A notes column heavy with Super Bowl information:
A sports industry friend from Minneapolis was in Houston earlier this week. He was stunned by the security in place for Sunday’s Super Bowl and the events preceding the big game. The city blocks near NRG Stadium and other facilities related to the Super Bowl are so guarded it prompted the friend to say he has never seen such a security lockdown.
“It’s crazy. It’s almost like not welcoming,” he said. “I don’t even know how to get to stuff (places).”
From “eyes in the sky” technology to bomb-sniffing dogs, all kinds of security is being used by public and private agencies to watch for suspicious characters and activities in Houston. No doubt it will be a similar scene in Minneapolis next year when the Super Bowl and its companion events come to town.
It’s expected that the area surrounding U.S. Bank Stadium will be under “Big Brother’s” watch starting about two weeks before the February 4, 2018 game. A challenge for Minneapolis security planners is that the city’s light rail system runs right by the stadium and presumably will be operational.
Super Bowl related events are expected to take place at other sites in Minnesota including the Nicollet Mall for outdoor activities and at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I am told full planning for 2018 by the NFL doesn’t start until April of this year.
Minneapolis native Prince, who died last year, would have been an obvious choice to headline the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show in his hometown. Prince’s acclaimed performance during halftime of the 2007 Super Bowl in Florida is among the most remembered entertainment ever at the big game.
Minneapolis first hosted the Super Bowl in 1992. At that time Minneapolis became the second northern city in NFL history to host the event, which began in 1967.
Minnesota connections with Sunday’s game include Patriots receiver Michael Floyd who could become the third Cretin-Derham Hall alum to play for a Super Bowl winning team, according to a Tuesday Pioneer Press story by Chris Tomasson. Center Matt Birk and offensive tackle Ryan Harris won Super Bowls playing for the Ravens and Broncos, Tomasson reported.
It’s not certain whether the 27-year-old Floyd will see action Sunday. He was released by the Cardinals in December and picked up by the Patriots who were aware of his late season incident with alcohol. He has played minimally in four games with the Patriots, catching five passes including one touchdown reception.
Former Gophers coach Jerry Kill is now the offensive coordinator at Rutgers and he told Sports Headliners six Scarlet Knight alums are on the Patriots roster but he will be rooting for the Falcons on Sunday. That’s because two of his players as Gophers coach are key contributors to the Falcon defense.
Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, a Minneapolis Washburn alum, is a player Kill refers to as a ”freak of nature” because of his imposing size and skills. The former Gophers All-American, 6-6, 318-pounds, was drafted by the Falcons in 2014 after a personal and football life filled with obstacles. As a child Hageman was neglected and he also struggled with academics, and although he matured with the Gophers it’s probably fair to say he still needs more consistency on and off the field.
De’Vondre Campbell, a 6-3, 234-pound linebacker who the Falcons drafted in 2016, was recruited by Kill out of Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. “He is a kid that comes from a lower income family,” Kill said. “He worked hard. He went to Hutchinson because of adcadmics and got good grades. I always knew his best days were ahead of him.”
Kill said he will be “pulling for my guys” on Sunday and takes satisfaction in knowing Hageman and Campbell are late developers. “They will keep getting better,” Kill said.
This week ESPN Insider ranked every Falcons and Patriots player starting with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at No. 1. Hageman ranked No. 48, Campbell No. 74 and Floyd No. 82 out of 106 players.
Eden Prairie native and former Viking Carter Bykowski is on the Falcon practice squad as an offensive tackle.
It was about 40 years ago that the Vikings played in their last Super Bowl. The Vikings lost 32-14 to the Raiders on January 9, 1977 in front of 103,438 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The game was the Vikings’ third Super Bowl in four years and all were losses under head coach Bud Grant who also lost to the Chiefs in the 1970 game.
Ex-Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton had a good line as re-quoted in Ross Bernstein’s book Sixty Years & Sixty Heroes: “What we’re trying to do is run through all the American Football League clubs to see if there’s one we can beat. …”
Former Gophers basketball coach Jim Dutcher talking about the current 3-6 Minnesota team that has lost five consecutive Big Ten games and now faces mediocre opponents against Illinois tomorrow and Iowa February 8, and then lowly Rutgers February 11: “They can’t have any hiccups.”
The Gophers hockey team, 6-2 in the Big Ten, has only league games remaining on the schedule. Minnesota is tied for first with Wisconsin in the Big Ten, just ahead of the 5-2-1 Penn State team that plays the Gophers tonight and tomorrow night at Mariucci Arena. The Nittany Lions men’s hockey program started in 2010 and like the Gophers is nationally ranked.
