Dave Mona grew up around sports in his south Minneapolis neighborhood. His father, Luther Mona, was a successful baseball and basketball coach at South High School. Dave played on the 1961 Roosevelt basketball team that was barred from the state tourney because two Teddies players participated in out of season basketball. At the University of Minnesota Dave was sports editor of the Minnesota Daily, went on to a brief career covering the Twins for the Minneapolis Tribune and then made his livelihood in local public relations.
Mona satisfied his passion for sports by joining WCCO Radio in 1981 as co-host of the Sunday morning “Sports Huddle” with Sid Hartman. In 2008 he published a book called Beyond the Sports Huddle, sharing stories regarding the show and storytelling about Minnesota teams and personalities.
Mona has never lost his interest in sports. He is still known for his expertise on trading cards and other sports memorabilia. Several years ago his sports and business acumen prompted Gophers athletics director Joel Maturi to ask him to join the search for Minnesota’s next football coach. Maturi and Mona hit the bulls-eye with the hire of Jerry Kill who resurrected the program.
At lunch Sports Headliners asked Mona the following questions regarding sports and his life. Here are his edited answers, sometimes laced with his trademark humor.
How many trading cards do you still have?
Well, thank God I have been able to dispose of a lot of them. I had 4 million at the peak. I think I am down to about a million and a quarter right now. We are trying to actively dispose of them. We determined that by the fall of 2072 (not a typo) we should be totally out of cards.
What card will you never give up?
The last one to go will probably be the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle—card No. 311. I’ve got the complete ‘52 set (of cards). That’s kind of the card that people would talk about being the signature card of sports card collecting. When I start selling things off and get to the 52’s, that will be the last set I get rid of, and the last card I get rid of will be Mickey Mantle.
Where are the cards stored?
The cards are all in safe storage like safe deposit boxes—all except the ones that I would consider burning or throwing in a flood. When I say I have a million and quarter cards, easily a million of them are marginally worthless. They’re from 1980 to the current time when there was massive over production.
The teams here are known for losing a lot of games year after year. Why do you think that happens?
I think winning is less important here than it is (in other major cities). As I’ve travelled the country, I find people …what they value most—maybe even above family—is the success of their sports teams. I think people (in Minnesota) have more balance in their lives. They like their teams to be competitive, but it’s not the be-all and end-all to be best at anything. Maybe Garrison Keillor has got it right–there is a lot of modesty among us but I am not sure there is the passion here to be on top that there is in other parts of the country.
In order of preference what are your favorite sports?
It’s a seasonal thing. It’s kind of what’s being played. Right now I am a huge basketball fan. Maybe baseball at heart is where my deepest love is. College football—maybe a little less (a fan) of professional football. Because I played basketball—and grew up in a basketball household—less so hockey, but I have become a good hockey fan. Probably if I had to say based on the full year it would be baseball, football, basketball, hockey.
What did you learn about coaching from your dad?
I learned to sit quietly in church with a little square paper in front of me and diagram plays. I learned to be interested in sports and to watch sports in kind of a different way. The way a coach looks at it and analyzes things, and looks for opportunities that can be seized. From a very early time, being the ball boy for Minneapolis South, I felt like I got a little different look at sports than a player only would have gotten.
Did you ever seriously think about pursuing the athletic director job at Minnesota?
No, I never really did. I didn’t think I was particularly qualified to be the AD but it’s never kept me from expressing opinions on it, caring a great deal about the outcome.
You and your wife Linda have led travel tours for WCCO Radio. What’s the most important thing for a travel tour leader to know?
We want to make sure that people are enjoying themselves, so we seek them out with conversations. People probably don’t know this but we actually keep a chart with everybody’s name on it. We make sure that by the end of the tour we’ve had a meal sitting next to those people and gotten to know them to the best of our ability. I think that satisfies what their expectations might be and it makes the trip more interesting for us.
You have done a lot of travelling. What’s still on the bucket list?
I’d love to go on a (African) safari. There are (other) places I’ve never seen—(like) the Taj Mahal. I would love to do that. I’ve never been to Australia-New Zealand. Heard a lot of great things about that. I am not sure I want to spend a week in Tahiti but it looks gorgeous.
Any other places?
I want to go to the Rose Bowl to see the Gophers play. I was on the Minnesota Daily when they last went (in 1962 after also playing in the 1961 game). They had a train, and I think it was $110 to go to Pasadena. I didn’t have $110. Somebody said to me, “Of all people, I can’t believe you’re not going to the Rose Bowl.”
