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Something for Vikings to ‘Kick About’

December 03, 2017 - (0) comments

 

A Sunday notes column kicking off with the 9-2 Vikings who are in Atlanta for a noon game against the 7-4 Falcons.

Vikings’ placekicker Kai Forbath has made just 82 percent of his extra point attempts. That is the lowest conversion rate among NFL kickers with 10 or more attempts.

Forbath has made 23 of 28 extra points, with two attempts blocked. Falcons’ kicker Matt Bryant is a perfect 28 of 28.

Forbath joined the Vikings as a free agent in November of 2016 and made 11 of 14 extra points, or 78.6 percent. He converted 34 of 35 extra points in 2015 playing for the Redskins and Saints even though that year the NFL moved the line of scrimmage for conversions back from the two-yard line to the 15—a rules change that is still in place. (The result in 2015 was dramatic with league kickers missing the most extra points in any season since 1977, according to a January 4, 2016 NFL.com story.)

Forbath has made 24 of 28 field goals, and only four other NFL kickers have converted more. He has been successful on 10 of 12 in the 30 to 39 yard range (the distance for extra points is 33 yards). With nothing but big games ahead for the Vikings in their drive for the playoffs, and a Minneapolis Super Bowl spot, Forbath needs to shake his extra point slump.

D. Orlando Ledbetter, writing on the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s website last Thursday, reported the Vikings’ Case Keenum is the top-ranked NFL quarterback, “according to analytics website Football Outsiders.”

Back in September Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen called out Lions offensive tackle Greg Robinson, referring to him as “lazy.” Last week, though, Griffen wouldn’t put that label on anyone on the Falcons’ offensive line that has helped produce 373.4 yards per game, sixth best in the NFL. The Vikings rank fifth at 375.7.

The Vikings are the only team in the NFL with both a top five offense and defense. Minnesota is No. 5 defensively, holding opponents to 290.4 yards per game.

Bob Kronenberg, an area scout for the Falcons, is a former All-American in football and track at St. Cloud State.

Dick Jonckowski

The Vikings will honor Dick Jonckowski at their December 17 home game against the Bengals. Jonckowski was a prominent Vikings usher for years at the old Met Stadium and recently retired from public address announcing for Golden Gophers basketball, a position he held for 31 years.

Coach Richard Pitino’s Gophers, 7-1 in nonconference games, play their opening Big Ten game at 5 p.m. tonight in Williams Arena. Minnesota is at Nebraska Tuesday evening as part of a new-look Big Ten schedule that has teams playing two conference games in early December prior to resuming nonconference games for most of the month.

Rutgers, 6-1, has lost only to undefeated Florida State. As of Friday afternoon, Rutgers led the nation in offensive rebounding per game at 16.6 and was second in scoring defense, allowing 51.6 points.

Also as of Friday, Gophers forward Jordan Murphy led the nation with eight double-doubles, one in every game this season. He was second nationally in offensive rebounding per game with 5.5 and third in rebounds at 12.5. His 21.4 points per game ranked 33rd.

Minnesota author Bob Showers has signings this month for his new book The Twins in the Dome. His Twin Cities area schedule includes appearances at Barnes & Noble stores at Maplewood Mall and HarMar Mall next Saturday starting at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. respectively. His new Twins publication was included in last month’s Star Tribune Holiday Book Guide, one of five regional books selected.

A national TV audience will watch two of the country’s elite prep basketball guards Thursday when Apple Valley, led by Tre Jones, plays Minnehaha Academy and Jalen Suggs. The game will be at Apple Valley, starts at 7 p.m. and airs on on ESPN U.

Former Minnesota Mr. Basketball Khalid El-Amin has returned to his alma mater, North High School, as an assistant coach.

It was stunning to see all the prime unoccupied seats at the Gophers home hockey game against the Badgers Friday night. The empty seats make a statement about the apathy toward U hockey despite a No. 7 national ranking and playing border rival Wisconsin, a team ranked No. 14 in the country.

Mary Hardin-Baylor, the team that defeated St. Thomas 24-10 yesterday in a Division III college football quarterfinal playoff game, now has a 100-7 record during the last eight years. The total includes 19 wins and 7 losses in the playoffs. MHB’s record during the last eight years is second best in the nation, while St. Thomas ranks fourth at 92-12 including 17-6 in the postseason.

