Monday, Jan. 22, 2018


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Forbath Can Ease Walsh Memory

January 11, 2018 - (0) comments

 

Nervous Vikings fans might be making a list of worries about their favorite team, as kickoff nears for Sunday’s game against the Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota hasn’t won a playoff game since 2010 and near the top of some worrywart lists could be the effectiveness of placekicker Kai Forbath.

Memories (nightmares) of Blair Walsh’s late-game field goal miss two years ago linger with both normal and neurotic fans. Walsh’s 27-yard miss cost the Vikings a win in their first round NFC playoff game in 2016. The miscue placed him in the Purple Hall of Infamy after the Seahawks defeated Minnesota 10-9.

Forbath isn’t seeking such club membership on Sunday in another opening NFC playoff game for Minnesota. Forbath realizes he and new long snapper Jeff Overbaugh need to execute when called upon against New Orleans.

“These are very important games and very well could come down to a field goal, or one point,” Forbath said. “Always go out there and try to score points whenever I get the opportunity.”

Mike Zimmer

Overbaugh is a rookie free agent signee who made his debut in the last game of the season, replacing Kevin McDermott who was placed on the injured reserve list. “He’s done good, we haven’t had any issues at all,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said of Overbaugh.

Forbath, 30, caused some nail-biting earlier this season on extra points. In the first two games of the season he missed two of four extra point attempts. Then he went through a stretch of two games in late October where he converted one of three. In the last eight games of the season, though, he made 22 of 23 attempts.

Forbath said he didn’t change his technique to improve his extra point kicking. “We don’t even call them extra points,” Forbath said. “We call them field goals—33 yard field goal. We just focus like a field goal. Can’t take anything for granted. Just a little bit of extra focus, I think that’s helped.”

Starting with the 2015 season the NFL moved the line of scrimmage for extra points from the two-yard line to the 15. “The old extra point you could take for granted,” Forbath said. “You didn’t really have to hit a perfect ball and focus as much, so I just treat it like a field goal and it’s worked.”

The majority of NFL kickers converted 90 percent of their extra points, with a few of them perfect at 100 percent. Forbath compares better against his peers in field goals. Only five NFL kickers totaled more than his 32. He had six misses in 38 attempts after making all 15 of his attempts for the Vikings in 2016. In his last three games this season he converted on five of six attempts, including makes of 53 and 49 yards.

The Vikings signed Forbath as a free agent in November of 2016. The last team that employed him was the Saints who released him in September of 2016 as part of final roster cuts. “It was kind of shocking but it’s not the first time something shocking has happened to me in this league,” said Forbath who has also kicked for the Redskins. “It’s a business and everything happens for a reason.”

If given the opportunity, worrisome Vikings fans hope Forbath will be part of the reason their team advances against New Orleans to the NFC championship game.

Worth Noting

Saints fans have incentive to see their heroes win on Sunday. Not only did their team lose to the Vikings in the regular season opener, but a few years ago Minnesota’s bid to host the 2018 Super Bowl beat out New Orleans.

Dave Mona

There will be familiar voices at U.S. Bank Stadium for the February 4 Super Bowl. Dave Mona, who for 42 years has been the press box announcer for Vikings games, will have the same assignment February 4. Vikings public address announcer Alan Roach, who has also worked many previous Super Bowls, will be the P.A. man for the big game in Minneapolis.

Running back Latavius Murray made his Vikings debut against the Saints after being signed in the offseason as a free agent. Murray was sidelined and his progress slowed in training camp because of an ankle injury. He said he hadn’t received enough practice repetitions going into the September 11 game against New Orleans. He rushed for six yards on two carries and fumbled on his first run. “I just don’t think it was me,” Murray told Sports Headliners this week.

Murray’s power and Jerick McKinnon’s speed have given the Vikings an effective combination at running back. The two have rushed for 1,412 yards.

The Vikings will face future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees on Sunday. Although he turns 39 next Monday, he is still playing at a high level and had a gaudy 115.2 passer rating in last weekend’s win over the Panthers. The Vikings will counter with Case Keenum who has never started a playoff game in his six-year pro career.

“I just think we can’t get caught up in it, veteran quarterback and our quarterback, and comparing the two,” Murray said. “I think we have to focus on the things that have got us to this point (and) the things that we have been doing well. …This chance to play at home versus a really good team.”

Vikings reserve wide receiver Michael Floyd has been on rosters of playoff teams in Arizona and New England. What are his concerns about Brees? “You just gotta make sure you don’t turn over the ball offensively and play sound football, because you can’t give a great quarterback like Drew Brees the ball more times than what he should—because at one point he’s going to do something great like he always does.”

Murray was with the Raiders for four seasons and that franchise is relocating to Las Vegas in a couple of years. Does he think the move will be a downer for the players?

