Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017


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UST-St. John’s in Novelty Game Saturday

September 21, 2017 - (0) comments

 

Don’t expect Saturday’s near sellout crowd at Target Field to create Division I or II football ambitions for academic and athletics leaders at the University of St. Thomas.

Attendance for the Division III Tommies-Saint John’s game could total over 37,000 in the Twins’ home that accommodates a few thousand more fans than that for baseball. Target Field opened in 2010 but this will be the first football game ever played there and whatever the final attendance count the total will set a national record for Division III.

Tommies athletic director Steve Fritz told Sports Headliners his school is “very happy” in the MIAC and playing in Division III, with no intent to become a bigger player in college football despite the record interest in Saturday’s game that has even drawn national media interest. And don’t expect the Tommies to be back in a large Twin Cities stadium in the near future, including two years from now when St. Thomas again hosts Saint John’s in its famous rivalry game that is always a hot ticket in Collegeville or St. Paul.

Fritz is open to considering other options for 2019 but he is thinking his school will play the Saint John’s game at O’Shaughnessy Stadium on the St. Thomas campus. “Right now that’s what our thought is,” he said.

The Twins made the initial contact regarding the 2017 Tommies-Johnnies game at Target Field. The Twins organization is interested in hosting a few annual attractions that can be held during the baseball season when the club is out of town. The Twins are the promoter for Saturday’s game, taking the risk and gaining the reward regarding finances. Fritz said St. Thomas receives a financial guarantee similar to revenues for hosting past games with the Johnnies at O’Shaughnessy Stadium, and could be given extra compensation as part of the school’s deal with the Twins.

Fritz declined to reveal specific figures. As in any MIAC football game, the visiting team receives no share of the gate receipts or other game revenues.

Fritz predicts the crowd will be about evenly divided among St. Thomas and Saint John’s fans. Tickets are for reserved seating and are scaled at different prices up to $35. Student tickets are $10 and buses will run for more than two hours Saturday morning from the St. Thomas campus to Target Field prior to the game’s 1 p.m. kickoff. Contrast ticket prices with a 1989 game that the Tommies hosted against Saint John’s when adult tickets were $3, student tickets $2.

The Tommies and Johnnies always draw attention when they meet in a football rivalry that dates back to 1901, with attendance even totaling 17,327 for the 2015 game in Collegeville. But Saturday’s get together is an opportunity to accommodate many more fans in one of America’s acclaimed baseball parks.  A spirited rivalry, plus the novelty of Target Field, has made for an attraction bigger than anyone, including the Twins, expected.

“This is really something,” Fritz said. “The Saint John’s game is always big and always fun and all that…but this kind of thing is hard to imagine.”

Reportedly the all-time single game attendance record for a Division III football game was set last fall when UW-Whitewater hosted UW-Oshkosh. Announced attendance was 17,535.

A St. Thomas spokesman wrote via email that the Target Field game is “on pace to surpass the attendance at 20 of the 40 FBS bowl games held last holiday season, including games that involved South Carolina, South Florida, Indiana, Utah, Baylor, Boise State, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt, Maryland, Boston College, Mississippi State and Colorado State.”

The 3-0 Johnnies, averaging 67.7 points per game, are ranked No. 6 nationally in the AFCA coaches poll. The 2-1 Tommies, who have won six of the last eight games in the rivalry, are ranked No. 11 in that poll. Johnnies fans prefer to remember a stretch between 1993 and 2009 when their team won 16 of 17 games against the Tommies.

Glenn Caruso (photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas)

The Tommies probably can’t lose Saturday’s game and retain much chance to qualify later for the Division III playoffs. Despite that pressure to avoid a second loss this season, and playing before a record crowd, Fritz said his coach, Glenn Caruso, isn’t taking an unusual approach to the game. “He’s as well prepared as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Fritz said.

Emotions will be intense for coaches, players and fans at Saturday’s historic game. Fritz acknowledged a win would mean even a little more than a typical victory over the Johnnies. “…Obviously this one is pretty special,” he said.

