It's no secret to a lot of local sports fans how close I was to the late George Steinbrenner, with the many appearances he made on WCCO Radio, how he spoke at the local Dunkers club and, among other things, that he was one of the main speakers at my 90th birthday celebration. It was through my association with the Yankees owner that I got to be close to Yogi Berra.
More than once when the Yankees were training at Fort Lauderdale, and even when they moved their spring training to Tampa, I had the privilege of sitting with Steinbrenner and Berra as the team got ready for the regular season.
When Steinbrenner was living, I ran into Berra a number of times. He was a great baseball player, but a better person. He even called me on the phone one time to pick him up at the airport when he was making an appearance in town.
With the passing of this Hall of Famer and giant of the game this week, I was reminded of one of the great letters in my possession, now on my office wall. It reads like this:
"December 13, 1963
My apologies for this long delay to your letter, but as you know, with the many changes, and now that the winter meetings are out of the way, we are finally catching up on our correspondence.
You are a generous and thoughtful friend, to take the trouble to write me about my new job.
I deeply appreciate your good wishes.
Though being manager of the N.Y. Yankees poses a great challenge, I am proud to accept such a grand opportunity, after seventeen wonderful years with the Yankees.
Many thanks — and the best to you.
Yes, he was something special. I know to his dying day Steinbrenner regretted not only firing Yogi as manager on April 29, 1985, but having one of his assistants do the dirty work. Fortunately, they made up after that and this column is not long enough to list the things the Yankees owner did for Berra.
Turner faces Chargers
No matter how nice of a guy you are, and by all indications Norv Turner is one of the nicest coaches around the NFL, you have to want to beat the team that fired you as head coach.
Turner will get a chance to beat his former employer this week when he faces off against the Chargers, whom he coached from 2007-2012, going 56-40 overall, which is good for the third-best winning percentage in franchise history at .583. Turner's squads reached the playoffs in three consecutive seasons from 2007-2009 and finished second in the division each year from 2010-2012. He reached the conference championship in 2007, something the franchise hadn't done since losing the Super Bowl in 1994.
Meanwhile, following the Vikings' 26-16 victory over Detroit last week, Turner talked about the importance of moving on from the team's bad 20-3 loss in Week 1 at San Francisco.
"You're at home, we have a game under our belt, I think our guys were extremely focused," Turner said. "We played very physical on offense. To me, early in the game we converted third downs, which kept giving us chances to run plays. A lot of the same plays we ran in San Francisco we ran [Sunday], they just had different results."
U offensive line set
The Gophers offensive line will have the same starters against Ohio U who struggled with Kent State, and they will have to block much better this week. The group will be Josh Campion at right tackle, Jonah Pirsig at left tackle, Brian Bobek at the center spot and then Joe Bjorklund and Connor Mayes at the guard spots.
"Ben Lauer [an offensive tackle] broke his hand yesterday, and he'll be questionable to play on Saturday," said head coach Jerry Kill. "We'll start our five starters that we started last week and we better not get anybody hurt. At tight end Brandon Lingen is back."
On another subject, Kill talked about Frank Solich, the Ohio U coach who Nebraska fired after the 2003 season when the Huskers went 9-3 and finished No. 19 in the Top 25 poll.
"Frank Solich, yeah we go way back, we used to travel around on the Glazier Clinic [coaching] tour together and got to know each other," Kill said. "Of course he was an assistant then and then became the head coach at the University of Nebraska. Then we coached against each other in the MAC and became good friends. He is a good man, a good football coach, won a lot of games at Nebraska. His football team is 3-0 and there's a reason."
• Going into the regular season, the Vikings had sold 13,000 more season tickets than they sold a year ago. Tickets are still available for even the Green Bay game, because in order to buy a Green Bay ticket, you had to buy tickets to see St. Louis, Chicago or the Giants. Except for the St. Louis game, the Vikings are pretty well sold out at TCF Bank Stadium. Also, about 80 percent of the new stadium seat licenses are sold.
• The Twins have had 2.1 million in attendance heading into Thursday's game, but they have already sold more tickets than last season and still have a chance to add some more with four home games left. … Apparently that figure will make the Twins eligible for revenue sharing for a second year.
• The Gophers signed three new track athletes: Jon Tharaldsen, the North Dakota Gatorade Track Athlete of the Year, who has a 63-foot, 8-inch shot put toss; Eric Walker, the Illinois indoor state champion in the 60 meters, which he ran in 14.18 seconds; and Shane Streich, the Minnesota state champion in the 800 meters, which he ran in 1 minute, 49.80 seconds.
• One player to keep on an eye on heading into the Vikings game on Sunday is tight end Ladarius Green, who suffered his second concussion in 11 days and is questionable to play for the Chargers. San Diego had to bring in Kyle Miller on Thursday and added him to the 53-man roster.
• If the Gophers are going to beat Ohio on Saturday they are going to have to stop the run, which is the Bobcats' main offensive weapon. They have rushed 121 times this season versus 79 pass attempts, and they have rushed for 548 yards on the season.
• Interesting note out of Rutgers, with the four-game suspension of current head coach Kyle Flood, the acting head coach is former Gopher Norries Wilson. Wilson was a captain for the Gophers and began his collegiate coaching career here as a graduate assistant in 1989. Wilson was the head coach at Columbia and is the running backs coach at Rutgers, which faces Kansas on Saturday.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org