“I know they get to save money, so they can’t be too sad about that,” Murray said about playing in Nevada where there is no state income tax.

Floyd will vacation in Australia starting in late February and will be travelling to other countries, too. “That’s all I am going to be doing, travelling and golfing,” said Floyd with a handicap “about 10” and who plays at Oak Ridge in Hopkins.

Adrian Peterson, who played for the Vikings from 2007-2016, was with the Saints when they played the Vikings on September 11 but the legendary running back was traded to New Orleans in early October. Now the Vikings or Saints could earn their way to the Super Bowl, an ultimate prize Peterson has targeted.

“I know Adrian, and he is probably not the happiest guy in the world, you know, but God has a plan for everybody, so you just always have to remember that,” Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright told Sports Headliners.

The Capital Club will have former Viking center Matt Birk, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2013, as its speaker next Tuesday at Town & Country Club in St. Paul. More information about the Capital Club is available from Patrick Klinger, patrickklinger@klingercompany.com.

Alabama won its fifth national championship in nine years with its victory over Georgia on Monday night. The Gophers program hasn’t won a Big Ten title in over 50 years.

The Super60 Showcase during January starts Saturday with boys and girls high school basketball games at Maple Grove and Osseo. The showcase involves 54 prep teams and 27 games at five Twin Cities sites playing on four dates through January 27.

Four varsity boys games are scheduled at Maple Grove High School Saturday, with the first starting at 2:55 p.m.—Fridley and St. Paul Johnson. Four varsity girls games, and one varsity boys game, will be played at Osseo High School Saturday. The Anoka and St. Paul Como girls lead off the schedule starting at 11:35 a.m. All games in January will be streamed via www.PrepSpotlight.TV.

The Hamline women’s hockey team has a top 10 ranking for the first time in program history. The Pipers are No. 10 in the latest D3hockey.com poll and have a 10-2-1 record. Hamline is coached by former Gopher player and Olympic medalist Natalie Darwitz.

It will be 50 years next Monday that former North Star Bill Masterton tragically died. He passed away the day after hitting his head on the ice in a game at Met Center.

The Herb Brooks Foundation and John Gunderson Memorial will benefit Friday night by appearances from hockey legends Henry Boucha, Bill Butters and Jack Carlson who will sign autographs at the Portside restaurant in Stillwater.

 

Ring Not Money Excites Vikings Joseph

January 09, 2018 - (0) comments

 

Linval Joseph has one Super Bowl ring and the Vikings’ defensive tackle wants another.

Joseph was a 23-year-old second-year pro when he started for the Giants in their 2012 Super Bowl win over the Patriots. This week he and his Vikings teammates are preparing for their playoff game against the Saints, while hoping it will be the first of three tests ending with a Super Bowl title in U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4.

Each player on the Super Bowl winning team will receive over $100,000 but that’s not Joseph’s incentive. “It’s mostly about the ring, (rather) than the money,” Joseph told Sports Headliners. “You really don’t get that much money playing extra games. It’s about the ring and that’s what’s most important right now. Minnesota has never won a Super Bowl, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done here before.”

Not only are the Vikings 0-4 in Super Bowls, but no team has ever played the big game in its home stadium. Joseph believes the Vikings are a better group than the 2012 Giants. “I think this is the top team I’ve ever played on.”

Joseph played four seasons with the Giants before signing as a free agent with the Vikings in 2014. “This team is younger than the Giants (were),” he said. “This team feels as hungry as the Giants were when I played with them in 2010, 2011.

“So this is a great team. I’ve seen the growth in the last four years of this team, and I just can’t wait to go to war with this team.”

Case Keenum (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Joseph is part of an elite defense that Vikings fans expected to excel, but there were doubts about the offense after journeyman quarterback Case Keenum replaced the injured Sam Bradford starting with the October 15 game against the Packers. Keenum has been outstanding, playing a major role in helping the Vikings to 10 wins in the next 11 games.

Joseph played for East Carolina in college and competed against Keenum who was setting NCAA records at Houston. Joseph said he isn’t surprised by Keenum’s success, although some others in football are. Keenum never established himself as a full-time starter playing for two other NFL franchises. Even coming out of college he was labeled too short to be a big time prospect (generously listed by the Vikings at 6-feet-1).

“Case is sneaky really good, and the world got to see him this year,” Joseph said about the Vikings quarterback who wasn’t drafted coming out of college. “I am happy for him… because he works his butt off to get where he is at.”

Joseph said players are labeled—often unfairly—coming out of college into the NFL but that now the Vikings have “a hell of a quarterback.” Keenum was signed as a free agent during the last offseason.

