A Wednesday notes column:
The University of Minnesota celebrates the 90th anniversary of Williams Arena tonight at the Golden Gophers-Nebraska game. Despite the building’s age and flaws it’s likely to be the home of U men’s and women’s basketball for many more years.
The facility is revered by Minnesotans for its history and great moments including not only for the Gophers, but also as the home of the Minnesota high school basketball tournament for many years. The raised floor is almost unique among college gyms and the proximity of the seats to the court makes for an intimate arena. When the 14,625 seat building is filled to capacity, and the Gophers are playing a big game, there are few college venues as loud and fun.
Known in recent decades as the “Barn” because of its outside shape, the building has long been criticized for crowded concourses, narrow seats, obstructed views of the court and minimal number of bathrooms. A remodeling of the arena in the 1990s included installation of many chairback seats, but bench seating also remains in place.
At least two major factors make it unlikely the arena will be replaced anytime soon. To many fans and ticket buyers, the thought of replacing the beloved building is heresy. A move to a new arena could cause a revolt by some season ticket holders and athletic department donors—telling the athletic department, “See you later.” Abandonment by supporters would be even more probable if the men’s team continues its almost annual performance of playing mediocre (and worse) basketball.
The second issue is money. The athletic department still has more than $60 million to raise in paying off the new $166 million Athletes Village project. There is also ongoing maintenance and renovations on existing facilities. And there is an overall annual challenge to fund the 23 sport men’s and women’s programs—with only football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey being profitable. Those three generate much of the money in the athletic department budget.
At tonight’s game celebrating the 1928 opening of Williams Arena several promotions and special pricing will be offered. Included will be recognition of season ticket holders and 90 cent tickets available for anyone age 90 or older at the arena box office.
Minnesota’s Isaiah Washington averaged 20.5 points in two losses last week to Iowa and Michigan. The Gopher point guard was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week yesterday, and he is playing his best basketball of the season.
Minnesota is 1-8 since starting center Reggie Lynch was suspended indefinitely. Starting forward Amir Coffey, with an injured shoulder, has missed seven of the last nine games.
With the second of two national Signing Days coming tomorrow, P.J. Fleck’s Gopher football class of 2018 now has a composite ranking at No. 34 by 247Sports. That’s down from No. 27 but still second best in the Big Ten West behind No. 25 Nebraska. Ohio State is No. 1 in the website’s rankings.
Sunday’s Super Bowl did more than set offensive records for the big game. Nevada’s 198 sports books had a record $158.6 million wagered on the Eagles-Patriots game, according to figures released Monday by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and reported in an online Las Vegas Review-Journal story.
Look for the Vikings to hire their new offensive coordinator before any news breaks regarding the quarterback roster for next season. It will be interesting to learn whether offensive line coach Tony Sparano is in the mix of candidates for OC. Sparano was offensive coordinator for the Jets in 2012 and before that held the same title at Boston College.
While the Vikings have three quarterbacks on their roster who are free agents, Super Bowl 52 MVP quarterback Nick Foles is under contract for one more season with the Eagles. The journeyman turned star will earn $4 million in base salary, and with a roster bonus of $3 million, will receive a total of $7 million in 2018, according to Sportac.com.
When the Twins go to spring training later this month, among the topics sure to come up in the media is Brian Dozier’s contract. The second baseman has one season remaining on his current agreement and reportedly will be paid $9 million in 2018. Dozier has led the Twins in home runs the last two seasons with a total of 76. The Mariners’ Robinson Cano at $24 million is MLB’s top paid second baseman, according to Sportac.com. He has 62 home runs the last two seasons.
Fox Sports North Plus will telecast the Twins spring training game against the Gophers February 22 game. The Thursday night game starts at 5 p.m. Central time.
The University of Minnesota has historic ties to men’s Olympic hockey but this year in South Korea only one U alum, former Gopher All-American Ryan Stoa, is on the American roster. Ex-Gopher and Hobey Baker winner Robb Stauber is the head coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team. Kelly Panek, a current Gopher, joins seven other U alums on the women’s team.
The Wild, who play the Coyotes Thursday night at home, is 4-0-1 in its last five games at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota has dominated Arizona with an 11-1-2 record in the last 14 games.