Minnesota is 27-5-2 all-time in home games against Big Ten opponents. This is the fourth season of Big Ten hockey.
Gary Trent Jr., who played for Apple Valley until this school year, is among those elite senior prep players who have been invited to participate in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago March 29. Trent, now at Prolific Prep in Napa, California, will play for Duke next fall.
WCCO Radio newsman Al Schoch is in his sixth school year of public address announcing for University of St. Thomas football, volleyball, and men’s and women’s basketball.
National Signing Day is today and the Gophers won’t top the football recruiting rankings in the Big Ten West, but in the future they might be on their way to consistently being equal to or ahead of programs like Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa.
New Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck has impressed those who track college football recruiting. The 36-year-old Fleck has a nonstop passion for his job and a head full of ideas including communications with recruits through social media. The January 30 issue of Sports Illustrated even devoted space to Fleck in its article about how “the recruiting game has gone digital, mobile and high concept, and any coach who wants to compete needs a hot designer on his roster.”
Creativity is a frequently used word associated with college football recruiting. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh grabs a headline singing a rap song; Ohio State’s Urban Meyer gets into a bidding war with Texas over a graphic designer; and Nick Saban dazzles Alabama recruits with his massive home that is just a golf cart ride away from a lake.
Whether Fleck can ultimately recruit and coach at an elite level will have everything to do with the Gophers’ football future. He inherits a program and team that has been resurrected but hasn’t reached championship status. Minnesota has won two consecutive bowl games and totaled eight wins or more in three of the last four seasons. Yet the Gophers haven’t been Big Ten champs since 1967, have never won a Big Ten West Division title and hold no wins over Wisconsin since 2003.
Recruiting authority Ryan Burns has been impressed with Fleck since he was hired in early January. National recruiting websites have jumped the Gophers way ahead of where their 2017 class was ranked before Fleck arrived in Minneapolis. Fleck has out-recruited Power Five rivals for players, convincing some to commit to him without visiting the University of Minnesota campus.
Burns, publisher of the GopherIllustrated.com website, thinks Fleck’s recruiting will ultimately lead the Gophers to playing “meaningful games” in November. The GopherIllustrated website includes national team rankings from Scout which as of this morning assigns the seven Big Ten West Division programs the following rankings: Nebraska No. 18; Minnesota No. 33; Illinois No. 34, Iowa No. 41; Northwestern No. 48; Wisconsin No. 53; and Purdue No 77.
“It’s interesting to see them (the Gophers) going after kids with P-Five offers—compared to going against (programs like) Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette,” Burns told Sports Headliners. “He’s (Fleck) trying to make his stamp, and for only being here for three weeks, obviously he’s raised his class. They’re in the 30’s now (in the rankings). They’re firmly above Iowa and Wisconsin. I think that they can sustain that (in future years).
“I think that Nebraska (strong California recruiting base) is probably going to be at the top of the recruiting ranks in the Big Ten West most years but I think there is no reason that they (the Gophers) can’t come in second or third. Especially continue to beat Iowa and Wisconsin because P.J. is very charismatic once he gets in a living room. He knows how to sell. He knows how to get the job done.”
Other recruiting websites don’t have the Gophers ranked as high as Scout. Rivals, for example, has Minnesota No. 53 and trailing No. 38 Iowa and No. 45 Wisconsin. But what’s not debatable is the Gophers have shot up the recruiting charts in the short time Fleck has been head coach, including moving from No. 77 to No. 49 in Rivals’ rankings.
As signed National Letters of Intent reach the Gophers’ football office today, fans of the program can feel optimism about a class expected to include more than 25 scholarship student-athletes. When Burns looks at the incoming talent that Minnesota will officially announce later today, he offers stories that substantiate his optimism about Fleck’s recruiting.
Burns has been following and writing about Gophers recruiting for years and until now he couldn’t recall Minnesota getting a player that Notre Dame was making a run for. That’s what happened last month when Fleck received a verbal commitment from Portland, Oregon cornerback Demetrius Douglas who Burns said Oregon also wanted.
Burns also said the Gophers took a player away from the Hawkeyes in Kansas native and wide receiver Harry Van Dyne. His older brother is going to Iowa as a walk-on and Burns said the Hawkeyes coveted Harry.
Burns mentioned additional high quality players who turned down offers from other major schools including four-star safety Ken Handy-Holly from Alabama, and cornerback Adam Beck from Texas who said no thanks to schools like Colorado and flipped his original commitment to Texas Tech.
