Thanksgiving has always been near the top of my favorite holidays. Perhaps my feelings were founded during grade school while playing the role of Myles Standish in a stage production about the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. The memory is enduring, although it was my first and last time on stage. Sir Tyrone Guthrie never came knocking on my door.
In this space you won’t find any Grand Turkey winners (see the Strib’s Patrick Reusse for that). Instead, I want to reference individuals who I am thankful for—and please give me a pass for many others I should have singled out.
I begin with my Website readers, some of whom have followed this effort since my 2006 startup. The encouragement and appreciation expressed by them has played a significant role in my continuing to crank out over 115 columns per year. Thank you.
Gratitude also to my amazing wife who cares little about college or professional sports but graciously edits almost every column before being published.
Thanks to all the advertisers, past and present, who have supported my efforts and made it possible for others to enjoy this Website’s reporting and commentary. It’s also satisfying to learn about readers who told advertisers they saw their ads on my site.
When my Website needs code to be written, or the server is down, it’s my go-to guys David and Dan who always pitch in. Gracias!
I battled many times on the court with my tennis buddy and lifelong friend Myron, but more importantly he’s one of the special people who taught me about the importance of family.
Happy Thanksgiving to my oldest son Bill, who despite seldom playing tennis, once beat me on a cold, windy and miserable day on the North Shore, and forever proclaimed himself the “Two Harbors Family Tennis Champion.”
With admiration to my other son, Joel, who is a Father of the Year candidate every year to his young son Chase.
I still feel sad Jerry Kill had to abruptly end his career as the Golden Gophers football coach two years ago but Minnesotans should give thanks for how he revitalized the program on the field, in the classroom and in the community. We’re all better for having witnessed his character and commitment.
Count Jim Carter as one of Kill’s friends and mine, too. I love Carter’s passion for making the University of Minnesota extraordinary in every way.
How do I not root for Paul Molitor? He went through some rough times decades ago but has emerged as a genuine hero who treats others with kindness and consideration.
Maybe you know someone who’s filled with common sense and wisdom. Jim Dutcher is a treasure to me.
Without Glen Taylor, this town might not have professional basketball. He could be the world’s nicest billionaire.
CORES lunches and programs are always a hit. I appreciate Jim Dotseth and Phil Frerk for their information and invites.
Thanks to Adam Thielen for almost always being available in the Vikings Winter Park locker room to answer questions—in good times and bad.
WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson provides timely insights about media and sports, and is a pleasure to be with.
They say you find out who your friends are when tough times hit. Al Nuness has been there for me.
Wednesdays are pizza media days at Winter Park and it’s fun times sharing memories and laughs with Charley Walters, while chewing on the “meat lovers special.”
Part of the fun in covering sports is being around young athletes, and admiring the charisma and passion for life many possess. A favorite is Apple Valley High School’s Tre Jones who has a smile and presence that lights up even a dark gym.
I have known Dave Mona for a long time and I thank him for the opportunities he has extended to me including leading the Twin Cities Dunkers a few years ago.
Thank you Dave St. Peter for unfailingly responding to my emails requesting interviews about the Twins.
My best wishes to a couple of close friends who have lost loved ones this year, and battled physical challenges. Among the redeeming things about sports is that if only for a moment, what we see on ball fields and courts can lessen our burdens.
I want to remember those who have passed from this earth, including the late Frank Jirik from Met Center and the North Stars. He was a great mentor and may have invented Polish jokes. Nobody did them better.
My memories of the late Herb Brooks are enduring, too. He always was so giving and unselfish with his time.
Nobody could send chills up and down the spine talking about the Golden Gophers like the late Paul Giel. “Old No. 10” made friends wherever he went.
Who doesn’t miss Harmon Killebrew? He was the Twins greatest slugger and a hall of fame player and person.
Today’s media news world has a lot of practitioners of “get it first and let’s hope we’re right.” I try to remember the time-proven principles of accuracy, fairness and objectivity. Thankful when I do so.
