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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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.
Before I get to the news of the week, I'd like to share a thoughts from Tom Kelly that didn't fit into my Wednesday newspaper column.
I spoke with TK on the phone yesterday. He was at home, and that was a reminder that Kelly retired when he could have easily kept working and making $1 million a year or more. His friends have always told me that he's managed his money extremely well. The last time I visited Tom at home, he showed off an amazing backyard garden that he and his wife must spend hours on, and he seemed remarkably relaxed and happy.
Meanwhile his old friend and sparring partner, Tony La Russa, has padded his resume to the point where there's no doubt he'll be in the Hall of Fame, even if he keeps making mistakes the way he did on Monday night.
When I asked Kelly about the fact that some national writers are comparing this World Series to the 1991 classic, Kelly didn't seem too impressed. But then he mentioned something I didn't expect.
``I thought we pitched pretty well in '91,'' Kelly said. ``Scotty Erickson had some trouble, but we all know he was pitching with a bad elbow. He went out there when maybe he shouldn't have, and that's something I'll have to live with.''
It is well-known that Erickson pitched through elbow pain. And after dominating in 1991, Erickson was never quite the same. I thought it was remarkable that after all this time, Kelly would still feel regrets about Erickson putting himself at risk.
Next time you want to celebrate that '91 team, you might want to remember Erickson's guts, as well as Puckett's homer and Jack Morris' glare.
My old Dallas Morning News colleague Blackie Sherrod used to write a Sunday notes column called ``Scattershooting.'' Well, ``colleague'' is too strong a word. I don't know if Sherrod knew who I was.
But ``scattershooting'' is a good way to get to the news of the day today...
1. It's easy to bash Bernard Berrian today. He deserves it. He's been an unproductive pain in the butt for too long. But before we all rip the Vikings for ever signing him, let's remember that he had a very good season in 2008 while playing with Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson. He caught 48 passes for 964 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging an impressive 20.1 yards per catch.
His career turned when Brett Favre came to town and decided he didn't trust Berrian a whole lot. If Favre had thrown to a wide-open Berrian in the NFC championship game, instead of forcing a pass to Sidney Rice that was intercepted, Berrian could have been a part of a Super Bowl winner.
I'm not excusing Berrian's play or behaviour the last two years. He deserved to get cut. I'm just saying that the guy wasn't a complete bust until 2010.
2. The Vikings made the right move, suspending Chris Cook without pay. I don't know if much more needs to be said.
3. After speaking with a few people, I think Joe Nathan probably is gone for good. I sense that he wants to pitch for a winner, and I don't think the Twins currently qualify. I also think that once he hits the open market his feelings of allegiance to the Twins will disappear. Just a guess at this point, but that's the guess I'm going with.
4. Yes, the Jerry Kill contract is a joke. The man agreed to five-year deal. Then he started 1-6 while his team was embarrassed in every Big Ten game it played. Also: He suffered a seizure on the sideline.
I think the University should have stuck to its five-year deal. Adding two more years, and offering a raise, is foolishness.
5. Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey.
6. I'm hearing Game 6 of the World Series will be postponed. There's also rain in the forecast for tomorrow night. This could be a long week, and I think the longer it lasts, the more of an advantage the Cardinals have, because every day of postponement is a day of rest for ace Chris Carpenter.
7. Tom Pelissero and myself will conduct Sunday Sports Talk from Carolina on Sunday. We'll be there to cover the Vikings game, and will be on from 10-noon locally.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib, and I"ll be tweeting from Winter Park today.
The Vikings are becoming more interesting for all of the wrong reasons.
Chris Cook is arrested on suspicion of felony strangulation.
A report appears from NFL.com and the NFL network that Donovan McNabb lacked a strong work ethic and didn't fully prepare himself.
Head coach Leslie Frazier calls out his defensive line, and defensive lineman Kevin Williams takes exception.
The team is 1-5 while ownership seeks approval of a new stadium plan.
This is not only a bad team, this is an organization in disarray in part because, as you've read here many times, it doesn't have a true general manager who can make decisions based on what's best for the franchise and who can be held accountable when things go wrong.
First of all, there were red flags attached to Chris Cook, and yet the Vikings drafted him, just a few years after the Wilfs issued the Code of Conduct. Maybe a real general manager would have viewed hte big picture and not taken a chance on him.
Second, the fact that someone in the Vikings' organization is leaking inside information (true or not) about McNabb after he was benched could be seen as someone in the organization second-guessing Leslie Frazier's decision to bring in McNabb. It's a piling-on move that's unecessary and hints that the decision-making group of the Vikings is not all on the same page. At least, that's the way I read it.
Third, Frazier's cache as a coaching candidate was that he was going to get the most out of his players. I admire Frazier and don't hold him solely responsible for the 1-5 record - this organization has much bigger problems than the identity of its head coach - but if key players like Williams are publicly sparring with him, that's not a good sign.
And the pursuit of a stadium makes the Wilfs more likely to be reactionary with their decisions, when what this organization needs is patience and a long-term plan to regain respectability.
This is a mess right now.
Having covered Troy Aikman, Rich Gannon and Daunte Culpepper as young quarterbacks, I can tell you that there's nothing more interesting than watching a young quarterback develop, and nothing more rewarding than watching a young quarterback learn how to win in the NFL. But Christian Ponder is going to have a tough road with this organization. They have a million flaws and yet no one decision-maker who can set the right course.
I think Ponder will probably play well today. But I don't think that will matter. Not with Aaron Rodgers facing a secondary that was porous even when Antoine Winfield and Cook were healthy.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2 p.m. every weekday, and also contributing to Tom Pelissero's 6-8 show Monday and Friday. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib, and I'll tweet from the Vikings-Packers game as much as the Metrodome wireless system allows.
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:
St. Louis: 7-14.
-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.
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.
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