Bluff Creek Golf Course in Chaska is open to the public this weekend using a shotgun format. The course was also open during mild weather last February.

 

ESPN Expert Lauds Jordan Murphy

November 30, 2017 - (0) comments

 

Gophers junior forward Jordan Murphy is off to one of the most impressive starts in college basketball this season. He entered last night’s game against Miami averaging 22 points and 12.3 rebounds. Although No. 12 ranked Minnesota lost 86-81 to No. 10 Miami at Williams Arena, Murphy had his eighth consecutive season opening double-double in points and rebounds, totaling 17 and 14.

Murphy began this season with career averages of 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, and had a low profile nationally, but everything has changed. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, in Minneapolis for the nationally televised game last night, has been following Murphy since he arrived at Minnesota as only a three-star recruit from San Antonio.

“He is one of the most improved players in the country,” Fraschilla told Sports Headliners prior to the game. “He will be in the running for Big Ten Player of the Year because to this point in the season he has an impact on the game that few have. Even at 6-foot-6, he dominates the game inside. He’s also improved his ability to drive from the top of the key to the basket. He will be a very hard matchup for anybody in the Big Ten.”

Fraschilla described Murphy as a “nightmare” for defenders to stay in front of. The powerful 6-6, 240 athlete has strength, quickness and jumping ability. He can go through, around and over defensive players. He has strong hands, with the timing and athleticism to block shots and make steals.

“He’s a guy you have to talk about as a potential All-American candidate, if not this year, definitely next year,” Fraschilla said.

A former head coach at St. John’s and New Mexico, Fraschilla is friends with Providence coach Ed Cooley who said that in his six years leading the Friars Murphy was the most difficult player he’s had to prepare for. “That’s a heck of a compliment,” Fraschilla said. “Then they game planned for him and he still dominated the game. That tells you something. ”

Murphy photo courtesy Minnesota Athletic Communications

Murphy had 23 points and 14 rebounds in leading the Gophers to an impressive road win over Providence on November 13. Games like that have resulted in Murphy being named the Big Ten’s Player of the Week for three consecutive weeks. He is the first player since 2009 (Ohio State’s Evan Turner) to earn the award three straight weeks.

Fraschilla said it’s too early to know if Murphy can become an NBA first round draft choice, perhaps as early as next year. Years ago Murphy would have been profiled as too short to play power forward and too lacking in small forward skills to play that spot, but in today’s league there is emphasis on versatile players who can play multiple positions and possess multiple skills. “You know Draymond Green (Warriors) used to be a tweener; now we just call him an All-Star,” Fraschila said.

Fraschilla can see a future where it benefits Murphy to play four seasons with the Gophers. “He is going to be an intriguing prospect for (NBA) teams but there’s still aspects of his game he’s got to work on including his outside shooting,” Fraschilla said. “But I would not experiment (on perimeter shooting) if I were him at the expense of dominating the game inside.”

Worth Noting

Seen at last night’s Minnesota-Miami game were Vikings players Teddy Bridgewater, Adam Thielen and Jarius Wright, and club executives Bob Hagan and Lester Bagley.

Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen has three sons, including a new-born this month, and he approves of them playing football when they are high school freshmen, but not before because of potential blows to the head.

The price is six-figures but suites are available in U.S. Bank Stadium for the Minneapolis Super Bowl in February. Suite holders receive access four hours before kickoff and perks include food and beverages, and a meet-and-greet with an NFL legend.

Former Maple Grove High School basketball players Brad Davison of Wisconsin and Tywhon Pickford from Northern Iowa were honored this week by the Big Ten and Missouri Valley conferences. Davison, who averaged 15 points and two steals in three games last week, was named Big Ten co-freshman of the week along with Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. The freshman guard from Minnesota shot 50 percent in games last week and had a career high of 19 points against Milwaukee.

Pickford, who averaged 12.7 points and 12.7 rebounds last week, led the Panthers to an upset win over North Carolina State when he had 18 points and 18 rebounds. The freshman guard is the current MVC Newcomer of the Week.

The Badgers have decided not to redshirt former Lakeville North star Nathan Reuvers. The freshman forward has now played in two games for Wisconsin.

American universities have long been involved with sports but that model is different than other countries where clubs and other organizations provide opportunities for athletes. Former Gophers athletics director Joel Maturi has been volunteering his time to consult with Japanese educators interested in the American model.