In a crazy and sometimes cruel world, hope you find peace and happiness this Thanksgiving!
Mike Zimmer sent a message to Vikings fans yesterday with his announcement Case Keenum will continue to be the starting quarterback when the Vikings play the Rams Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Teddy Bridgewater fans hoped for different news but Zimmer isn’t about to change starters when his team has won five consecutive games with Keenum and is leading the NFC North with a 7-2 record.
Bridgewater hasn’t played in a meaningful game in almost two years, dating back to the January, 2016 playoff loss to the Seahawks. The devastating knee injury he suffered in late August of 2016 has kept him sidelined until November 8 of this year when he was activated to play. During the two seasons of 2014 and 2015 he flashed potential and won over fans as much with his personality as his skill set.
But fans wish for a lot of things, and often they need to be careful what they wish for. They look at Keenum as a journeyman quarterback and see Bridgewater as the flag bearer for the Vikings franchise. Eventually that might be reality but for now the Vikings aren’t going to change quarterbacks—demoting one who is on the same page with his receivers and turning to a guy trying to get acclimated again with the job and its demands.
Former Viking Bob Lurtsema is on board with Zimmer’s decision—one the coach labeled “not difficult” yesterday. “You don’t take the most important part of the puzzle out, which obviously is the quarterback in today’s passing league,” Lurtsema told Sports Headliners.
Lurtsema looks at the offense, including the passing game, and he sees a unit playing at a high level because the players (including the linemen) are in synch with each other. “This talk about bringing Teddy Bridgewater back, that’s idle gossip,” Lurtsema said. “You know how much I love Teddy, and you’re not going to find a better kid than Teddy. But when they work (Keenum and receivers) in practice together the timing of all the receivers is spectacular. I think the whole thing there is just a matter of a group playing together.”
Keenum, who signed with the Vikings in the offseason as a free agent to be a backup, could have the best season of his five-year career with three NFL teams. “He’s smart as hell,” Lurtsema said.
The Vikings’ offense has improved from last season under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. He is in his first full season as OC after succeeding Norv Turner in November of 2016.
“He’s a wizard,” Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd said about Shurmur. “He has a lot of things going on in his head. So far he’s doing an unbelievable job of getting guys in position to be successful. So that’s what you want to see.”
Among those benefitting from Shurmur’s offense is wide receiver Adam Thielen who is third in the NFL in receiving yards with 793. Thielen agrees Shurmur is effective in letting his players do the things they are capable of.
“I don’t think he really cares who gets the ball,” Thielen said. “He just wants this offense to be successful and he wants to help this team win games.”
Last year the Viking offense finished 28th in the 32-team NFL in both points per game (20.4) and yards (315.1). Through nine games in 2017 the Vikings are 10th in points at 24.1 and ninth in yards with 363.8.
The Rams, 7-2, are averaging a league-leading 32.9 points per game in their first year with 31-year-old head coach Sean McVay. They are ranked No. 5 and the Vikings No. 6 by SI.com in this week’s power rankings of NFL teams.
Zimmer, 61, on whether he could imagine being a head coach at 30 years old: “I was trying to figure out where to eat at 30, probably.”
Floyd after being asked about Vikings Super Bowl talk among fans: “You have seven games left. A lot of things can change in seven games. We’re taking it one game at a time.”
Mike Grant has won 10 state titles as Eden Prairie’s head football coach. He told Sports Headliners to win championships three things need to happen—have talent, avoid injuries, and be lucky including how the ball bounces and the calls made by game officials.
Grant’s undefeated Eagles play Maple Grove tonight at U.S. Bank Stadium in the Class 6A State Tournament semifinals. The coaches and teams know each other, having played twice last year, and once this season when the Eagles won 28-7. “We don’t expect a lot of things different,” Grant said.
The 9-1 St. Thomas football team that plays at home Saturday against Eureka in a first round Division III playoff game has outscored its last two regular season opponents 155 to 7.
