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Vikes’ Record Stirs Leadership Question

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November 2, 2018

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The Vikings start the second half of their 16-game schedule on Sunday with a home game against the Lions. Minnesota’s 4-3-1 record is a disappointment to many observers, including perhaps team owners.

A Super Bowl favorite going into the season, the Vikings’ record doesn’t match the hype. Against the better teams on the schedule Minnesota has one win, two losses and a tie.

The second game of the season, a 29-29 tie with the Packers, was a precursor to the frustration to follow. Rookie kicker Daniel Carlson failed the Vikings and their attempt to defeat their expected No. 1 rival in the NFC North when he missed three field goals on September 16.

While the Vikings did score a 23-21 road win over the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles, Minnesota also has losses to two NFL powers, the Rams and Saints, and an inexplicable embarrassment against the Bills. In that September 23 home loss to the Bills, the Vikings looked unprepared and disinterested in a game that they were favored to win by more than two touchdowns.

Kirk Cousins

As owners, the Wilf family has provided all the resources needed and asked for to help their football organization become elite. The Vikings play their home games in arguably the best football stadium in the country—U.S. Bank Stadium that opened in 2016. Their new practice and corporate headquarters in Eagan that opened this year is equally state-of-the- art. The Wilfs also okayed a guaranteed $84 million deal for new quarterback Kirk Cousins during the past offseason. The player payroll includes multiple Vikings earning more than $10 million per season. The team’s salary cap space is among the lowest in the NFL because of the owners’ willingness to pay top wages to players on the payroll now.

Owner and chairman Zygi Wilf is on record wanting to see his franchise in the Super Bowl. The Wilfs, including Mark Wilf who is an owner and club president, are football fans and that means they can get emotional about their team. They are also aggressive business people accustomed to success. These are serious folks and their patience with the organization’s football leaders presumably has limits.

The Wilfs acquired the Vikings in 2005. They hired now general manager Rick Spielman in 2006 and even then empowered him with major player personnel decisions. Spielman, with the Wilfs approval, made Mike Zimmer head coach in 2014. Front office executives and coaches in pro football often don’t achieve the longevity Spielman and Zimmer have earned in Minneapolis, but the Wilfs may eventually have doubts about their franchise’s leadership.

If the Vikings don’t make the playoffs after this season—or have an early exit from postseason competition—then what? Given the resources provided, and the expectations of a Super Bowl sooner rather than later, it seems fair to speculate that Zimmer and Spielman will be evaluated with discerning eyes the rest of this season.

Worth Noting

The eight teams the Vikings have played so far, including the 3-3-1 Packers, are a combined 29-32-1—with the parade led by the 8-0 Rams and 6-1 Saints. The remaining teams on the Viking schedule are a combined 24-19-1. The second half of the schedule includes another Packers game and two each with the Bears and Lions.

The Lions, historically inconsistent, have a 3-4 record, but with wins against the Packers and 6-2 Patriots who the Vikings visit on December 2.

Shannon Brooks ran for 154 yards last week against Indiana in his debut game of the season before injuring his knee. He isn’t expected to play for the 4-4 Gophers tomorrow against Illinois and his availability for the team’s other three remaining games is unknown. He is such a difference maker, Minnesota might not reach six victories and earn a bowl game invitation without him.

What were the preseason odds the Gophers would have to play this season without three of their best players because of injuries? Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is their premiere player, and two of the better running backs in the Big Ten are Brooks and Rodney Smith.

Two of the three leading Big Ten receivers in yards per game are Minnesota natives. Purdue’s Rondale Moore is averaging 107.8 yards in conference games, while Minneapolis native and Gopher Tyler Johnson is second at 104.8. Eden Prairie’s J.D. Spielman, playing for Nebraska, is third in the league at 104.0 yards per game.

Sports Headliners wrote last week about the 1968 Gophers-Hoosiers football brawl when Minnesota’s Jim Carter took off his helmet and used it as a weapon. Teammate and fellow running back Barry Mayer emailed a few days ago about the fight and couldn’t help needling Carter. Teammates wondered in the days after the brawl why Carter took his helmet off and exposed his noggin. Mayer joked that his friend apparently felt “he didn’t have anything to lose.”

Carter countered by saying via email “my noggin was already sore from blocking for Mayer—something he never did for me!”

Bert Blyleven, 67, announced on Twitter this week he will work a reduced Twins broadcast schedule in coming years—50 games as a Fox Sports North analyst in 2019 and 30 in 2020.

Max Johnson from Lakeville and Bowling Green State University is the Hockey Commissioners Association National Player of the Month . The 5-10, 183-pound forward tied for the NCAA scoring lead with 13 points in October, helping the WCHA’s Falcons go from unranked in preseason polls to No. 9 nationally following a 5-1-1 opening month.

It looks like a “make or break” season for the Wild’s Charlie Coyle, a hockey industry source told Sports Headliners. Coyle, now 26, is in his sixth season with the Wild and this fall has two goals and four assists in 12 games. He is talented enough to score 25 to 30 goals for a Minnesota team that needs scoring, per the source.

Mark Madsen, in town earlier this week as an assistant coach with the Lakers, played for the Timberwolves from 2003-2009. The good-natured Madsen was one of the worst players but best human beings in franchise history dating back to 1989.

Happy birthday to Star Tribune sports columnist Michael Rand, a Grand Forks, North Dakota native who turned 42 on Tuesday.

It will be interesting to see who WCCO TV chooses to replace Mark Rosen next spring. Broadcast companies don’t pay as much compensation for news and sports anchors as in the past. The new person at WCCO might negotiate a deal north of $150,000 annually.

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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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