Over the past two seasons the Vikings have posted the worst combined record in the NFC North, going 12-19-1, a half-game worse than the Bears’ 13-19. The Lions have gone 18-14 and the Packers, winners of the division the past four seasons, have gone 20-11-1.
Still, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman believes the team’s long-term plan of creating a core group of young stars has really started to take shape, and that those players should be able to compete for division titles soon.
“Our team got older when we went through our Super Bowl run when we had Brett Favre, and I knew we had to get younger,” Spielman said about the Vikings’ long-term thinking following the 2009 season. “That takes some time, and we’ve been able to accomplish that over the last couple of years with the number of draft picks that we had. Now you’re hoping that those guys would develop and some of those guys are developing into pretty good football players for us. That cycle will be, hopefully, the guys that we extend and keep around for a while.”
While Spielman wasn’t satisfied with the way that last season turned out, he believes the combination of coach Mike Zimmer, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a number of other promising young players should give fans real hope.
“No one is satisfied with the 7-9 record, but there’s a lot of optimism,” Spielman said. “I think we have the right head coach in place. He did a great job this year.
“That was one of the big things, and I think you know a lot of our young guys are starting to come together and our coaching staff did a great job. We’ve seen the emergence of Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen, all of these young guys are finally getting their opportunity and starting to develop.
“I’m very excited about the progress of Teddy and how strongly he came along the second part of the year and what Norv and Scott Turner have done with him. You’ve seen Teddy grow, too, and get familiar with the scheme, see the ball come out of his hands quicker, get familiar with the rhythm of the game. Those are all encouraging signs heading into next year.”
Team didn’t quit
If there was one aspect of the season that made Spielman believe the team is moving in the right direction, it was the way that everyone continued to battle for wins when they could have easily given up in the face of some trying adversity.
“[Zimmer] never made an excuse,” Spielman said. “We lost the tight end [Kyle Rudolph], we lost three offensive linemen [Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan], we went through the situation with Adrian Peterson, and when you look back, those are some hard things and adversity to go through.
“But I really think we grew as a team having to go through all that adversity. Even Teddy Bridgewater, where I think not having a lot of those pieces around him that we initially had planned to have in place, weren’t there, and he went through his struggled but that forced him to take that next step, which you saw him take the second half of the year.”
In Bridgewater, Spielman believes the team might have finally found a long-term solution at quarterback.
“He still has to learn, still has a ways to go, but all the signs you see and all the progress you see him making indicates — in not only his ability to play on the field, but his approach off the field and his maturity level and you see how our locker room and all those vet players gravitate to him,” Spielman said. “Those are the signs you’re seeing that he does have the opportunity to be a franchise-type quarterback if he continues on this same path.”
Twins President Dave St. Peter was asked about the interest in the team right now with TwinsFest going on at Target Field this weekend.
“Well it’s all relative, right?” he said. “It’s certainly not where I’d like it to be. It’s not where it was in 2010 when we moved into Target Field and the brand might have been at its zenith. The last four years have taken their toll. But make no mistake, there is still tremendous interest in the Twins. Our fanbase has been great.
“I think we’ll land somewhere between 14-15,000 full season equivalents. That’s certainly down from last year, but relative to Major League Baseball it’s still probably an upper-echelon team. Our fans have been great. I think a lot of fans are going to take a wait-and-see approach, and rightfully so. I’d ask folks to give us a chance. We think Paul Molitor and this coaching staff are going to set the right tone and we’re going to return to not only being competitive but contention in the American League Central sooner versus later.”
St. Peter added that overall ticket sales are around 1 million and the hope is to reach or surpass 2 million.
“Our fans have been great,” he said. “Our attendance has been pretty darn good considering the on-field product [the last four years].”
• Despite the Timberwolves’ poor record, owner Glen Taylor said that he will lose only $1 million or $2 million to operate the team because of a season-ticket base of some 7,500, as many tickets were sold when the trade for Andrew Wiggins was made. On another subject, Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, said he is acting only as an adviser to people bidding on an MLS franchise and that there is only an outside chance that he would be an investor for a soccer team.
• The city of Reno, Nev., unveiled a new memorial on the 30th anniversary of a plane crash that killed 70 people, including Gophers assistant athletic director Robert Geary. The charter flight was on its way to the Twin Cities when it crashed shortly after takeoff.
• The Twins opened with 100-1 odds of winning the World Series, tied for last with Arizona, Colorado and Philadelphia.
• After Iowa State beat Big 12 title contenders Kansas and Kansas State in one week, coach Fred Hoiberg’s team followed that by losing to Texas Tech 77-73 on Saturday. Former Gophers coach Tubby Smith got his biggest victory in two years with the Red Raiders, who earned their first victory over a top-10 team since 2009.
• The Gophers athletic department collected rent of $14,000 and also had a $2 per facility fee, which ended up being $28,044, for Minnesota State High School League football state semifinal and final games held at TCF Stadium.
• The Wolves likely won’t get an NBA All-Star voted in, but there’s a chance they could have up to five players in the NBA Future All-Stars Game in New York. Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett could all vie for spots. LaVine already has been named as part of the slam dunk competition.