The Wild is publicizing a free open to the public outdoor practice Sunday at the St. Louis Park Rec Center. The practice starts at 11 a.m. and is scheduled for 45 minutes.
Twin Cities golfers were able to play last February but it doesn’t look like an encore in 2018. Daytime temps may hit 40 at best between now and March 1, per AccuWeather.com.
For those old enough to remember, there were references in this town in the 1970s about becoming a “cold Omaha” without major league sports. Back then the Twins and Vikings were upset about their revenues at Met Stadium. They were interested in new homes—either in Minnesota or elsewhere.
The powerful Minnesota politician Hubert Humphrey warned that without these teams Minneapolis could become a “cold Omaha.”
Today, as the world watches Super Bowl LII from Minneapolis, we know we have distinguished ourselves from the largest city in Nebraska. Omaha remains without major league teams, but not us. The Twin Cities are one of only nine American markets with franchises in MLB, the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS. This area has also hosted the World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals, WNBA Finals, all-star games, the NCAA Final Four, top golf tournaments and Super Bowls.
Boston, Buffalo, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the list goes on of northern cities that have never hosted all the events we can claim. And today’s Super Bowl will be the second in Minneapolis, following the 1992 game that was a big deal, but nothing like this week-long entertainment extravaganza leading up to America’s premier sporting event when more than 100 million people are expected to watch on TV.
What was that line in the Mary Tyler Moore TV song that showed Mary on the Nicollet Mall ?
“Looks like we made it after all!”
Mr. Humphrey, mayor of Minneapolis in the late 1940s and two decades later vice president of the United States, has been dead for many years but he can rest easy about the sports landscape in his adopted home town that replaced the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome with a palace known as U.S. Bank Stadium and the site of today’s game between the Eagles and Patriots.
In anticipation of angry texts and email threats from Nebraskans, let me state (I am willing to take a lie detector test) that I have no problem or criticism with the fine city of Omaha. There must be a reason the admirable values of their citizens are depicted in American movies (see “Up in the Air” and “About Schmidt”). The town is home to Warren Buffet, and I can’t think of a celebrity neighbor I would rather have.
Omaha is also located in Big Red country. As a college football fanatic I am not so sure I wouldn’t trade the last 60 years of Minnesota pro sports for Cornhuskers football and their five national championships. (I will decline a lie detector test this time.)
Back in the 1950s Minneapolis-St. Paul was without professional baseball and football. Civic leaders wanted this area to be known as more than “flyover country.” Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders led the drive to put us on the same map as similar size cities like Kansas City and Milwaukee who had acquired big league baseball franchises from other towns in the 1950s.
With the bonding authority of the city of Minneapolis, it was possible to build Metropolitan Stadium. The facility opened in 1956 with the intent of attracting major league baseball and pro football. Rumors circulated that baseball’s Indians, Giants or White Sox might relocate here. Chicago’s football Cardinals looked like a possibility for a move to the new stadium in Bloomington.
But it was the Washington Senators in 1960 who decided to move here and provide Minnesota with a major league baseball team. In 1959 Minneapolis had been rumored for a franchise in the proposed Continental League but that entity never materialized. About the same time the American Football League was organizing and Minneapolis was considered a likely member, but the NFL decided to expand and the Vikings began play in 1961.
This town secured big league status in the 1960s when not only the Twins and Vikings arrived, but the expansion North Stars joined the NHL. However, that status was threatened in the 1970s when the Vikings and Twins got restless. There were rumors both franchises could be headed to other cities and warmer climates.
Metropolitan Stadium was a baseball-first facility with sightlines and seating capacity favoring the Twins. The Vikings needed more than 47,000 seats, and management wanted new revenue sources such as private suites. The Twins anticipated the lucrative novelty of not only the honeymoon period in a new facility, but one with a roof guaranteeing games couldn’t be rained (and snowed) out.
Adding to the drama was Minneapolis power brokers regretted locating the Minnesota home of professional baseball and football on the prairie in Bloomington. The “Big Cigars” envisioned a downtown dome bringing hospitality dollars to the central city and spurring economic development.
