Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018

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Big Ten Title Team to Motivate Gophers


More than 35 players from Minnesota’s 1967 Big Ten championship football team will be in Minneapolis Friday and Saturday to celebrate their 50th anniversary. That was the last Gopher football team to win the conference title and new head coach P.J. Fleck values the link to the past.

“I think it’s incredibly important,” Fleck said Tuesday. “We talked to them (his players)…about embracing your past to create your future. We want to bring the championships back to Minnesota.

“That doesn’t happen overnight. I said that from day one in my press conference, and every time I’ve talked. …But the one thing I’ll say is, we want to make sure, when the 1967 team watches our game (Saturday), they’re inspired. It brings them back to their day.”

Fleck and some players will attend a reception for the 1967 alums on Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium. Lockers at the stadium will temporarily have nameplates with names of the ex-Gophers and a gift in each space.

Prior to Saturday’s 11 a.m. home game against Maryland the ’67 champions will hear Fleck’s pregame speech. Then between the first and second quarters the ’67 group will be recognized on the field.

Minnesota quarterback Conor Rhoda said he and teammates are grateful to have the legacy players back in town. The 3-0 Gophers, going into their opening Big Ten game against the 2-1 Terps, want to show their elders how much they’ve accomplished in the last eight months.

Conor Rhoda

“Hopefully, we’re able to do that Saturday and be able to show them that this program has taken the steps to get back to how it was in the ‘60s when they won the championships,” Rhoda said.

The 1967 group was the last of coach Murray Warmath’s championship teams from that decade. He has passed away and so has most of his staff, although former assistant Mike Reid will attend the reunion. Deceased players include Mike Condo, Ron Kamzelski, Charlie Sanders and John Williams.

Worth Noting

Fleck has travelled to high school games in the metro area via helicopter. Rhoda said the expense of using a helicopter sends a message. “For those kids that he was out recruiting it would show how important they are to him and how badly he wants them,” Rhoda said.

Fleck said a helicopter allows him to use his time efficiently. He not only wants to see players but engage with coaches and fans at high school games. “The more places we can see, the more benefit we have,” he said.

Rhoda talking about second team quarterback Seth Green, a redshirt freshman who so far has minimal college game experience: “He’s got all the skills in the world.”

It would be interesting if either Iowa or Wisconsin tries to hire popular former Gophers linebackers coach Mike Sherels. He isn’t coaching now but has a great reputation in the state of Minnesota where both the Hawkeyes and Badgers recruit.

The Vikings and Lynx games were both televised in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market last Sunday afternoon. How did TV audiences in the 18-plus category compare? The Vikings telecast averaged 665,500 viewers, the Lynx 40,700. gave third-year cornerback Trae Waynes the fifth highest grade among Vikings after last Sunday’s win against the Bucs. The former 2015 first round draft choice has been known for his inconsistency.

“Trae seems to be getting better all the time,” said head coach Mike Zimmer. “I think he’s starting to develop more confidence. There’s still things he needs to work on, but he’s got such great athletic ability that he just needs to continue to use it. Sometimes he overthinks a little bit—just go out and play.”

Mike Zimmer

Zimmer, known for his defensive coaching, can appreciate the seven interceptions the Lions have in three games. “They do a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback,” he said. “They play tight in coverage. They are very well coached scheme-wise—fundamentally sound and they are around the football so they end up getting a lot of picks.”

The Lions and Vikings are both 2-1, and Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium is probably anyone’s guess as to the winner. The Lions won both games last season.

Despite starting quarterback Sam Bradford missing two games, the Vikings have the third most passing yards through three games in franchise history. They have 882 yards, compared with 982 in 2004 and 988 in 1981.

After last Saturday’s “Holy Grail” game won by St. Thomas, the national rankings have the Tommies No. 3 and Saint John’s ninth.

The Twins, who play their final regular season game on Sunday, have four players with 20 home runs or more. If Max Kepler hits one more home run to total 20 he will make the 2017 season only the third time in club history five players have reached that level. Brian Dozier (33), Miguel Sano (28), Eddie Rosario (27) and Eduardo Escobar (20) are the 2017 home run leaders.

Gophers sophomore basketball forward Eric Curry, who had successful reconstructive knee surgery September 20, is on crutches and attending classes, but will miss the upcoming season.

The 35 players expected at Big Ten Media Day October 19 at Madison Square Garden in New York will include Gopher center Reggie Lynch and guard Nate Mason. Lynch was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season, while Mason was All-Big Ten.

Condolences to Gophers center and Norway native Matz Stockman, the Louisville transfer, who lost his father Eirik last summer. Stockman, who is redshirting this season, returned home to Norway for awhile because of his father’s death.

Athlon’s college basketball magazine ranks Rochester John Marshall’s Matthew Hurt the No. 5 prep player nationally in the class of 2019. Because his brother Michael is already on the team, the Gophers might be favorably positioned to land Matthew.

Kevin Burleson, who played guard for the Gophers from 1999-2003, is an assistant coach for the NBA Rockets.

Mike Hastings is among the best coaches in men’s college hockey so it wasn’t surprising this week when both a coaches poll and media poll ranked his Minnesota State team most likely to win the WCHA’s regular season championship in 2018. His teams have won 122 games, the fourth most nationally, since he took over the program for the 2012-13 season. Bemidji State was voted No. 2 in the polls.

The WCHA offices are based in the Twin Cities and the men’s administration is led by commissioner Bill Robertson, a former executive with the NHL Wild.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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