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 Packers

Monday morning thoughts

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 17, 2011 - 11:16 AM

Monday morning second-guessing (let's call it what it is):

-Logically, there is no reason for professional head football coaches to have to jog through the maelstrom of bodies on the field after an emotional game and offer a gratuitous and often insincere handshake. It's a silly custom.

Logically, the practice should be banned.

But I'm glad it exists, because it's brought us some great moments, like Bill Belichick dissing Eric Mangini and now Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz almost starting a brawl.

Here's the deal with Harbaugh and Schwartz: They were both wrong. Harbaugh was wrong to show up Schwartz, which he certainly did. Schwartz was wrong to escalate the situation by chasing Harbaugh down.

But I loved it. This is entertainment. It's also a win-or-bust business. Pro football is not for nice people. There are exceptions to that rule, like Tony Dungy, but they are rare exceptions. I love it when high-profile people bare their teeth and souls. So while I wouldn't want my kids or high school coach or even college coach behaving like this, in pro football, I love it when coaches break their usually cliche-ridden molds.

-I'm at Winter Park today, awaiting news on who starts at quarterback. I've been calling for Ponder since the Vikings fell to 0-3, but now I really don't think the timing matters much.

Start McNabb again, to save Ponder from facing the Packers in his first start? Fine with me. That's one of the reasons McNabb is here, to protect Ponder.

Start Ponder to introduce him to the NFL as quickly as possible, to prepare him for 2012 - or just to evaluate him? Fine with me. Why not?

Start Joe Webb? Fine by me.

When you're 1-5 and bound to lose and have so much of the season left, it really doesn't matter anymore.

-I fear for the Gophers. Their head coach is telling anyone who will listen that they're no good, and the players have every reason to believe him, and now they're facing a Nebraska team that will physically whip them. I fear not only for a 60-0 score, I fear for the players' safety. It's a hard game to play when your heart's not in it.

-To me, the Vikings' loss last night was predictable. They never play well in Chicago. Why would a bad Vikings team play well in Chicago when ever the best Vikings teams have struggled in that town and on that surface?

I am surprised it became a blowout so quickly. I keep thinking about all the quality players the Vikings have, but, then, these are the same players who seemed to quit under Brad Childress just a year ago. Maybe their talent level is overrated.

-Gov. Mark Dayton has been very even-handed, smooth and presidential in his handling of the Vikings' stadium debate. Now he's saying that a 1-5 record makes the stadium iniative less popular.

That's a blatant copout, and the kind of statement that makes us hate politicians. Noone, whether stadium proponent or opponent, should base a decision that will affect the state for good or ill for the next 30-plus years on how Donovan McNabb is playing this season.

The Vikings are a state asset. Different people will value their presence in different ways. I'm a sports guy. I value sports and think there are intangible benefits to having a team in state as well as tangible economic benefits. If you don't value sports, I don't expect you to agree with me.

But the decision should not be based on a win-loss record, whether the Vikings were 6-0 or 1-5. The decision should be based on the value of having an NFL franchise in our state. And if Dayton or anyone else wants to argue that we should let the Vikings leave because they're 1-5, I would argue that Minnesota eventually would decide to lure back an NFL franchise, and that acquiring another franchise will be much more expensive and complicated than building a stadium for the current franchise, which, for all of its faults and big losses, has been remarkably entertaining and competitive for decades.

-Since the start of the 2010 season, the Vikings are 7-15. That's the fourth-worst record

Here are the teams that are similar or worse during that span:

Carolina: 3-19.

Denver: 5-16.

Arizona: 6-15.

Cincinnati: 6-14.

St. Louis: 7-14.

Cleveland: 7-14.

Miami: 7-13.

-My pick: Rangers in six. Other than Cris Carpenter, I don't think the Cardinals' pitching staff can handle the Rangers' lineup.

-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2 p.m. with Reusse and Mackey, then on tonight, perhaps around 6:40, with Tom Pelissero. I'll also be on with Mike McFeely on KFGO in Fargo at 2:35.

My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

 

McNabb on pizza and passing

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 12, 2011 - 12:55 PM

Just finished with the afternoon session of interviews at Winter Park, including Donovan McNabb's weekly self-assessment, which goes something like this:

``I'm fine. We're fine. Why are you bothering me with these questions?''

His verbatim quote on questions about his accuracy: ``Well, I guess according to y'all, I've always been inaccurate.''

Which is a particularly self-pitying thing to say.

McNabb recommended Uno's deep dish pizza in his hometown of Chicago. I prefer Geno's. But it's telling that McNabb is more forthcoming on the subject of food than on his play at the most important position in sports.

One thing you learn as a longtime sportswriter is there are three kinds of athletes who almost never admit to a mistake: Golfers, pitchers and quarterbacks. All three categories produce athletes who find confidence and self-assurance so crucial that they rarely want to go down the path of public self-analysis. They teach themselves not to second-guess themselves because if they start, they may feel doubt in the heat of action.