The Vikings, 13-3, are a favorite of odds-makers to win two games in the NFC playoffs and advance to the Super Bowl. What could derail the team? “Not staying focused,” Joseph said. “…We know what we gotta do and coach (Mike) Zimmer is going to make sure we…do that.”

Joseph welcomes the possibility the Vikings could play all three postseason games indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium. Two years ago the stadium hadn’t been completed and playing outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium would have been the alternative for Vikings’ home NFC playoff games.

“I feel the weather (when cold like last week) is a big difference,” Joseph said. “The ball is different; you move different.”

Worth Noting

Joseph, 29, talking about how much longer he wants to play: “Until God tells me I can’t play no more. Right now I feel good. …I love my job. I wouldn’t trade it for any job in the world right now.”

Offensive lineman Joe Berger, 35, is a free agent after the playoffs. Berger told Sports Headliners he considered retiring prior to the 2017 season and remains undecided about his future. “If nobody (the Vikings or another team) calls the decision is easy, right? We’ll see (in) February-March, figure out what we want to do.”

Pro Football Focus tweeted that Viking All-Pro Harrison Smith graded the highest ever for a safety in the last 12 years. Smith was named to the Associated Press first team all-defense last week.

Minnesota wide receiver Adam Thielen made second-team AP all-pro offense. His 1,276 receiving yards and 91 receptions ranked among NFL leaders. He is only the third undrafted NFL player since 1970 to exceed 90 catches and 1,200 yards. The others are Rod Smith and Wes Welker.

With a playoff bye last weekend, the Vikings had time off and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur reportedly interviewed for NFL head coaching openings with the Bears and Giants in recent days. He has previous head coaching experience with the Browns.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. “I think he deserves it (the interviews), and I know he’ll be a great head coach in this league again. I think it’s a testament to him and the way he’s really brought our offense to a top 10 offense in this league.”

Word is WCCO Radio and legendary Sid Hartman, who turns 98 in March, have been talking contract extension. Hartman has been part of programming at the station since the 1950s.

American singer, song writer and actress PINK will sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, the NFL announced Monday.

Don’t be surprised if an announcement is made soon that two college basketball games will be played on the same date in U.S. Bank Stadium next December. It’s been known the Golden Gophers will play one game there to help the facility and NCAA with 2019 Final Four preparations, but there could be a second game, too, so watch for more.

Nancy Lindahl, who along with her husband John Lindahl have been generous donors to University of Minnesota athletics, is the 2018 “Head Coach” of the Twin Cities Dunkers. In her role she presides over meetings, and also schedules guests for the organization that recognizes and pays tribute to athletic achievers.

The Cavs defeated the Timberwolves six consecutive times by an average of 17.7 points prior to last night’s loss at Target Center. The Wolves led by 35 points going into the fourth quarter and won the game 127-99. The Wolves have now held six straight opponents under 100 points.

Minnesota, 26-16, and leading the Northwest Division, has won as many games as the 26-14 Cavs, a team among the favorites to win the NBA title in 2018.

The best player on the floor last night was Wolves forward Jimmy Butler whose defense against LeBron James was superb, helping to hold the superstar forward to 10 points. Butler scored 21, with nine assists and eight rebounds.

The Gophers and college basketball’s elite are recruiting Rochester John Marshall power forward Matthew Hurt who is among the top players nationally in the class of 2019. Ed Rauen, the longtime Rochester radio man who has seen all the state’s best high school big men dating back to the early 1950s, told Sports Headliners the athletic Hurt can be better than any of them.

The Minnesota Football Coaches Association is helping promote the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Mini-Camps for middle and high school football players during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. The training sessions, covering various experiences, will be held at Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine downtown.

The Gophers men’s tennis team is in Australia for a 10-day preseason training trip. The team left Minneapolis last Thursday for the 9,500-mile trek. Minnesota opens its season January 20 against North Carolina State at the Baseline Center.

 

Jim Dutcher Upbeat on Gophers

January 07, 2018 - (0) comments

 

It’s been a difficult couple of days for the Golden Gophers basketball program after losing two starters indefinitely, but Jim Dutcher is keeping an optimistic perspective for now. News came late last week that senior center Reggie Lynch is suspended from games and sophomore forward Amir Coffey is unable to play because of a shoulder injury.

If Coffey can play again after a short absence Dutcher believes Minnesota could pull off a fourth place final finish in the Big Ten. A return before long by Lynch, too, may result in third place, according to Dutcher who was the Gopher head coach from 1975-1986.

The Gophers struggled last night without Coffey and Lynch, losing to Indiana 75-71. The defeat left Minnesota with a 2-2 Big Ten record, with 14 more games remaining on the conference schedule. “They still got a lot to play for,” Dutcher told Sports Headliners.