After 14 consecutive Tommies-Johnnies games played on artificial turf, the 2017 version will take place on a grass field running parallel to the baseball third base line. Part of the field will be the Twins’ dirt infield. Things could get sloppy if rain forecasts prove correct. AccuWeather.com predicts a 55 percent chance of thunderstorms around 1 p.m.

Precipitation won’t enhance the fan atmosphere on a special small college football afternoon. “I don’t think it ruins everything, but the better the day the better the atmosphere,” Fritz said.

 

Twins Future Excites Dave St. Peter

September 19, 2017 - (0) comments

 

Dave St. Peter runs the Twins with steady emotions. The club’s president is not about hype, or deep despair. He’s seen the franchise lose over 90 games during five of the six previous, but this year Minnesota ranks with the surprise teams in Major League Baseball and could be headed to the postseason as a Wild Card team.

St. Peter told Sports Headliners he believes the club is also on its way to a “sustained period of competitiveness” beyond 2017. “That’s what makes me excited,” he said. “I am incredibly excited for 2018 and beyond.”

The Twins finished with a 59-103 record last season. “A lot of our guys, frankly, underperformed a year ago,” St. Peter said.

What’s happened to the Twins this season is several of the younger players have come closer to reaching their potentials, while veterans like starting pitcher Ervin Santana and first baseman Joe Mauer have produced better than a year ago, and the club has found unexpected contributors who even joined the team since opening day.

Few, if any observers, foresaw the Twins having a 78-72 record on September 19, and holding on to a Wild Card spot for the postseason. “Are we overperforming in 2017? Possibly, based on the metrics, based on run differential and things of that nature,” St. Peter said. “But you know, I think our club…is making great strides—to be competitive, to be playing meaningful games deep into September, to be in position to go to postseason.”

The Twins are only +8 in run differential for the season, according Teamrankings.com. Thirteen out of 30 big league clubs rank ahead of Minnesota including Central Division rival Cleveland, a team that is +227 in run differential for the season and running away with the division title.

St. Peter appreciates the contributions of so many players to the Twins’ success, and brought up several names when asked who is the club’s MVP. Certainly Santana with 15 wins and Mauer, who is hitting over .300 and playing like a Gold Glove winner in the field, deserve having their names on any list.

Santana has been the kind of No. 1 starter a contending team must have. Mauer, dogged with health problems the last few years, hasn’t hit over .300 since 2013. “There’s no question in my mind that he’s healthier than he’s been,” St. Peter said.

Worth Noting

The Twins total home attendance in 2016 was 1,963,912—their lowest total since moving into Target Field in 2010. Despite fan pessimism and inclement weather early this season, St. Peter said the Twins will draw over 2 million fans at home

Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman, 97 and still using a walker after his accident late last year, continues to compete for news and regularly shows up at practices, news conferences and games of Minnesota teams.

College basketball magazines are on newsstands including the Athlon Sports 2017-2018 issue. The Gophers are ranked No. 16 in the nation, predicted to finish second in the Big Ten and advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. The only Big Ten team ahead of Minnesota is No. 2 Michigan State.

The magazine includes Gophers Nate Mason and Amir Coffey on its All-Big Ten second team. Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy is on the third team. Reggie Lynch is ranked the No. 2 “rim protector” in the nation.

Minnesota coach Richard Pitno said on last Sunday’s WCCO Radio “Sports Huddle” program that “98 percent” of season tickets for home games have been renewed.

The Vikings started the 2016 season with a 5-0 record. Since then, and including their 1-1 start in 2017, they are 4-9.

Vikings players Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse will sign items for a fee on September 30 from 11 a.m. to noon at the Triple Crown Sports Collectibles show at Southtown Shopping Center in Bloomington. Ex-Vikings John Henderson and Sammy White will also be at the show and signing for a fee from 10 to 11 a.m.