True Thompson, son of Gophers all-time leading rusher Darrell Thompson, is being recruited as a 2018 walk-on by Minnesota. True, an Armstrong High alum, is a wide receiver at Iowa Western Community College.
The Gophers’ best player next year could be sophomore safety Antoine Winfield Jr. who played in four games this season before becoming inactive because of a hamstring injury. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said Winfield is progressing on his recovery.
“…He’s not practicing, but he’s going through some small things at the end of practice to be able to rehab, get back into things pretty slow. But I expect him to be full (ready) by spring ball for sure,” Fleck said.
Senior defensive tackle Steven Richardson was a preseason all-Big Ten nominee and Saturday he will be with the Gophers in his home town of Chicago playing against Northwestern. His statistics, including just seven unassisted tackles and 11 assisted, aren’t impressive, but Fleck estimated Richardson has been double-teamed “about 90 percent of the time.” Fleck believes Richardson is playing selfless and better than ever.
“…Statistically you’re not seeing it because he’s got to defeat two Big Ten players every single play,” Fleck said. “But…his oar has been in the water. He practices incredibly hard. I know he’s excited to get back to Chicago to play in this game, and I know that everybody wants to do it (win) for Steven.”
It’s still a head-scratcher as to why the Twins created so much drama in waiting to extend Paul Molitor’s contract. In his three seasons as Twins manager he has twice been a finalist for the Baseball Writers Association’s American League Manager of the Year Award, and Tuesday night was named the 2017 winner.
Bartolo Colon will be nearing his 45th birthday when the Twins go to spring training next year. The right-hander, who joined the Twins during the 2017 season, is a free agent and reportedly wants to continue a MLB career that began in 1997. The Twins could probably sign him on the cheap and let him compete for one of three open spots in their five-man starting rotation.
Recruiting authority Ryan Burns from Gopher Illustrated doesn’t see Shelby, Ohio senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong signing a National Letter of Intent with the Golden Gophers next month. Armstrong re-opened the recruiting process in October after being a solid verbal commit to Minnesota for most of the year.
Burns predicted the highly regarded dual-threat quarterback will be on Virginia’s roster next season. Armstrong may have developed second thoughts about Minnesota because of competition at the quarterback position including the emergence of redshirt sophomore Demry Croft as the team starter this fall, and the enrollment next year of freshman preferred walk-on Zack Annexstad who is originally from Mankato, Minnesota but has played this fall for IMG Academy in Florida.
Armstrong’s status concerns Gophers followers but Burns believes head coach P.J. Fleck will have a promising quarterback in his 2018 recruiting class. Brevin White, a California prep quarterback who has verbally committed to Princeton and turned down offers from Washington, Washington State and Tennessee, is considering the Gophers. Minnesota is also after Utah high school quarterback Zach Wilson who has verbally committed to Boise State and California junior college QB Victor Viramontes.
Burns said Minnesota’s “best chance” among the three is probably Viramontes, a dual threat quarterback. He was a prominent high school player from Norco, California when he enrolled as a freshman at the University of California in 2016. There was a coaching change at Cal after the 2016 season and late last spring Viramontes left the Golden Bears. A four-star recruit by 247Sports coming out of Norco High School, he would have three seasons of eligibility at Minnesota.
At about 6-2, 240-pounds, Viramontes has been compared with former Heisman Trophy winner and Florida legend Tim Tebow. When Sonny Dykes was California’s head coach this is how he described Viramontes to Calbears.com:
“Victor is an unusual athlete at his size as a 240-pound quarterback that is a great runner and a good passer. He’s pretty raw but he’s got a lot of upside and really can develop into a good player. He has an unusual skill set with his size and strength. He plays with great passion. I really like the way that he plays the game and the toughness that he brings. I’m really excited about him.”
Fleck has 23 verbal commits and wants to have all the players signed to National Letters of Intent in the early signing period that starts December 20. Burns estimates only 16 or so scholarships are currently available but anticipates seven or so players leaving the Gophers will make up the difference.
Most or all of the verbal commits are expected to make official visits to Minnesota December 8. The early signing period for high school players is December 20-22, while junior college players can sign December 20-January 15, 2018.