Tsukuba University in Japan is going to start an athletics program next spring. Maturi was asked to be the interim head of athletics at the school for a year but he declined.

Gophers’ football coach P.J. Fleck turned 37 yesterday. November 29 is also the birthday of Iowa State coach Matt Campbell who is now 38.

Popular Pioneer Press sports columnist Charley Walters on why he doesn’t accept speaking engagements: “I abhor speaking.  I am not very good at it and I got nothing to say—and I’ll probably have a toothache that day.”

If the regular season ended today, the Wild would not be one of the five teams from the Western Conference qualifying for the playoffs. The Blues, coached by former Wild boss Mike Yeo, have the best record in the conference at 17-7-1 and 35 points.

Thanks for the emails from readers who enjoyed Tuesday’s column reminiscing about Memorial Stadium. Former Gopher Paul Ramseth (1961-63) wrote that stadium memories brought “tears to my eyes.” Another reader said the Gophers lost their last game ever in the stadium when coaches didn’t realize the defense only had 10 players on the field.

Here are Sports Headliners’ power rankings of Big Ten football teams: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Michigan, Iowa, Purdue, Indiana, Rutgers, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois.

Quarterback has often been a position of frustration for Gophers fans. Minnesota hasn’t had a quarterback drafted by the NFL since Craig Curry in 1972.

The Lynx began a two-day garage sale this morning featuring discounted merchandise, bobbleheads, jerseys and other items. The sale, on the skyway level of Mayo Clinic Square, is from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days, and will also offer some Timberwolves items for purchase.

 

Memories Endure from Memorial Stadium

November 28, 2017 - 1 Comment

 

It’s been 25 years since the University of Minnesota’s Memorial Stadium was demolished. With calendar year 2017 slipping away, it’s time to remember the Gophers’ old football home.

Minnesota played in the on-campus “Brick House” from 1924 through 1981 before moving into the Metrodome downtown. In my childhood and teen years I developed a passion for both the Gophers and the University on football Saturdays at Memorial Stadium. My dad was a longtime season ticket holder and attending games with him and my mother was a cherished ritual of fall.

I fondly recall the anticipation of each season and the football talk in our home. My father and I constantly argued about coach Murray Warmath. Dad thought the University made a terrible decision in the early 1950s not hiring Bud Wilkinson as coach. Wilkinson was a former Gopher standout as a player and became one of college football’s legendary coaches at Oklahoma. My father was constantly critical of Warmath, including his assessment of how the team blocked and tackled.

Warmath came to Minnesota in 1954 and had mixed results through the 1959 season. Then in 1960 the Gophers won the national championship. Between 1960 and 1962 Minnesota’s cumulative record was 22-6-1. During that era the Gophers also played in two Rose Bowls, losing to Washington and defeating UCLA.

Lets it be noted that Dad’s harping about Warmath’s coaching was more subdued in the early 1960s.

Memorial Stadium photo courtesy of Minnesota Athletic Communications

My father was a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s law school. He knew the campus well and to avoid traffic jams on football Saturdays he parked the car on the University’s West Bank. We walked across the old Washington Avenue Bridge and then several blocks further before arriving at Memorial Stadium. There are a couple of things about that walk I vividly remember including this:

Looking down at the Mississippi River while crossing that bridge scared the bejeebers out of me.

I recall, too, how there was pavement and grass down below part of the bridge at the west end. I regularly saw a small group of kids, about my age, gathered in the area. The enterprising 10 to 12 year olds liked to peer up at the masses crossing the bridge and yell, “Throw some money down!” Benevolent Gophers fans then showered them with pennies and other loose change from their pockets.

My dad insisted on early arrival at the games which started at 1:30 p.m. The stadium was mostly empty when we first sat in our seats about 12:15 p.m. The stadium loudspeaker blared John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” while Boy Scouts assisted early arrivals in finding their seats. Soon the Gophers took the field for warm-ups. I knew who many of the players were because I studied the Goalpost stadium program and memorized their jersey numbers. These were my heroes and I was entertained by everything they did on the field including simple calisthenics like jumping jacks.

When it was close to kickoff time the marching band took the field and played the “Minnesota Rouser.” I didn’t need the drama of a border rival game, or marquee opponent like Michigan to get me excited because the “Rouser” always sent chills up my spine.