I will never forget my response. I said, “You know they (the Gophers) go almost every year. I can’t afford it right now but the next time they go I will be there.”
Where did you get your sense of humor?
I always had a sense of humor, (with) the ability to look at things and see the humorous play on words, the pun, or what have you. Probably from my love of the language and turning things a little bit differently. Not always appreciated by people along the way, including some teachers, but to me having a sense of humor was always something I was aware of and enjoyed.
What is it going to be like doing the “Sports Huddle” some day without Sid?
I have no idea when or if that would be a possibility. We talked about what will happen if Sid were no longer part of the “Sports Huddle,”and he was 85 at the time. He’s going on 97 right now so I am confident we will be celebrating at least his 100th (birthday) as part of it. The station sees the “Sports Huddle” as a valuable property, as it’s always been sold out in advertising. It’s a good revenue generator for the station. It still has relatively large numbers of listeners so I think the “Sports Huddle” will go on.
The Gophers have surprised their critics this season with 15 wins in their first 18 games but there is a message in the three losses. Minnesota, winners of only two Big Ten games last season and now much improved, has lost those three games to more physical and aggressive top 20 ranked teams.
Michigan State, after last night’s drubbing of the Gophers in East Lansing, has now defeated Minnesota twice. The Gophers other loss was to Florida State, a team with big guards and four front court players 6-9 or taller including 7-1, 304-pound center Michael Ojo and 7-4 (not a typo) center Christ Koumadje.
Few teams, if any, can match the size of Florida State but Michigan State has bruising freshmen Nick Ward (6-8, 250) and Miles Bridges (6-7, 230). And what the Spartans may lack in inches and heft is made up for in aggression.
Last night the Spartans flummoxed the Gophers, shutting down driving lanes and contesting shots. When the Gophers did have decent looks at the basket they couldn’t make enough shots. The Spartans also beat up Minnesota on the boards and made more hustle plays.
“We just could not find a way to get an easy basket,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said during his postgame interview on 1500 ESPN. “I thought we had a couple decent looks, but you know overall we’re not the toughest team, even from an offensive standpoint of screening, being strong with the ball. …”
It doesn’t help when Minnesota’s most physical player, 6-10, 260-pound junior center Reggie Lynch, is consistently in foul trouble and on the bench. Last night in the 65-47 loss Lynch fouled out for the fourth time in the last five games. He has fouled out of both games against the Spartans.
The Gophers were behind 39-17 at halftime and looked frustrated. Maybe there was a hangover feeling from the overtime loss to the Spartans in Minneapolis on December 27. Minnesota led 39-26 at intermission and was clearly the superior team in execution, if not effort. The Spartans, though, were by far the more assertive players in the second half. Among the telling final stats was MSU scored 12 more points in the lane than the Gophers.
The Gophers, now 3-2 in Big Ten games, face a momentum test Saturday at Penn State. Minnesota needs to stop its losing streak at one against a Nittany Lions team that has been at home all week preparing for Saturday’s game. With an 11 a.m. Minneapolis start time, the Gophers won’t have to wait long to see how things go against a 2-2 PSU group team that defeated MSU last week, 72-63.
Tom Izzo has been Michigan State’s head coach since the 1995-1996 season. Early on he competed against Minnesota coach Clem Haskins, and he got to know legendary Minneapolis newspaper columnist and radio personality Sid Hartman. When Izzo was in town a couple of weeks ago he was asked about the 96-year-old Hartman, who is recovering from a broken hip.
“I get a kick out of Sid,” Izzo told Sports Headliners. “…He always was good to me. There were wars when Clem was here, when I first started, and Sid always had something to say. He wasn’t afraid to tell you how he felt, but I thought he listened and understood. There are a couple people up here (in Minneapolis) I really appreciate and he’s one of them.
“He’s still an ornery (guy). He still doesn’t belong in heaven yet. That’s why he’s not there, because God is negotiating the terms. But someday he’ll end up there and I just hope it’s not for a few years yet.”
Hartman wrote his first column for 2017 in today’s Star Tribune.
Ryan James, the prep basketball authority from GopherIllustrated.com, has watched both Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris play. The two high school guards signed National Letters of Intent with the Gophers last fall, and James is impressed with their skills. Washington (from New York City) is among the nation’s elite point guards, while Harris (New Brunswick, New Jersey) is a combo guard.