The Metrodome opened in 1982 as the home of not only the Twins and Vikings, but also Golden Gophers football. Not only were baseball and football saved for future generations, but the 65,000 seat facility attracted the Final Four, concerts, truck pulls and a long list of other activities including public rollerblading.
This town’s worries about remaining big league surfaced again in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the Twins and Vikings became restless. The Metrodome was built on the cheap and had many flaws including its infamous crowded concourses. With more modern stadiums being built around the country, the blueprint was in place to upgrade the fan experience in both baseball and football with separate facilities for the Vikings and Twins, and generate more revenues for the franchises.
It was no easy task but the Twins, with help from Hennepin County, and the Vikings with backing from the state of Minnesota and city of Minneapolis, got their own homes with the building of Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium. Target Field, open since in 2010, has regularly been included on lists ranking the top 10 baseball stadiums. U.S. Bank Stadium is mentioned in the first sentence or two about the best enclosed facilities in North America.
The pre-game and in-game TV audiences for today’s Super Bowl will likely hear about many things Minnesotan. This will be the coldest day ever for a Super Bowl and viewers in warmer places (that’s most towns) will chuckle. Viewers will also wince when they hear mention of below zero wind chills and yesterday’s snow fall in the “Bold North.” Those weather reports could cue cameras to show a frozen backyard pond here in the State of Hockey and other activities to document how locals embrace winter.
There will be references to how the Vikings almost made it to Super Bowl LII before losing to the Eagles in the NFC title game. That could make Vikings fans cringe as will the mention of the franchise’s four Super Bowl appearances—all loses. But when the talking heads get done with the stuff that is mundane to us, there will be references to U.S. Bank stadium and the civic pride this town can feel for having that building and hosting this Super Bowl.
The new home of the Vikings is an extraordinary structure of glass and steel that’s been drawing regional and national attention for more than 18 months. When the $1.1 billion facility opened in the summer of 2016 the fact list included the following: More than $60 million spent on technology, seven stadium levels with 430 concession points of sale, 37 escalators, 11 elevators, 979 restrooms, 350 pieces of commissioned art and 250 photographs.
But to many fans the signature features are the 60 percent clear roof bringing natural light into the stadium and the five giant pivoting doors that on warm days are opened. Those features provide an outdoor feel to the stadium experience and have muted second-guessing about how the facility should have a retractable roof.
Since the late 1980s Minneapolis and St. Paul have seen an arena and stadium building boom that no other area in the country probably can claim. Target Center, Xcel Energy Center, TCF Bank Stadium, Target Field, CHS Field, U.S. Bank Stadium and the soon to be opened MLS stadium have become home to the Timberwolves/Lynx, Wild, Gophers, Twins, Saints, Vikings and United. At the cost of over $2 billion in public and private funding, we’ve heeded the warning of becoming a “cold Omaha.”
Those who don’t like the greed and other misbehavior often associated with professional sports can shake their collective heads at what we’ve done. But no one can deny that this town and state do sit front and center on the North American stage today.
Basketball immortal Red Auerbach used to say forgive but never forget. That might be the mindset of some Vikings fans Sunday when they passionately cheer for the Patriots instead of the Eagles in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Such fans have incentive to see a Patriots win that goes beyond the Eagles ending the Vikings’ Super Bowl dream in the NFC championship game on January 21 in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 38-7 and Vikings fans attending that game in the “City of Brotherly Love” certainly didn’t encounter a welcoming atmosphere.
Philly is famous for a lot of things—a few of them not exactly chamber of commerce bulletin board material. The town where Eagles fans once booed Santa Claus went way beyond that transgression when the Vikings were in town. USA Today reported last Friday social media depicted a “hostile environment” for Vikings fans.
“Some Minnesotans were booed, taunted and the subject of expletives at close range as they walked through the parking lot,” the newspaper wrote. “Another video showed what appeared to be full cans of beer being thrown at Vikings fans.”
Former Viking tight end Doug Kingsriter, who played on Minnesota Super Bowl teams in the 1970s, didn’t have to check out social media to know about the hostility. He and family members were at the game and experienced the unfriendly environment. “There were a number of ‘in your face’ encounters, but we just smiled and kept walking,” Kingsriter said via email to Sports Headliners.