Blair Bobblehead

Show hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and pre-orders will be accepted for a limited edition bobblehead of former Vikings linebacker Matt Blair. Ex-Vikings coach Bud Grant, who had been scheduled for September 30, will be at the Triple Crown show February 17. More information about Triple Crown shows is available by emailing vikingstwinsman@gmail.com

The 3-0 football Gophers have given up only 24 total points and are unscored upon in the second half.

Jeff Sagarin’s USA Today rankings today of 254 college football teams has Minnesota No. 39. The teams Minnesota has defeated—Buffalo, Oregon State and Middle Tennessee State—are No. 119, 96 and 92 respectively.

Eden Prairie High School coach Mike Grant told Sports Headliners this morning that Benny Sapp III, held out of last week’s game against Prior Lake because of a sore knee will see a doctor today, but Grant believes his star cornerback, who has verbally committed to the Gophers, will be okay. The undefeated Eagles could be headed to another state championship under Grant. “Somebody will have to play great to beat us,” he said.

Although the college hockey season hasn’t started, the opinion here is Gophers Tyler Sheehy and Casey Mittelstadt should be on anybody’s candidates list for the 2018 Hobey Baker Award given to college hockey’s best player. Sheehy, a junior forward, was a finalist for the award last season when he was Big Ten Player of the Year and a first team All-American. Mittelstadt, a freshman forward, was drafted eighth overall by the Sabres in the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft—making him the Gophers’ highest draft pick since 2006.

A Big Ten coaches poll has for the third time in five years named the Gophers favorites to win the conference title. Minnesota plays Alberta October 1 in a home exhibition game.

Bobby Heenan, the famous wrestling personality who died Sunday, is known better nationally because of his work for the WWE but decades ago was part of Verne Gagne’s Minneapolis Boxing and Wrestling Club’s operation. Former Gopher football player Jim Brunzell, who also was a headliner in Gagne’s organization, referred to Heenan as a “dear friend and blood brother” in an email. “He was a genius in our business and consummate performer,” Brunzell wrote.

 

Stakes Jump for Bradford, Vikings

September 17, 2017 - (0) comments

 

Less than a week after an impressive opening game win over the Saints, the Vikings embarrassed themselves today in a penalty-infested 26-9 loss to the Steelers. The outlook for a big season also seems more in doubt then it was last Monday night.

Quarterback Sam Bradford, named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after his performance against the Saints, never saw the field. Bradford wasn’t allowed to play because of a sore left knee—with the Vikings hoping there won’t be a long-term problem. “He couldn’t play; there really was no (other) decision,” head coach Mike Zimmer said on the Vikings Radio Network after the game.

A concern is that Bradford has injured the knee in the past including 2014 when he had ACL surgery. The Vikings aren’t likely to make the playoffs without Bradford, who perhaps will play as soon as next Sunday against the Bucs, one of the NFC’s best teams. The 29-year-old could be in line for a big contract with the Vikings after this season but that won’t happen if he misses a lot of games and under performs.

Mike Zimmer

The Vikings are among the NFC preseason favorites to make the playoffs. With the club not having won a playoff game since 2010—and an extraordinary opportunity waiting if the Vikings could play in the 2018 Minneapolis Super Bowl—there are high expectations for this team. That pressure extends to longtime general manager Rick Spielman and Zimmer who is in his fourth season.

Today in Pittsburgh, Minnesota players made too many mistakes that don’t characterize playoff teams. Case Keenum, filling in for Bradford, was sometimes slow in his progressions and inaccurate with throws. While not having Bradford’s skill as a passer, he was the victim of an offensive line that often didn’t protect him. In addition, multiple linemen had penalties during the game.

The Steelers scored a touchdown in the first quarter after an off-side penalty on defensive end Brian Robison, and a pass interference call on Xavier Rhodes kept a drive alive. In the second quarter a pass interference call on Trae Waynes gave Pittsburgh a first down near the goal line, setting up a second touchdown.