“Isaiah Washington is a guy you describe as having New York juice,” James told Sports Headliners. “He has so much shake, so much burst with his initial attack. It’s matched by very few. He is one of the best players I saw all summer in transition. He makes the right decision in pushing the ball nine times out of 10, whether it’s a quick pitch, attack and dish, or if he goes at the rim.
“Outstanding pull-up jumper. Streaky shooter at the arc but he can be a good shooter out there. …He’s just an aggressive playmaker, and he has the capability of being a great defender. He just has to do it more consistently.”
James believes Harris could average double figures in points as a Gopher. “The first thing you think of is shooter. …He is really strong, high character guy—like he was looking at Stanford. He was looking at the Ivy League.”
James believes Washington definitely has all-Big Ten potential. He also said Harris could be an all-Big Ten academic selection.
In 13 home games this season the Gophers are averaging 9,091 in 14,625 capacity Williams Arena. In 10 games the Gopher women’s team is averaging 3,065.
St. Thomas will celebrate Steve Fritz Bobblehead Day Saturday during a home basketball doubleheader with Concordia College at Schoenecker Arena. Fritz enrolled as a student at St. Thomas in 1967, and he has worked at the St. Paul school since 1971, including 10 years as an assistant men’s basketball coach, 31 years as head coach and 25 years as athletic director. St. Thomas will sell the bobbleheads for $15 each during the 1 p.m. women’s game and the 3 p.m. men’s game against the Cobbers. Fritz, who is still the AD, will greet fans and sign bobbleheads (also available in the Tommie Shop in the Anderson Student Center as of next Monday).
GopherIllustrated.com publisher Zach Johnson talking about how the ultra optimistic and turbocharged personality of new Gophers coach P.J. Fleck could prompt media cynicism: “…I hope the media doesn’t beat him down—force him to create a shell around the program and around himself, and sort of try to protect himself from that (type of) media. I hope he just continues to be who he is. If he wins, he can make those columnists eat crow.”
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who may announce his retirement this offseason, turns 34 today.
Vikngs defensive tackle Linval Joseph has been named to the Pro Bowl replacing the injured Aaron Donald of the Rams.
Bruce Boudreau, the Wild’s first-year coach who has directed Minnesota to the second best record in the NHL’s Western Conference, earns $2,760,000, according to Otherleague.com, a website listing compensation for league coaches. He is the first head coach in NHL history to lead three different teams (including the Wild) to win streaks of 11-plus games.
The Wild will play eight of their 12 games in February at Xcel Energy Center. After February 7, the team has only one game away from home during the month.
At 31 years of age Adrian Peterson is coming off a torn meniscus rehab that sidelined him for most of last season, yet he wants to play deep into his 30s. It seems unlikely, though, that he will find a lot of offers in 2017 or beyond.
Destined to make the Pro football Hall of Fame one day and the greatest running back in Vikings history, Peterson faces obstacles that even he may struggle to overcome. The Vikings have written checks in the past making him one of the NFL’s best paid players but if the club is interested in bringing him back in 2017 his compensation will be greatly reduced. His present nonguaranteed deal with the club reportedly will count $18 million against the team’s salary cap.
Peterson voiced his desire recently to remain a Viking and hinted he might be willing to accept a pay cut, per media reports. A new nonguaranteed contract at perhaps a few million dollars, plus loaded with incentives based on number of games played and yards gained, might be what awaits Peterson wherever he lands in 2017. It’s believed Peterson has lost a step in his explosive running and at his age even teams in need of running backs are likely to look elsewhere.
To some observers Peterson comes with baggage including his infamous 2014 incident in disciplining one of his out of wedlock children. It wouldn’t be surprising if there are those in the Vikings front office who prefer to part with Peterson for more than football reasons, although head coach Mike Zimmer recently described his veteran as still “a really good back” and said he was hopeful about having him on the 2017 roster.
It would certainly be intriguing if Peterson ended up playing for the Packers next season. The team’s main ball carrier in recent years has been Eddie Lacy and he is an unrestricted free agent in 2017. The Packers have had an on again, off again relationship with the talented 26-year-old Lacy.
The Packers have been using converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery at running back. He’s shown promise and among his skills are catching the ball, something that has never been a Peterson strength. If the Packers stick with the Montgomery experiment, perhaps they like the idea of alternating him with a power runner in Peterson.
An opportunity to play with the great Aaron Rodgers and a team that is consistently in the playoffs certainly might appeal to Peterson who in 10 previous seasons has never played in a Super Bowl. It could be like payback time for Packers fans if Peterson had a couple of successful seasons in Green Bay after that franchise’s Brett Favre ended his career with the Vikings, nearly taking Minnesota to the 2010 Super Bowl.