That's where we find Donovan McNabb these days. I don't know if I've ever seen a less-accurate quarterback, and yet McNabb on Wednesday fought off questions about his mechanics and inaccuracy.

He told Sports Illustrated lately that he finds talk of him being replaced ``hilarious,'' and Tom Pelissero of 1500espn found similar quotes from him last season before he was benched by the Redskins.

I'd say it's time for McNabb to feel a little more urgency. W'hether he wants to believe it or not, he's not many losses away from being replaced. If and when the Vikings reach a point where they have no hope of making the playoffs, they will be forced to play Christian Ponder, if only to evaluate him.

Asked about mechanical problems that have him throwing the ball into the ground, McNabb said, ``This whole mechanics thing is getting out of hand.''

I understand that quarterbacks, given the intense scrutiny under which they perform, aren't going to stand at a podium and welcome more criticism. But a sense of reality might be nice.

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I hope the Twins are paying attention to the Detroit Tigers, at all levels, this year.

The Tigers' GM isn't afraid to make dramatic moves, whether it's signing Ivan Rodriguez, pursuing Miguel Cabrera or trading for Doug Fister.

The Tigers' players aren't afraid to play hurt. Cabrera has averaged 157 games played over the last eight seasons. Victor Martinez strained an oblique on his home-run swing on Tuesday, yet vowed he would play unless ``I'm dead,'' and is in the lineup tonight. You could see Justin Verlander arguing to stay in Game 1 despite two rain delays.

I don't know if the Tigers are a likeable team, but they're an admirable team. And they're threatening to distance themselves from the Twins, long-term, just as the Packers have separated themselves from the Vikings.

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2 p.m. today. I'll be in the studio on Sunday for Sunday Sports Talk, which airs from 10-noon and will feature Pelissero from Chicago, plus Kevin Seifert and a couple of guests to be named later.

 

Remember Al

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 8, 2011 - 7:59 PM

Many of my peers and friends in the business can offer much more comprehensive remembrances of the late Al Davis.

All I have is a good first impression.

I covered high school sports for the Dallas Morning News. My first pro assignment was covering Cowboys' training camp in 1989 in Thousand Oaks, Ca. The Cowboys would practice against the Raiders, who trained in Oxnard.

So on my first visit to Oxnard, I was watching the Raiders' defensive backs, when suddenly Elvis appeared. Well, he looked like Elvis. It was Al Davis, wearing his signature white, Elvis-style jumpsuit, gold-framed glasses and slicked-back hair.

Here was the owner and one of the most visible owners in sports, coaching his defensive backs.

I remember Davis' .life the way I remember Elvis', too. He was one of the greats before he slipped into self-caricature. He influenced the merger of the AFL and NFL, creating the NFL as we know it today. And he created the persona of one of the great franchises in sports history, the Oakland/LA Raiders. ``Just win, baby,'' and ``Commitment to Excellence'' became punchlines, as do all slogans when teams lose, but they weren't laughable when the Raiders were winning.

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Update: Tim Brewster lost eight of his last nine games. Jerry Kill has lost five of his first six games. Jeff Horton went 2-3 against Big Ten competition with the same players.

Jeff Horton should belatedly be named Big Ten coach of the year for 2010.

Also: When Paul Johnson was at Navy, he was considered a Gopher football coaching canididate when Joel Maturi hired Brewster.

I'm told Johnson did not have interest in the Gopher program. Too bad. Johnson has Georgia Tech undefeated this season.

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Covering the Lynx's championship on Friday night, and wrote a piece about Lindsay Whalen for the Sunday paper.

Whalen has always tried to maintain a pretty stoic public face, but I waited until the Lynx celebration was done and her teammates were all on the team bus before I caught her outside the lockerroom, and she was giddy and funny.

I'm staying in Atlanta to pick up a piece on the Packers that will run in this week's Star Tribune.

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I'm picking the Vikings to win on Sunday, and I'm not sure why. I guess I figure that if two bad teams play each other, you should probably take the home team. Which is why I was silly to take the Vikings last week.

As for Donovan McNabb's assertion that talk of him being benched is ``hilarious,'' my radio partner Tom Pelissero points out that McNabb said something similar last year...before he was benched.

I understand why Leslie Frazier wanted McNabb. I don't blame him for wanting a veteran in place following a lockout, and McNabb is serving the purpose of keeping the Vikings from rushing Christian Ponder into a pressurized situation.

But if McNabb can't win games, he has no value to this franchise. He's on a one-year deal. So today could be his last chance to prove that he has some value.

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Strange how baseball payrolls work. The Twins set a record for payroll, at about $115 million, and had their most disappointing season ever, barely missing 100 losses. Meanwhile the last four teams remaining in the playoffs all rank 10th or lower in payroll.

The Tigers are 10th (at about $106 million), followed by the Cardinals at 11, the Rangers at 13 and the Brewers at 17.

