Local Super Bowl Perspective: Birk vs Moss
In journalism school the professors taught us to be objective about what we wrote. However, they gave us an out regarding objectivity when writing our opinions in editorials and personal columns.
Today I exercise my option.
I am pulling for the Ravens to defeat the 49ers in the Super Bowl a week from Sunday. It boils down to a preference to see Matt Birk on the winning team, not Randy Moss.
The two were Vikings draft choices in 1998. Nobody knew if Birk, a sixth round pick from Harvard via Cretin Derham-Hall, would make the team. But everybody couldn’t wait to see “The Freak,” the team’s No. 1 draft choice, blow by defensive backs and catch long distance touchdown passes.
At Winter Park I learned more about Birk and Moss than I ever could turning on a TV set. Birk was approachable, Moss could be intimidating.
Birk, who developed into an All-Pro and Pro Bowl center for the Vikings, would cruise around the locker room with a smile on his face, willing to talk about subjects ranging from football to his Twin Cities restaurants. The lasting image I have of Moss—the 6-foot-4 All-World wide receiver with cheetah-like speed—is watching him bolt out of the Winter Park locker room so angry I might have guessed his dog died.
“He (Moss) has had some bad PR,” acknowledged Dean Dalton, a Vikings’ assistant coach from 1999-2005. “He comes across unfiltered. He can be a thoughtful (considerate) guy.
“I’ve watched Birkie pretty close this year. He contemplated retiring (after last season) but his competitive spirit compelled him to go back. He’s been one constant on a line with injuries.”
Birk made a reputation here and in Baltimore for community service. He’s a past winner of the Ed Block Courage Award and Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, national honors recognizing inspiration and charity. Moss has reportedly done good deeds too but the resume is filled with negative stuff including his days with the Vikings.
In early 2005, Birk and Moss clashed after a loss to the Redskins with playoff implications for the Vikings. Moss left the field in the closing seconds and headed to the locker room, embarrassing teammates and angering fans. “Enraged, Birk confronted Moss in the locker room,” wrote Kevin Seifert on Monday for his espn.com blog.
The Vikings’ ownership tired of Moss and traded him to the Raiders during the 2005 offseason. He returned to Minnesota for four games in 2010 but apparently his immature behavior helped convince the Vikings to part ways. His most well publicized incident was a rant about food served by a local caterer at Winter Park.
Birk left the Vikings via free agency after the 2008 season. He’s the Ravens’ starting center and at 36 is playing in his first Super Bowl. Moss, who turns 36 on February 13, played on a Patriots team that lost the 2008 Super Bowl to the Giants. He came out of retirement to play for the 49ers this season and has been a modest contributor to the team’s success, catching 33 passes including three for touchdowns.
49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh wants Moss to return next season, according to an nfl.com story by Dan Hanzus last Friday. Moss, who no longer terrorizes defenses but reportedly has been more civil and even helpful to teammates in San Francisco, has not made his plans known. Birk told Sports Headliners earlier in the year he’s undecided about how much longer he will play. Birk acknowledged he is physically not the player he once was “but I like to think I am a little smarter.”
This much is known about the future for the two former high profile Vikings: Birk or Moss will win a Super Bowl ring, and you know who I am pulling for.
In addition to Birk and Moss, three other players in the upcoming Super Bowl have Minnesota connections. Ravens’ regular left tackle Bryant McKinnie, the former Viking, has become a late season success on a re-energized line. Ravens’ starting outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was born in Minneapolis and spent part of his childhood in the Twin Cities. Reserve 49ers’ defensive back Tramaine Brock was recruited by former Gophers coach Tim Brewster, and lettered for Minnesota in 2008.
Dalton, who provides NFL analysis for Sirius Satellite Radio, predicts a three point win by the Ravens in the February 3 game. The teams have similar strengths but the 49ers have been struggling with field goals. “I just really like both teams,” he said.
The Vikings need help in the 2013 draft at multiple positions. A record number of 74 college underclassmen have declared for the April 25-27 NFL Draft, according to the January 16 issue of USA Today. The list includes 15 defensive linemen, 13 defensive backs, 12 running backs and 11 wide receivers.
The NFL Scouting Combine for evaluating draft eligible players is February 23-26 in Indianapolis.
The basketball Gophers, losers in their last two games to top 10 ranked Indiana and Michigan, will try tonight for a second win this month against Northwestern in Evanston. The Gophers, who only led 17-14 at halftime in the January 6 game, defeated the Wildcats 69-51 in Minneapolis. Minnesota out-rebounded Northwestern 47-20 in that win. Look for the Wildcats to give the Gophers problems with a half court trapping defense.
According to Big Ten Conference statistics released Monday morning, the Gophers were second in rebounding margin among Big Ten teams at +9.8 per game. The Gophers were first in blocked shots per game at 6.4 and steals at 9.7. Minnesota, though, has the highest turnover average among the conference’s 12 teams, 14.7 per game.
Ross Bernstein, the local author and motivational speaker who c0-wrote Marc Trestman’s biography, told Sports Headliners that Trestman interviewed for the Browns head coaching job before being hired last week to lead the Bears. Trestman’s wife Cindy is from Cleveland so the Browns job would have been a good family fit and expectations for winning are lower than in Chicago. “He would be a hero if he won five games (the first season) in Cleveland,” Bernstein said.
The St. Louis Park native and former coach of Montreal in the CFL has never been a head coach in the NFL, although he was an assistant with the Vikings and other teams. “In my opinion his dream job would have been with the Vikings,” Bernstein said.
But Trestman, of course, is excited to be coaching the Bears, a team with potential to finish ahead of the Vikings in the NFC North next season. “Expectations are high in Chicago,” Bernstein said.
What did he learn about Trestman when the two co-wrote Perseverance: Life Lessons on Leadership and Team Work? “Just how smart the guy is. He is brilliant. He is also a quality human being.”
After Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall tweeted about Trestman’s book, sales increased dramatically and Bernstein said it is now among the top 100 sellers on Amazon.com.
Congratulations to Saint John’s men’s basketball coach Jim Smith who won his 750th career game on Monday night when the Johnnies defeated Carleton, 73-66. He is the 19th coach in college basketball history (all divisions) to reach 750 wins.
Condolences to the family of Conrad Smith, my former North Stars marketing colleague and friend for many years. Conrad passed away recently after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He worked for the North Stars, Twins and Timberwolves during his career, and most recently was chief operating officer of the Lynx. Conrad’s warm smile and quick wit made him a delight to be around.