Jim Dutcher

Dutcher, though, acknowledges “all bets are off” if the Gophers must play without Lynch and Coffey for several weeks. Lynch is appealing a decision by the University of Minnesota to ban him from campus for more than two years for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy. Athletic director Mark Coyle announced a suspension of Lynch from playing in games on Friday. Although Lynch is practicing with the Gophers, it might be likely he will never play for Minnesota again. Even if the University reversed itself after appeal, Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino could decide Lynch doesn’t meet his standards for being on the team.

Pitino isn’t creating any specific timeline for the return of either Lynch or Coffey, whose shoulder injury apparently is significant enough to cause speculation he could be out for many weeks. Challenging, too, is the schedule ahead that has the Gophers playing five road games between now and February 4. During that period Minnesota plays twice at home and also has a neutral court game on January 20 in New York City against Ohio State.

Senior Bakary Konate replaced Lynch at center last night, while sophomore Michael Hurt had Coffey’s forward spot. Lynch was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season and entered the Indiana game with about three times more blocked shots than any other Gopher. Coffey, a Big Ten all-freshman last season, is Minnesota’s third leading scorer and perhaps the team’s most versatile and unselfish player.

Konate scored two points against Indiana in 27 minutes. He had four rebounds and blocked three shots. Hurt, in 31 minutes, took one shot and didn’t score. He had four rebounds, all of them in the first half.

Late last summer Minnesota lost its best bench player for the season. Promising sophomore forward-center Eric Curry is sidelined following knee surgery. Now with Lynch and Coffey out, the Gophers are without three of their top six players.

“They went from having a Big Ten championship as a goal, to (now) trying to qualify for the (NCAA) Tournament as a goal,” Dutcher said. “They’re not going to win the Big Ten championship.”

Worth Noting

Dutcher believes Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan will finish one, two and three in the final Big Ten standings. MSU is not only the league favorite but could win the school’s first national championship since 2000.

The Los Angeles Lakers continue to promote the old Minneapolis Lakers jerseys, and the team wore them in a game last week at Target Center against the Timberwolves. The popular MPLS jerseys prompted a telephone call to Bob Stein, the Timberwolves first president, to ask if franchise ownership and management considered naming the team Minneapolis instead of Minnesota back in the late 1980s. Stein didn’t recall serious discussion about using the city’s name, noting the franchise wanted to represent the larger Minnesota market despite the history of the state’s first NBA team being named Minneapolis.

Regarding the choice of Timberwolves as the nickname, Stein said a naming contest open to the public generated many suggestions including the Minnesota Mosquitoes. Others that drew amusement from the team’s front office were:

Minnesota Taxes$; Minnesota Fats; Minnesota Uff Da’s; Minnesota Loona-Ticks; and Minnesota Yumpin’ Yacks.

Timberwolves was a fan favorite but Stein said the organization’s inner circle “winked” on the final tabulation of voting by the public. The outcome, he suggested, was not unlike some “alleged political elections.”

SI.com’s famous NFL writer Peter King, writing last Thursday, predicted the Vikings will win Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis with a 27-23 victory over the Patriots.

SI.com announced its NFL individual award winners last week including Coach of the Year. Sean McVay from the Rams won the award, while the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer was runner-up finishing 25 points behind in voting.

Patrick Mader

Patrick Mader, the Northfield-based author who wrote the book Minnesota Gold detailing the lives of many Minnesota Olympians, emailed this historical note to Sports Headliners: “In the late 1940s, a young, energetic, and politically ambitious American city mayor was on an Olympic Committee bidding to host the 1952 Summer Games which ended being runner-up to Helsinki, Finland. The mayor was Hubert Humphrey and the runner-up city (tied) was Minneapolis.”

Next month’s Winter Olympics will be in South Korea. Mader predicted Jessie Diggins, a graduate of Stillwater High School who is from Afton, has “a good chance” to win the first Olympic medal in cross-country skiing ever by an American woman. A 2014 Olympian who has an outstanding World Cup record, the 26-year-old is expected to be named to the 2018 Olympic team later this month.

When the Twins go to spring training it will be interesting to see if Brian Dozier is finally moved out of the leadoff spot in the batting order. The team’s power hitting second baseman has led the club in home runs (76) the last two seasons but has batted leadoff because Minnesota didn’t have anyone more suited for the spot that requires foot speed and consistency at the plate. With center fielder Byron Buxton hitting around .300 for part of last season and showing extraordinary speed, it appears the fourth-year Twin could be the new leadoff man, with Dozier moving down to third or fourth in the batting order.

Carl Pohlad, the deceased Twins owner who passed away in early January of 2009, would be pleased his farm system developed most of the franchise’s promising core of position players that includes Buxton, Dozier, third baseman Miguel Sano, left fielder Eddie Rosario, right fielder Max Kepler and shortstop Jorge Polanco.

 

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