Could be a random event, or it could have two meanings:

1. The largest salaries are paid not to players who are on the rise, but players who have long-established value. That means older players. In the post-steroid era, age is a big deal. Players no longer can artificially extend their prime.

2. Old, rich players can be troublesome in the clubhouse. They can be divas. The Red Sox' sour attitude led to an epic collapse and the firing of Terry Francona. The Yankees are like a bunch of bankers, joyless and acutely aware of the bottom line.

You have to give big money to the right people. There is little dead weight on the rosters of the remaining teams.

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I'll be in Atlanta for Sunday Sports Talk. Tom Pelissero will be in the studio. We're on 1500espn from 10-noon. Guests include Lindsay Whalen, Kevin Seifert and Tom Linnemann. 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.

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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.

Slowey. Really?

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: September 4, 2011 - 6:54 PM

When Kevin Slowey took the mound on Sunday, he could have had any number of goals.

He could have wanted to win a game. That's always good. Whether he wants the victory to help his teammates, or to help himself in arbitration, or to enhance his trade value, doesn't matter. You've got to want to win, right?

Or he could have wanted to help his team out, and save the bullpen for Monday, when the Twins have to play a doubleheader with a thin, injury-depleted pitching staff. Saving the bullpen would be a baseball moral victory.

Or he could have wanted to prove that he's a tougher guy than everyone thinks he is, after he bailed to the disabled list earlier this season because he didn't want to pitch in the bullpen.

So Slowey throws 95 pitches through seven innings. He looks sharp. He strikes out four, doesn't walk anybody, and he's down just 2-1.

If he goes out for the eighth inning, he has a chance to get a victory, or at least has a chance to save the Twins' bullpen for Monday.

Instead, he complained of a tight hamstring, forcing the Twins to bring in two relievers to pitch the eighth. The Twins lost 4-1, and Slowey didn't accomplish anything other than fortifying his reputation within the organization as a malingerer.

They need to trade this guy. The problem is, he's got a 5.31 ERA and a bad reputation. The Twins need to wait until teams are looking for pitching help this winter, and trade him for the best offer.

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I can't mention any names because of the sources of my information, but I was told that three different Twins were laughing or giggling or smiling in the late innings on Sunday, as the Twins lost 4-1.

It's amazing how a bad farm system has taught a bunch of young players that losing is the norm, and that there's no reason to get down about it.

That's one of the subjects of my Monday morning column.

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I keep hearing people saying that Rick Adelman and Don Nelson are better candidates than Sam Mitchell.

Well, Adelman is an excellent coach, but he's 65. When is the last time a 65-year-old coach took over an NBA rebuilding project and wound up being the right guy? (I'm sure there are examples. I'm also sure there aren 't many.)

The more I talk to NBA insiders, the more I hear that Nelson would be a ticking time bomb who would quickly fall out of favor with ownership and the front office. He might not last a season.

Mitchell may not be the first name you think of when you decide you want to hire an NBA coach, but he shouldn't be dismissed, either.

He was the NBA coach of the year in 2007. His winning percentage with the Raptors was .452. Not impressive? Well, consider the context. The only Raptors coach who has done better was Lenny Wilkins, at .459. Mitchell's replacement, Jay Triano, won at a .380 clip. I can only wish Dwane Casey, the classy former Wolves coach, luck in turning that franchise around.

Mitchell is 48. He's experienced but not old. He fought his way to the NBA with a gritty style of play that hid his lack of talent. He is an experienced NBA assistant. He'd force the Wolves to play with fire, and to play defense. If he had success, he wouldn't use this job as a golden parachute into retirement or a steppingstone to a better franchise. He'd stay.

He'd reconnect with Wolves fans who remember this franchise when it was competent and competitive. He'd be a credible connection to potential free agents. He has the right personality to make owner Glen Taylor feel included without allowing Taylor or anyone else to impinge on his authority.

Would he succeed? I have no idea. Circumstances are more important than will in some cases. But he seems to me to be the best fit out of all the candidates.

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My favorite moment of the day: FSN's Robby Incmikoski asking Twins manager Ron Gardenhire if he took solace in the fact that his rotation is settled.

Gardenhire looked at him like he had cotton candy leaking out of his ears.

Settled? Gardenhire has one member of his original five-man rotation healthy: Carl Pavano. His other starters this week will be reliever Anthony Swarzak, Rule 5 draftee Scott Diamond, TBA (probably callup Liam Hendricks), Pavano, and the out-of-favor Slowey.

The Twins' rotation is about as settled as the San Andreas Fault.

Sometimes I hear the stupid questions people in my business ask and I hate the media, too.

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My thanks to Gophers coach Jerry Kill for joining Sunday Morning Sports Talk. For once, I see Gopher fans falling all over themselves about a new coach, and I think they might be on to something.

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Interesting week coming up for me: I'll be in Green Bay on Thursday night for the Packers opener, then heading to San Diego for the Vikings opener. I guess I could drop by Target Field, too, but I don't like being lonely.

My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. Follow me, Kevin. Please.

 

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