Quarterback Tanner Morgan has already enrolled at the U and Burns has high praise for the Kentucky native who reportedly turned down an offer from national power Louisville. “I think Tanner Morgan has the best quarterback tape you’ve seen from a Gopher quarterback signee in at least four or five years,” Burns said.
Burns wouldn’t be that surprised if the Kentucky native starts for Minnesota next fall. “I think if he can get down the offense, he could absolutely play from day one.”
It’s interesting that in today’s high-tech world, athletes send their signed National Letters of Intent via fax to their colleges of choice. Holding up a signed fax does provide a news photo opportunity.
The Gophers have sold 253 new season tickets since Fleck was hired, according to an email from an athletic department spokesman. who noted no “aggressive ticket push” has been made so far to sell tickets.
The Big Ten Network will have National Signing Day programming from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.
A person who should know says it’s likely Apple Valley junior point guard Tre Jones will sign with Duke next fall, following his brother Tyus’ path to playing for legendary Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Richard Pitino’s Gophers have lost five consecutive games and play at Illinois Saturday afternoon. Minnesota is 1-3 at home and 2-3 on the road in Big Ten games. Earlier this season Pitino said: “In this league you better win at home. It’s extremely important.”
Four of the Gophers’ six defeats have been by seven points or fewer including overtime losses to Michigan State by one and Wisconsin by two. On the road Minnesota does have a nine point overtime win against Purdue and four point victory versus Northwestern.
Pitino had a difficult stretch with close losses two years ago when his Gophers lost eight conference games by six points or less. There were NCAA Tournament hopes before the season for that team but Minnesota finished with a 6-12 Big Ten record and didn’t play in the postseason other than the conference tournament.
The Timberwolves, who have won eight of their last 11 games, play the NBA champion Cavs tonight in Cleveland. Web rumors are Knicks basketball boss Phil Jackson is interested in acquiring Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio and Cavs power forward Kevin Love, the former Wolves star who played a key role in last year’s game seven playoff win over the Warriors. The passing skills of Rubio and Love on the Knicks would be great for Jackson’s famous triangle offense.
A record 381 MIAC student-athletes have earned Academic All-Conference recognition for their classroom work last fall. They had a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 or better on a 4.0 scale. Student-athletes must be a sophomore, junior or senior with at least one year (two semesters) at their institution to be eligible for the recognition. The MIAC saw its record total of honorees rise for the fifth straight year, exceeding by 24 the record of 357 set in 2015.
Former Gophers coach Jerry Kill, now the offensive coordinator at Rutgers, has been recruiting in Minnesota for the Scarlet Knights but so far doesn’t have a commitment as National Signing Day approaches on Wednesday. College football recruiting authority Ryan Burns told Sports Headliners that Kill “called on” Crosby-Ironton tight end Noah Gindorff, and crossed paths with new Gophers coach P.J. Fleck last week at Hopkins High School.
Fleck and Kill are recruiting Hopkins defensive end Boye Mafe. Burns, who is a publisher of the popular Gopherillustrated.com website, said “he’s heard some interesting things about how that went down” when the two coaches were at Hopkins. Burns, who wasn’t at Hopkins when the coaches were there, didn’t provide more details.
It’s no secret Kill is upset about things that have been said and done at the University of Minnesota including the dismissal of Tracy Claeys as Gophers coach a few weeks ago, after leading Minnesota to a 9-4 record including an upset win over Washington State at the Holiday Bowl. Media reports have Kill saying he won’t be coming back to the Gopher campus where he helped resurrect the football program until his health forced him to resign in 2015. Claeys, Kill’s close friend and former defensive coordinator, was made Kill’s successor but lasted only one full season before being fired by new Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle. “He is a very emotional guy,” Burns said about Kill.
Burns believes Kill is “trying to get his foot in the door” on players the Gophers want, probing to see how successful he can be with Minnesota high school players. Few Power Five football programs aggressively recruit the state and Kill may see opportunity here because of that, and also his popularity with the public and relationships with high school coaches.
“He probably will be a little bit effective but…he’s got to land some of these kids that Minnesota (also) wants, for him to justify being out here,” Burns said. “As of today he hasn’t been able to do that.”
Both Kill and Fleck are just getting started in their new roles. Kill was hired by New Jersey-based Rutgers several days before Christmas. Fleck left Western Michigan where he was head coach to take over the Minnesota program in early January.
