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Claeys & Gophers Prove Skeptics Wrong

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December 28, 2016

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Tracy Claeys found the resolve to lead his Gophers to an improbable win last night in the Holiday Bowl against Washington State. A friend suggested several days ago Claeys was struggling with his spirits as the team prepared amidst the turmoil of 10 suspended players and sexual assault allegations. Odds-makers made WSU a double digits favorite and skeptics suggested it was easy money to place a fat wager on the “Air Cougars” and their expected route of the Gophers.

But Claeys and his team had the resolve to hold the pass-happy Cougars to a season low 12 points in a stunning 17-12 victory. The Gophers’ head coach showed leadership in directing his team to a long sought signature victory. After Claeys took over as Minnesota’s coach mid-season last year and continuing through this fall, the Gophers couldn’t earn a front page win in a rivalry game or against a top-25 team. However, last night the Gophers won a quality bowl game versus a Pac-12 team that fought for a division championship and four times scored over 50 points this season.

Tracy Claeys

Tracy Claeys

Claeys is a steady leader who avoids the highs and lows. He goes home at night and when his head hits the pillow, he is out. Well, last night he could have had the best of sleep and dreams. He deserved that experience and so did his players who had to support one another in practices and games to make up for the absence of starters and top reserves.

In mid-December I wrote that the Gophers might use the adversity of the suspensions to pull together for a bowl win. A former Gopher player called me out on what he said was an overly optimistic view. Nice to be right once in awhile.

Claeys is now 2-0 in bowl games after also winning the Quick Lane Bowl last season. That makes him the only head coach in Gophers’ history to win his first two bowl games. Minnesota’s bowl record is now 7-13.

Claeys, his staff and players put more pride back into Golden Gophers football last night. The Gophers won consecutive bowl games for the first time since 2002-2004 and finished with a 9-4 record. That’s the most victories since the 2003 team won 10 games. The four losses came against top 25 teams—Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin.

The win last night that ranks with Minnesota’s biggest bowl wins ever.The greatest bowl win was in the 1962 Rose Bowl when the Gophers smothered UCLA 21-3 a year after losing to Washington in Pasadena. The Gophers also had impressive bowl wins under Glen Mason against Alabama, Arkansas and Oregon. But for drama and surprise, last night’s Holiday Bowl takes a backseat only to the 1962 Rose Bowl.

Worth Noting

Despite what you may have read, Washington State coach Mike Leach was never considered for the Gophers job. Leach was unemployed when the Gophers were searching for a successor to Tim Brewster in 2010. Leach was fired at Texas Tech in 2009 amid allegations he mistreated Adam James, a Red Raider player who had suffered a concussion.

Safety Antoine Winfield Jr., one of 10 suspended players who didn’t play in the Gophers Holiday Bowl game last night, was named to Athlon.com’s first team All-Freshman defensive unit announced last week. Gophers defensive end Tai’yon Devers and linebacker Carter Coughlin made the second team.

Fox TV analyst Troy Aikman criticized Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman’s drafting of offensive linemen last Saturday. Aikman said during the Vikings-Packers telecast Spielman has drafted only two offensive linemen during the first three rounds since 2007, and has to do better. The Vikings selected tackle Phil Loadholt in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft and used one of their three first round picks in 2012 on tackle Matt Kalil.

Paul Allen

Paul Allen

Vikings’ trainer Eric Sugarman stays in touch with ex-offensive coordinator Norv Turner who resigned earlier this season. They are part of a local ownership group that has two race horses, Tiger D and Skol Sister. Other owners are Scott Turner (Norv’s son and the Vikings’ quarterback coach), and offensive guard Brandon Fusco, radio play-by-play man Paul Allen and goalie Alex Stalock who plays for the Wild’s minor league Iowa affiliate.

Vikings’ defensive back Captain Munnerlyn is an unrestricted free agent next offseason. “I definitely want to be here (with the Vikings), but at the same time I know it’s a business and we’ll see where it goes,” the 28-year-old told Sports Headliners.

How much of a factor will money be in his decision next year? “Come on, man. You play this game for the love of it, but there’s nothing wrong with being compensated for what you do on the field. I feel like I am one of the best at my position—one of the best nickels in the league. I want to be treated like one, so we’ll see how it goes from there.”

Munnerlyn’s base salary this year is $4.2 million, according to Spotrac.com.

A week ago yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the Vikings’ last game at Met Stadium. The Vikings lost 10-6 to the Chiefs on December 20, 1981 to close out a 7-9 season under coach Bud Grant. The next year the team moved into the Metrodome and drew 57,880 fans for the first preseason game after attracting just 41,110 for the Met finale.

It will be interesting to see if Minneapolis native Rashad Vaughn plays Friday night when he and the Bucks are at Target Center for a game against the Wolves. The second-year NBA guard, who is averaging 11.9 minutes and 4.4 points, missed Monday night’s game with the Wizards because of a left ankle sprain.

Nobody can say the Wild won’t be in the holiday spirit in coming days. New Year’s Eve the club continues the tradition of the old North Stars by playing at home on the final night of the year. The Met and its famous Observatory Club once was the place to be on New Year’s Eve. The Wild, who already are 2-0 this season against the Blue Jackets, play them at Xcel Energy Center on December 31, after a home game Thursday evening against the Islanders (0-1 so far). Next Monday the public can attend a free Wild outdoor practice starting at 10:30 a.m. at the Backyard Outdoor Ice Rink at Braemar Arena in Edina.

Cynopsis.com reported last week that a record six Major League Baseball franchises have been sent luxury tax bills, including the Yankees for a 14th consecutive season. CynopsisSports said the Yankees surpassed MLB’s payroll threshold of $189 million for last season and over the years have now been taxed $325 million.

Mike Greenberg, who is heard weekday mornings on 1500 ESPN, makes more than $6.5 million a year, according to Internet reports. Greenberg is co-host (with Mike Golic) of the Mike & Mike program heard on ESPN Radio affiliates around the U.S. and also has a televised simulcast on ESPN2.

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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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