more before making a few clutch plays.

Weber is an athletic guy who was a better passer in college than Tebow was, and who, instead of being coached by someone like Urban Meyer, had to try to survive the coaching of people like Tim Brewster and Jedd Fisch, who altered his throwing style, and, I'm told by people close to the program, caused arm problems for Weber.

Yes, I'm serious: Given an equal chance, Weber will outperform Tebow as an NFL quarterback.

2. Yes, I'm sick of Tebow invoking religion at every opportunity. The reaction of many: Why would I react this way?

Spend a few minutes thinking about it, people.

By using his platform to push his religious beliefs, he's telling you that his religion, and perhaps even his God, is better than yours, and that you should convert. Yes, that's what he's saying. He is an evangelical, as was his father.

Tebow is also telling you that God wanted him to win. Trust me, there are plenty of religious people on the other team. Only a fool or a zealot would believe that God, if he dabbles in such things, would side with an overtly religious quarterback of one team over the devout people who represent the other team.

(Although I did see, in a great tweet this week, that maybe this is why the world is so screwed up - God spends all of his time obsessing about the NFL.)

Yes, Tebow does good work and helps children and visits hospitals. So does Jared Allen, and Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau and...well, I'll stop now before I list every athlete in the Twin Cities.

Tebow is trying to set himself and his religion apart from every other person, religious or not, in the NFL. It's simple-minded and narcissistic.

Some of the most religious people I know would never be arrogant enough to suggest that their faith is better than your faith. That's what Tebow tells us every day.

What has happened with Tebowmania is that Tebow has told people that he's a great person because he's religious, and fans have swallowed it because he's won a few games.

In what other walk of life would you celebrate someone who finishes every sentence or paragraph, by praising their Lord? If I did that, I'd be fired, but I'd be fired only after I chased off 95 percent of my readers and listeners.

Somehow, many observers of the sports-entertainment complex think wearing his religion makes Tebow a hero. I think it makes him annoying, at best.

Disagree all you want. I value people who live good lives regardless of their religious beliefs, not people who tell me how good they are because of their religious beliefs.

 

Friday morning LPR and picks

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 13, 2012 - 10:29 AM

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:

1. Timberwolves

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.

3. Wild

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.

-NFL Picks:

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.

 

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