For late season games there was also a different cause for chills. On cold November days I was wrapped up in a blanket, wearing winter clothes, and shivering so badly I thought the shakes might become a permanent condition.

I sat through rain, sleet and snow at Memorial Stadium. Mostly the conditions had little impact on the outcome of the games but in late October of 1955 there was a snowstorm in Minneapolis. At snowy Memorial Stadium the Gophers upset the No. 10 ranked Southern California Trojans. The SC roster was loaded with California boys and my dad always claimed the Gophers pulled off an upset that day because the warm-weather-bred-lads had never experienced the elements they faced in Minneapolis.

Most of the time fans didn’t have much appreciation for the bench style seats that were in place throughout the stadium. The width of each numbered seat was minimal and near the conclusion of the national anthem aggressive fans used to plunk down and claim their wooden space as fast as possible.

However, when the weather turned cold the crowded masses were grateful to share the body warmth of nearby neighbors. On nippy days it was common to see a flask making its way out of someone’s pocket. Unlike today’s stadiums, alcohol wasn’t sold at Memorial Stadium so it was BYOB—sort of. Public address announcer Julius Perlt gave a stern announcement before every game regarding the consumption of alcoholic beverages being strictly prohibited!

The crowd, particularly in the student section, let out a chorus of good-natured (?) boos.

Perlt also stirred the emotions of fans with his announcements of upset scores from big games around the country. He gave the scores backward, setting up the drama. “In the Big Ten today, Michigan, 10 (long pause)—Northwestern, 21!”

When the Gophers were in their glory years Memorial Stadium was packed. I was at the Purdue game in 1962 when a record crowd of over 67,000 watched the Gophers beat the Boilermakers. The biggest of games had fans sitting in the aisles and brought out local celebrities like Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith.

I saw my first game at Memorial Stadium in 1954 and then witnessed almost every game there through the 1981 season. A few of them, of course, are favorites starting with a long ago Iowa game. The rivalry with the Hawkeyes back then was probably more intense than now. The crowd was raucous on November 13, 1954 when Minnesota halfback Bob McNamara literally carried Iowa tacklers on his back in leading the Gophers to a dramatic 22-20 victory.

The drama was greater and the stakes higher in 1960 when No. 1 ranked Iowa came to play No. 3 Minnesota at the Brick House. All-American nose tackle Tom Brown dominated the Iowa offensive line and the Gophers beat up the Hawkeyes physically in a 27-10 win. Minnesota went on to win its first national championship since 1941 and play in the program’s first Rose Bowl.

I am not sure there has ever been a more anticipated home opener for the Gophers than in 1968 when nationally-ranked Southern California came to town featuring the most hyped player in college football—Orenthal James Simpson. Warmath let the Memorial Stadium grass grow long hoping to slow O.J. but the All-American tailback and the Trojans had their way winning 29-20.

In 1977 coach Cal Stoll, an energetic and rah-rah coach, was trying to revive the glory days of Golden Gophers football under Warmath and before that Bernie Bierman. Stoll never got the program turned around before being fired after the 1978 season but on October 22, 1977 he led Minnesota to one of its greatest upsets. The Gophers totally dominated No. 1 ranked Michigan and won 16-0.

In the 1970s the stadium was in need of repairs and upgrades. Stoll and other athletic department officials had plans to dome the Brick House, turning the old stadium into a climate-controlled environment that could be used for multiple activities. If not for the Vikings and Twins, those plans might have materialized. Minneapolis boosters wanted to move those teams from Met Stadium in Bloomington by constructing a downtown multipurpose domed stadium. They got their way with the help of the Minnesota Legislature, and the Metrodome opened in 1982 with the Vikings, Twins and Gophers as tenants.

Horseshoe-shaped Memorial Stadium, with its handsome brick exterior, stood for 10 more years before it was torn down in 1992 to make way for new buildings including the Aquatic Center and Alumni Center. The stadium’s name was a tribute to 3,527 University workers and graduates who served in World War I. Some of the stadium’s bricks were used in the 1990s to build nearby Mariucci Arena, while others were sold off to the public as keepsakes. A reconstructed Memorial Stadium arch inside the Alumni Center also pays tribute to the old stadium.

Every once in awhile I have a dream that the stadium is still standing. With so many memories, apparently my mind won’t let Memorial Stadium crumble to the ground.

 

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