Known as an elite recruiter, Fleck has reshuffled the 2017 Gopher class that will be announced on Wednesday. While some players who had originally given verbal commitments to Claeys remain, most of the recruits now are student-athletes who Fleck and staff have convinced to become Gophers. Recruiting authorities like Burns have been impressed and they place Minnesota’s 2017 class much higher in national rankings than when Claeys and his staff were in charge.
Burns was asked about 2017 recruits and who he would “bet his life” will be the biggest impact player as a Gopher. “The easy answer is Blaise but I don’t want to take that one. There are a lot of kids that I like in this class. I would say Ken Handy-Holly.”
Blaise Andries, the offensive tackle from Marshall, Minnesota, is one of the prize recruits in Minnesota’s 2017 class but Burns has a high regard for Handy-Holly too, the four-star safety from Alabama. “My hope for him is that he can be a player like (former Gopher) Damarius Travis. A guy that is the leader of a defense, can get everyone lined up.”
Burns thinks Holly could play as a freshman, like Antoine Winfield, Jr. did last year. Winfield played early in the season on special teams, then became an impressive starter at safety for the Gophers.
The Signing Day Social for Gophers football fans at TCF Bank Stadium Wednesday night is sold out. Over 800 attendees are expected at the Goal Line Club sponsored event where Fleck will talk about his first recruiting class at Minnesota. The social begins at 5 p.m. and KFAN’s Dan Barreiro will broadcast his show from the stadium.
A former Big Ten assistant coach who has followed Minnesota high school basketball for decades didn’t want his name in print but told Sports Headliners Jericho Sims is the best prep player from the state he’s ever seen including Kevin McHale and Tyus Jones. The 6-8 Sims is a senior at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis and the son of former Gopher Charles Sims. Sims has signed to play next fall for Texas and head coach Shaka Smart. The ex-Big Ten coach said Sims will be an immediate force in the Big 12, predicting he will play power forward in college while praising his varied offensive skills and his physique. “He’s built like a marble statue,” the source said.
I was in Williams Arena on October 15, 1971 when first-year Gophers coach Bill Musselman led his first official team practice. The Gophers were at least 15 minutes late taking the floor for practice, and I later learned that Musselman was giving the team a hyper-passionate pep talk about the season ahead including challenging Big Ten title favorite Ohio State. It was 45 years ago last week the famous Minnesota-Ohio State brawl took place at Williams Arena. Few people know Musselman was targeting the Buckeyes months before the game.
The St. Thomas and Bethel men’s basketball teams are tied for first place in the MIAC standings with 10-3 records. They play each other tonight at the Tommies’ Schoenecker Arena. Coach John Tauer’s Tommies are defending MIAC champions.
The Twins, expected to be down in their season tickets total this year, are able to offer more prime seating locations because of the decline. A source with the club told Sports Headliners the total season tickets in 2017 is projected at 11,000 to 12,000 after being about 13,000 last year.
Speedy Byron Buxton, the long-hyped Twins prospect and the big league club’s fastest player, stole only 10 bases last season in 92 games and 298 at bats. The center fielder hit .225, struck out 118 times and walked just 23 times. Buxton, though, has stolen 125 bases in 301 minor league games.
Twins super fan Kirk Detlefsen holds his annual Ticket Draft at Target Field on Wednesday. The event is an opportunity for people Detlefsen knows to share in the season tickets he buys each year. The gathering isn’t open to the public but in advance Detlefsen welcomes inquiries (612-701-7244). Twins authorities Derek Falvey, Dave St. Peter and Dan Gladden will speak to attendees, plus Town Hall Ball Parks of Minnesota author Todd Mueller will personalize complimentary copies of his book.
A sports awards industry source said Theo Epstein’s relationship with Jostens years ago was likely a major factor in the Minneapolis-based company being named the designer for the Cubs 2016 World Series rings. Epstein, the Cubs general manager, was the Red Sox’s baseball boss when Boston won the World Series in 2004 and Jostens produced that team’s rings. Look for Jostens to also make a Cubs World Series fan ring.
Dave Stead, executive director of the Minnesota State High School League, told Sports Headliners his organization projects distributing about $1 million to MSHL schools that participated in state tournaments during the 2016-2017 school year. The distribution amounts are determined by a formula to reimburse schools for expenses. Stead said 12 of the 36 state tournaments sponsored by the MSHL, including the Prep Bowl, are profitable.
Minnesota North Stars caps for $39.99 each are on sale at the Minnesota Wild’s hockey-themed restaurant in Terminal 2 of the MSP airport.
Ross Bernstein, the locally-based author of sports books who is also a motivational speaker for businesses, was in Scotland last month where he found time to visit but not play the famed St. Andrew’s Golf Course.