Early in the third quarter it looked like the Vikings, trailing 14-3, had avoided a Steeler field goal when Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell missed on a long attempt. A penalty on the Vikings, though, moved the ball close to the goalposts and Boswell made the score 17-3.

Other penalties also factored in the game’s outcome. For the day the Vikings were penalized 11 times for 131 yards.

Kicker Kai Forbath missed an extra point in the game, his second this season for the 1-1 Vikings. “It’s disheartening,” Zimmer said on the radio. “You go down and score, and then you miss an extra point and it kind of deflates you a little bit.”

Worth Noting

A Vikings spokesman said via email the NFL has not yet determined how many seats will be sold for Super Bowl LII in U.S. Bank Stadium, nor has the league determined the allotment for each NFL team. If the Vikings are one of the teams in the Super Bowl, the organization can offer a ticket lottery to season ticket holders. The two participating teams receive more tickets than the other 30 NFL franchises.

Gophers basketball sophomore forward Eric Curry will have surgery on his left knee this week. Late last month the key reserve was playing in a pickup game when the Gophers reported he tore his anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and meniscus. Curry will miss the upcoming season.

Coach Richard Pitino and his team begin regular practices September 29.

P.J. Fleck might be the most media-prominent Gophers football coach ever. Fox 9 airs the P.J. Fleck show Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. and the Gopher pregame program at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays. Fleck’s KFAN Radio show is at 11:30 a.m. Thursdays and he is also a regular on WCCO Radio’s “Sports Huddle” program Sundays.

Casey O’Brien, son of former Gophers defensive backfield coach Dan O’Brien, is a freshman walk-on holder for Minnesota. When Gopher senior quarterback Conor Rhoda was playing at Cretin-Derham Hall, Casey was the football team’s ball boy. Casey, who has beaten cancer twice in his teen years, was a holder and golfer at Cretin-Derham Hall.

Twins president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners attendance could exceed 37,000 for Saturday’s 1 p.m. first-ever football game at Target Field between host St. Thomas and traditional rival Saint John’s. The Twins won’t be back in town until September 29 and St. Peter is confident there will be no negative impact on the grass field. The game will set a national record for Division III attendance.

Target Field will also be the site of the August 31, 2019 game between host North Dakota State and Butler. St. Peter said there have been preliminary discussions about other football games at Target Field. He promised, though, games will never be played on a conflicting date with the Gophers, or involve FBS teams.

“That was a commitment I made to (former athletic director) Norwood Teague and now to (present AD) Mark Coyle and P.J. Fleck,” St. Peter said. (The Gophers have a bye on their schedule this Saturday and don’t play on August 31, 2019).

The Twins hit four home runs today, with Eddie Rosario hitting two, and Byron Buxton and Joe Mauer also homering, including his first grand slam since 2012 in a 13-7 win over the Blue Jays. Mauer is hitting .400 since August 10, the second best average in Major League Baseball.

The Twins’ Brian Dozier, with 46 home runs, has homered more times than any player in Major League Baseball since the 2016 All-Star Break.

Dick Jonckowski

Popular Shakopee-based emcee and speaker Dick Jonckowski is booking events for fall and winter (952-261-3013). As usual, Jonckowski emceed last Thursday’s CORES program in Bloomington where speaker Matt Birk told stories about his football career and drew an audience of 175.

Jonckowski is a fan of the Lynx, and asked what Lindsay Whalen and former Timberwolf Ricky Rubio have in common? Both are point guards with pro career highs in points of 33 each.

Birk, the former Viking center and Cretin-Derham Hall alum, is living in the Twin Cities area and works as a youth football consultant for the NFL. He has eight children including five sons he encourages to play football if they are interested.

Birk and others including former Minnesota prep coach Jim Dotseth believe fear about concussions from playing football is overhyped. They cite statistics showing other sports, starting with soccer, cause more concussions. “I don’t think I ever had a kid with a concussion,” Dotseth said about his 30 years as a head coach.

 

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