Kingsriter, who grew up in Richfield experiencing Minnesota nice, also encountered Eagles fans at the game who were embarrassed by the behavior of Philly troublemakers. He wrote: “There were more than 20 Eagles fans who approached our group (son, daughter and daughter-in-law) to let us know that ‘not all Eagles fans were jerks.’ These were kind, gracious people. What those folks said helped us to mitigate the groups of mostly young men who would point at us and yell, ‘blow,’ and other somewhat unmentionable phrases.”
While Kingsriter described the scene as an “interesting experience,” he is keeping a balanced view about the incidents. “We did not find it intimidating due to the kindness of those people who took the time to welcome us and our team (the Vikings) to Philadelphia. They were the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ representatives.”
Since the January 21 game, some Eagles fans have donated thousands of dollars to the Mike Zimmer Foundation as a way of apologizing for the rowdy and confrontational behavior of others. The foundation honors the “giving spirit” of Vikki Zimmer, the late wife of the Viking head coach. The foundation provides “opportunities to the youth of today to benefit the future of tomorrow,” according to the website.
Sunday’s game will be the fourth Super Bowl for the Eagles franchise, the same number of big game appearances as the Vikings. Ten other franchises have played in more Super Bowls, led by the Patriots who make their 11th appearance Sunday.
When the Vikings played in their first Super Bowl in 1970 the price of an ad on the telecast was $78,000. This year the cost for a commercial is about $5 million.
The Vikings’ last Super Bowl appearance in 1977 drew a national TV rating of 44.4 and 73 share. Those numbers are similar to recent Super Bowls and what can be expected from Sunday’s telecast on NBC. Ratings are a percentage of the potential TV audience watching a particular program. A share is a percentage of televisions on at that time viewing a program.
When the Vikings lost to the Raiders in the 1977 Super Bowl each player received $7,500. The Raiders earned $15,000. The winners’ shares in 2018 will be $112,000, while losers receive $56,000 each.
Journeyman Case Keenum’s performance for the Vikings last season approached star status, but despite 2018 free agency a source close to the team’s front office doesn’t expect Keenum to be unreasonable in contract negotiations. He described Keenum as “old school” in attitude and predicted the quarterback who never established himself in four previous NFL seasons will remain a Viking. “He isn’t going anywhere,” the source said.
The Vikings are looking for a new offensive coordinator to replace Pat Shurmur who is the new head coach of the Giants. In the hiring process general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer are likely to value the approach of Shurmur who adapted his system to the talent of the players, instead of mandating a style of play.
Richard Pitino’s Gophers basketball team is 1-7 since center Reggie Lynch was suspended. Another starter and high impact player, forward Amir Coffey, has missed six of those games because of injury. Interest in the team has declined and the Gophers could lose their remaining seven Big Ten regular season games including Saturday at Michigan. Minnesota is 14-10 overall, with a 3-8 conference record.
The nosedive of a team that once was rated among the top 15 in the country is impacting the box office, too. Before January the Gophers were on track to potentially sell out most of their Big Ten home games. It’s likely that the collapse on the court will result in at least 1,000 fewer tickets sold per game for five league games this winter. At an average of $55 per ticket that’s a total of $275,000 in potential lost revenue. And those numbers seem conservative, and don’t include other revenues like concessions and parking.
It’s interesting Kevin McHale is part of the inaugural class of the Minnesota High School Basketball Hall of Fame. McHale probably wasn’t even the best big man in the state his senior season at Hibbing in 1976, with that distinction going to Steve Lingenfelter from Bloomington Jefferson.
The gangly 6-foot-10 McHale was an evolving talent as a teenager. He was a better college player at Minnesota than he was a prep at Hibbing. He became one of the NBA’s greatest players during a career that included three NBA titles with the Celtics.
The Saint John’s men’s basketball team is running away with the regular season MIAC race. The Johnnies defeated Concordia-Moorhead last night to make their overall record 18-1 and 14-0 in MIAC games. If the Johnnies finish the league season undefeated, they can look back to an overtime win against Bethel last Saturday as pivotal.