Monday, Mar. 25, 2019


Murray's Restaurant

 

Van Clemens


Playoff Return Predicted for Vikings

 

Enjoy a Friday notes column.

If you ask Bob Lurtsema, the Vikings are “almost a no-brainer” to be back in the playoffs next year. The former Viking defensive lineman, who sits in the press box for home games and remains close to his beloved franchise, wasn’t happy with the results of last Sunday’s loss to the Bears, and a 8-7-1 record that wasn’t good enough to qualify for the postseason, but he told Sports Headliners things will be better in 2019 if management keeps its core players in place.

Lurtsema’s optimism focuses on quarterback Kirk Cousins, who in 2019 will be in his second season with the club and will have more familiarity with receivers. Lurtsema is still confused as to why the franchise’s decision makers turned away from quarterback Case Keenum who was on “the same page” as his receivers and was a huge contributor in helping the Vikings to a 13-3 record in 2017. Nevertheless, he admires Cousins, too, describing him as a “very, very good quarterback.”

Kirk Cousins

“They will be back (in the playoffs) if they don’t make a lot of changes because it’s a passing league, and Cousins has a tremendous work ethic and is respected by teammates,” Lurtsema said.

Put Lurtsema in the same category as so many fans that the enough effort from the Vikings in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Bears who dethroned Minnesota as NFC North Division champions. He described himself as a poor loser and he saw an absence of intensity from both the offense and defense including late in the game when the Vikings trailed only 13-10.

Any subpar effort in such a big game is on both the players and coaches. Difficult to understand but head coach Mike Zimmer did offer some insights at his news conference yesterday.

Zimmer said his previous Vikings teams had a nasty attitude that included the approach they were going to win regardless of circumstances or situations. He commented to organization insiders during the season that the 2018 group had a different “vibe.”

“…I can’t figure out why, because we have a lot of the same guys back,” Zimmer said. “We have good football players. I wasn’t really different than I normally am. But for some reason, we didn’t finish the games like we’d finished before. I don’t know why. We had the lead in a bunch of games last year that we finished, and this year we were playing catch up more so, so I don’t know if that’s it or not. But we’re going to get that mentality back, I can promise you that.”

A lot of fans want ownership to dismiss Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman, but both are good at what they do. Zimmer has to develop a better working relationship with whoever his offensive coordinator is going to be and allow that leader a lot of authority. Spielman must solve the personnel problems on the offensive line, particularly at the guard positions.

Could the Wilf ownership group find football leaders better than Zimmer and Spielman? Sure but it is a big IF and apparently not a direction the Wilfs want to pursue yet.

This could be an opportune time for Vikings fans to take a deep breath and reconsider how difficult it is to win in the 32-team NFL where the draft and other rules dictate parity. It’s an extremely competitive industry filled with talented decision makers trying to put their team among the league’s elite.

Sports Illustrated’s December 31 issue included an eight page feature on the Vikings with details about Spielman’s superstitious routine on home game days. He wakes up at 5 a.m., takes his dogs for a walk and eats the same breakfast sandwich (egg, bacon and peanut butter), according to the story. He shaves the left side of his face first, and puts his socks and shoes on before his pants. He also drives the same route to U.S. Bank Stadium including buying gas at the same station and ending his purchase on a zero.

Lurtsema said “stats maybe for losers” but the goals of NFL defenses include holding opponents under 100 yards rushing and less than 150 yards passing. The Bears rushed for 169 yards and held the Vikings to 63. Chicago had 163 yards passing, while limiting the Vikings to 132.

Among free agent signings the Vikings announced this week was running back Roc Thomas, a rookie with the club in 2018 who was on the active roster for nine weeks. His signing could be an indication veteran running back and 2019 free agent Latavius Murray won’t be back with the team.

Sue Platou, who passed away late last month, had a popular sportscast segment decades ago on WCCO TV when appearing as “Bronco” she predicted the outcome of Vikings and Golden Gophers football games. Her first husband was 1956 and 1957 University of Minnesota quarterback Bobby Cox, who is the only Gophers football player ever to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

More in next Monday’s column on attending last night’s upset Gophers win against Wisconsin in Madison including Badgers fans booing and leaving the Kohl Center when the game was still undecided.

USA Today reported in yesterday’s issue that NFL TV ratings were up eight percent over 2017 for games on CBS, NBC and ESPN. Fox was up four percent.

“Mean” Gene Okerlund passed away last week and was known to much of the nation’s pro wrestling fans for his TV interviews of WEE performers but he got his start with the Minneapolis-based AWA and Verne Gagne. Gene’s friend and former wrestler Jim Brunzell emailed that Okerlund had three kidney transplants prior to his passing.

Phil Esten, the former Gophers athletic department executive most recently at Penn State, starts his new job as athletics director at St. Thomas on January 14.

Monday is the last day to make reservations for next Thursday’s CORES lunch program at the Bloomington Event Center, 1114 American Blvd. Mike Max, one of the best radio-TV sports journalists in town, will be the speaker. For reservations and other information, contact Jim Dotseth, dotsethj@comcast.net.

The Minnesota Wild are among the promoters involved with the 6th Annual USA Hockey Blind Hockey Summit scheduled August 23-25 at the TRIA Rink at Treasure Island Center in St. Paul. There are approximately 150 blind hockey players in the United States, including in Minnesota. All players are legally blind, with some having no vision. The event next August will include games for participants of various sizes and skill levels, plus a coaching clinic, a “try-it” session for local newcomers and a community banquet.

The Minnesota Football Coaches Association reports exceeding the 2018 Tackle Cancer fundraising goal of $325,000 with a total of $340,000. In seven years the MFCA has raised over $1.6 million.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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