Cheeseheads & More in Today’s Column
Notes collected before, during and after a weekend trip to Appleton, Wisconsin for a family event:
I talked to two Vikings prior to departure last week—seeking reassurance Minnesotans are safe in Packerland. “They treat us well, as tough and as hard fought as the rivalry is,” safety Harrison Smith said. “For instance, my family went to the week 17 game last year and they had nothing but good things to say about Packer fans. The way they were treated not only before the game—but after we won the division (in Green Bay) they were very congratulatory.”
Tight end Kyle Rudolph had a simple message: “If you’re going to Appleton, my only advice is to make sure you stop by Lombardi’s and get that tomahawk steak. That’s the only good thing I know that’s in Appleton. …”
Lombardi’s is a steakhouse in the Radisson Hotel named after legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi. The Radisson is a road hotel for visiting teams like the Vikings. Rudolph isn’t sure, but he thinks the tomahawk is a rib-eye cut. Not only does he like eating there, but in a separate interview Smith also praised the food at Lombardi’s.
Smith talks to the media tomorrow about the five-year contract extension he has signed with the Vikings. Since his first NFL season in 2012, Smith is one of two NFL players (Reshad Jones, Dolphins) to have at least 12 interceptions and five sacks.
The Packers will play their first two regular season games on the road in 2016, then the next four at Lambeau Field. Their second road trip is to Minneapolis for the first ever regular season game in U.S. Bank Stadium against the Vikings. StubHub.com listed tickets yesterday starting at $275.
As the Packers practice this spring, potential bad news for Vikings’ pass blockers and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is that linebacker Clay Matthews is likely moving from the inside to his more natural position of outside linebacker. Personnel circumstances dictated Matthews on the inside in recent seasons but the mobile veteran linebacker has been taking a lot of snaps on the outside this spring where his speed can make a difference going after passers.
Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of former Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham, is the subject of a four-page feature in the June 6 issue of Sports Illustrated. The Nevada-based 18-year-old is “poised to become the world’s best high jumper,” according to the magazine.
Minneapolis businessman, author and former Gophers golfer Harvey Mackay was close to Muhammad Ali who died late last week. The two men bonded through their mutual love of magic tricks.
The first time they met Mackay travelled to Ali’s home in Michigan. “I went to a magician and brushed up on my magic before the trip,” Mackay remembered in a column I wrote two years ago. “When I met Ali I not only did a magic trick for him, but showed him how it was done. It was something that turned him on.”
It will be interesting to watch new Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle during the next 12 months. Here are a few key items:
How effectively does Coyle manage the crisis situations in the men’s basketball and wrestling departments?
If there are new coaches, who does Coyle hire?
The Gophers men’s hockey program is in the doldrums? What does Coyle do about coach Don Lucia having one more year on his contract?
Exceptional leaders have vision. What’s Coyle’s vision for the major revenue sports of men’s basketball, hockey, and football?
Can Coyle fast-track fundraising for the $166 million Gophers Athletes Village?
One more thought on Lucia: he has high regard for associate head coach Mike Guentzel. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the soon to be 58-year-old Lucia announces shortly before next season that he is retiring effective immediately and presumably creates a “tryout” for Guentzel to permanently become head coach.
Twins first baseman Joe Mauer makes $23 million this season as part of an eight-year deal he signed in 2010. With the Twins on pace to win perhaps 50 games and have the lowest attendance in Target Field history, the long criticized contract looks worse than ever. When judged by directly impacting the outcome of games and generating revenues for a team, Mauer could be baseball’s most overpaid player by season’s end.
The 16-40 Twins have won only six of 19 series of games against opponents so far this season.
Rookie center fielder Byron Buxton had three hits in yesterday’s home loss to the Rays. It was only the second time in his career for three hits in one game. Buxton is hitting .435 in the six games since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester.
With conjecture about the Timberwolves and Wild making playoff runs within a couple of years, optimistic local fans wonder if Minneapolis-St. Paul could some spring host both the NBA and NHL championships. That kind of speculation is prompted because of the Bay Area’s Warriors and Sharks being in the pro basketball and Stanley Cup finals. No one area has ever emerged as champions in both basketball and hockey in the same year. So if you want to dream big, muse about it happening in MSP during Hillary Clinton’s second-term as president. Umm, or is that Bernie Sanders?
Author Patrick Mader willl speak to the “Breakfast with Leroy” group Saturday at the Bloomington Knights of Columbus, 1114 American Blvd West. Mader wrote “Minnesota Gold: Conversations with Northland Athletes Competing on the World Stage.” Mader, whose book came out last October, profiles 57 Minnesotans, including past Olympians, and details their lives and accomplishments. A breakfast buffet starting at 9 a.m. precedes Mader’s remarks, with more information available by contacting Pat Rickert at 612-861-3981. Group attendees are mostly athletes from the Minneapolis public schools in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, many of whom went on to college and professional careers.