Another team usually in preseason Super Bowl speculation is the Seahawks who might need a veteran running back in 2017, too. Coach Pete Carroll is a risk-taker and known for his willingness to deal with players having strong personalities. Minnesota fans saw that when Carroll was willing to acquire troubled but talented Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin in 2013. Seattle’s leading regular season rusher in 2016, Thomas Rawls, gained 349 yards. Quarterback Russell Wilson was second with 259 yards.
A couple of years ago it seemed that Peterson, a Texas native, might end up in Dallas. But that opportunity is all but gone with the Cowboys having a breakthrough season led by multiple players including rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott who rushed for a league leading 1,631 yards.
It’s a good guess the Vikings will try to find their Ezekiel in the draft. Although Elliott was taken in the first round, it’s not unusual to find quality runners in the second rounds and beyond. The NFL’s second leading rusher this season was rookie Jordan Howard, a fifth round pick by the Bears in 2016. Drafting a running back in 2017 seems likely to be on the Vikings to-do list, or perhaps even pursue a free agent. Both those directions seem more probable than a Peterson return.
Paul Wiggin evaluates offensive and defensive linemen on other teams for the Vikings. He also watched this past season when Minnesota’s offensive line was devastated by injuries. Even when available the team’s linemen have been criticized for their performances, but Wiggin told Sports Headliners, “I think our problem is not necessarily” to acquire a new line. Instead, it’s to get players healthy, he said.
Left tackle Matt Kalil, a No. 1 draft choice in 2012, missed 14 games because of his knee injury. He has frequently been the target of frustrated fans in the past but as an unrestricted free agent this offseason teams considering him are likely to include the Vikings.
“I think they will try to work something out with Kalil,” Wiggin said. “Kalil is a pretty good football player. (But) I can’t speak for the organization. I don’t know. That’s not my job. I am not the front office, from that standpoint.”
Guard Alex Boone has played left tackle at Ohio State and with the 49ers. Could the Vikings switch him to the left tackle spot where T.J. Clemmings struggled so much in 2016? “I am not on the inside on that kind of thing, but my opinion is I think Boone is more of a guard,” Wiggin said.
Wiggin, whose title with the Vikings is personnel consultant, played defensive end in the NFL in the 1950s and 1960s. His football experiences include being head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and at Stanford, his college alma mater.
Stanford junior running back Christian McCaffrey, who is declaring early for the NFL Draft, decided to skip the Cardinal’s bowl game and prepare for his pro career. That’s not something Wiggin liked. “I am offended by what he did to Stanford but I do think he’s going to be a great player (in the pros).”
The men’s basketball Gophers, 15-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten, have their first top 25 national ranking since February of 2013. In this week’s A.P. and USA Today Coaches polls Minnesota is No. 24, joining Purdue and Wisconsin as the only Big Ten teams in the rankings.
“Rankings mean absolutely1,000 percent nothing to me,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said after his team defeated Ohio State on Sunday. “RPI means something to me. Strength of schedule means something to me. …Rankings are for the fans.”
The Gophers have the fifth best RPI in the country and rank seventh in strength of schedule, according to espn.com. Minnesota is tops in the Big Ten in RPI and second in strength of schedule to Nebraska.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta talking about the Gophers: “They’re a very, very good basketball team. No question.”
With fall semester over, word is the Gophers are solidly academically and all players will be eligible this winter.
Minnesota freshman forward Amir Coffey is averaging 12.8 points per game, second best on the team. He was named Monday as Big Ten Freshman of the Week after leading the team in scoring in wins over Northwestern and Ohio State.
His sister, Nia Coffey, was supposed to lead the 13-4 and 2-2 Northwestern team against the Gophers (10-7 and 1-3) tomorrow night at Williams Arena but the game has been postponed following the unexpected death of the Wildcats’ Jordan Hankins. Nia leads the Wildcats in scoring at 20.8 points per game and is third among Big Ten players. The 6-1, senior forward from Hopkins High School also leads the Wildcats and the league in rebounding at 11.2 and her blocked shots average of 1.9 is tied for second best in the Big Ten.
Coach John Anderson said last week that ticket prices will be announced soon for the Gophers debut baseball games in U.S. Bank Stadium February 17-19 against UC Irvine. Seating will be general admission only.
Anderson’s nine player recruiting class announced last month will enroll in school this summer. Some college baseball programs enroll players in January but Big Ten teams don’t.