With a 5-5 overall record, the Gophers will definitely be invited to a bowl game with one more win in their last two games. A 5-7 final record could even earn an invite as it did two years ago.
Not surprisingly, there were no press box seats assigned to bowl representatives at last Saturday’s home game against Nebraska (4-6).
Last Saturday’s announced attendance of 39,933 was the second smallest in TCF Bank Stadium history. Minnesota drew 38,162 for the Northwestern game last season.
At 6-foot-10, Gophers tight end Nate Wozniak is the tallest skill player in major college football. His 34 career starts lead all offensive players on the Gophers. The senior from Greenwood, Indiana has his under graduate degree in agricultural and food business management.
It will be interesting for state basketball fans to watch tonight’s ESPN matchup of No. 1 ranked Duke and No. 2 Michigan State. Apple Valley’s Tre Jones has signed his National Letter of Intent to play for Duke next season and he will likely have to compete for playing time next fall with current Blue Devils freshman point guard Trevon Duval. Both are five-star recruits.
The game is also an opportunity to see former Apple Valley five-star shooting guard Gary Trent, Jr., who is a freshman at Duke, and also compare Michigan State with the Gophers. The two teams are favorites to win the Big Ten title.
The Gophers justified their A.P. No. 14 ranking last night in an impressive road win at Providence against a Friars team Athlon Sports magazine described as “the most experienced in the Big East.”
It seems like a “duh” by now, but Adam Thielen’s speed still seems to be news—perhaps even to NFL defensive backs. The 27-year-old Thielen—now in his fifth pro season and ranking third in NFL receiving yards (793) during a breakout season—told Sports Headliners his best time in the 40-yard dash is 4.45.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer after being asked Monday whether anything still surprises him about Thielen: “The one ball he kind of dropped there at the end (in Sunday’s game), that surprised me. He usually makes all those catches.
“The guy is a gamer. When he gets the opportunities, he makes the most of them. Adam does a lot of dirty work. He blocks defensive ends. He blocks linebackers in the run game. He’s just a competitive guy. ….”
Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber has been retired from the NFL since 2011. His weekends this fall are busy while working for FS1 on Saturdays and as a sideline reporter on the Vikings radio network. He has provided color commentary on college games for FS1, mostly Pac 12 and Big-12 games, but he also did analysis on last Saturday’s Golden Gophers-Nebraska game.
Leber has been earning more prominent TV college football assignments during his four full time seasons. Does he want to make a career out of the broadcast work? “I do,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a challenge that I’ve readily accepted, and now I am just kind of rolling with the punches and seeing where it goes.”
Twins fans can watch the MLB Network tonight at 5 p.m. when the Baseball Writers Association of America announces its American League Manager of the Year winner. The Twins’ Paul Molitor is a finalist along with the Astros’ A.J. Hinch and Indians’ Terry Francona.
Francona, who directed the Indians to a 22-game winning streak last season, was named The Sporting News AL Manager of the Year last month. Hinch managed the Astros to the franchise’s first World Series championship.
Molitor, who was a finalist for the writers’ honor in 2015, had less talent to work with than Francona and Hinch but got his team in the playoffs after a 59-102 record in 2016. The Twins became the first MLB franchise to make the postseason after losing 100 games the year before.
Karl-Anthony Towns had another double-double last night in the Timberwolves’ win over the Jazz, scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He has 10 double-doubles in 13 games this season. The 21-year-old center is the seventh player in NBA history to total 3,000-plus career points and rebounds prior to age 22. Towns turns 22 tomorrow.
The Wild try to make it consecutive shutouts over the Flyers tonight at Xcel Energy Center. Last Saturday Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk stopped all 32 shots he faced and Jason Zucker had the team’s lone goal. St. Paul native Paul Holmgren is in his fourth season as Flyers president.
After a loss to Purdue last week, the nationally ranked Gophers volleyball team has dropped from No. 5 to No. 7 in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.