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U Game Minimal Payday for Aggies, Kill

August 09, 2022 - (0) comments

 

It won’t be a big payday for the New Mexico State football program when the Aggies play in Minneapolis September 1 against the Golden Gophers. Through a Sports Headliners discovery request to the University of Minnesota, it was learned the Aggies, under new head coach Jerry Kill, will receive a guarantee of $250,000 for the game at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Two other Minnesota 2022 nonconference opponents, Western Illinois and Colorado, will each receive guarantees of $450,000 to play in Minneapolis. Unlike the Aggies and Colorado who are FBS programs, Western Illinois is at the lower Football Championship Subdivision level.

New Mexico State will play two other Power Five programs in addition to the Gophers in 2022. The Aggies have a guarantee of $1.4 million to play at Wisconsin and $1.6 million for their game at Missouri, according to a story last January by the Las Cruces Sun News.

It’s believed the modest guarantee for New Mexico State in Minneapolis is because of an agreement made between the two schools years ago. That agreement was for the Aggies to play in Minneapolis in 2018 and 2020. Minnesota defeated the Aggies 48-10 in 2018 but the 2020 game wasn’t played and moved to this year.

Kill, the popular former Gophers coach, inherited the schedule against the three Power Five teams. It wouldn’t be surprising if after he was named Aggies coach last November he explored a possible buyout to cancel the game and replace it with a much less formidable opponent than the Big Ten Gophers.

The Aggies have been among the most hapless programs in college football for decades and finished 2-10 last season including losses to Hawaii, Nevada and UTEP. The underwhelming fan support for the football program is a key factor in why the athletic department is operating about $4 million in debt, per a story from the Las Cruces Sun News in July.

With a deficit like that the athletic department probably isn’t positioned to have cancelled the game at Minnesota if it wanted to. Football is the potential golden goose for the Aggies and the program needs an on-field and financial renaissance led by Kill who is generating increased fan interest in Las Cruces.

Kill, who rebuilt the Gophers program from 2011-2016, is being paid $550,000 in base salary. His guaranteed compensation at Minnesota seven years ago was over $2 million.

Kill is known as something of a “miracle man” for a couple of reasons. His health battles with epilepsy and cancer would long ago have derailed most mortals. As a football coach he’s known as “Mr. Fixit” for the programs he has revived. In dusty Las Cruces, and at 60 years old, he faces a very challenging “clean up” job.

Ironically, in Kill’s first home game as Minnesota coach in 2011 his heavily favored team lost to the Aggies in Minneapolis, 28-21. In the closing minutes of the game he suffered a seizure and collapsed on the sideline.

Worth Noting

Dylan Wright

Dylan Wright, the athletic 6-3 wide receiver who led the Gophers last season in average yards per catch at 20.28, has three seasons of eligibility remaining and could become a special player. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck offered an assessment Saturday noting that while Wright is athletic and explosive there are varied aspects to being a wide receiver including route running, break points and blocking. While praising Wright for his progress, Fleck also said, “I think that he’s still got a long way to go.”

Collectively the Gophers lost 181 game starts with the departure of offensive linemen from last season. This year’s crew has 35 but Fleck said the line is “longer (and) we’re probably a little bit more athletic than we’ve ever been.”

Fleck has a message for the unit: “Since January they’ve been hearing about what they can’t be, what they won’t be, what we’re missing. You know (things like) what the questions are, what the weakest links are—and I told them don’t let other people put labels on who and what you are—and they’ve answered the bell that way. We’ve got a long way to go because those 181 starts, that experience is critical—and experience on Saturdays is different than practice on a Tuesday.”

Top running backs Mo Ibrahim and Trey Potts, both of whom missed much of last season with serious injuries, were running well in practice Saturday. Fleck said the leadership of the two is “through the roof.”

Fleck won’t decide on some of his starters until days out from the New Mexico State opener. He also said that in listing names of individuals the word “or” will indicate the depth, equality and competition at positions.

The Gophers have two more practices open to the public: 7:45 p.m. Thursday at Huntington Bank Stadium and 4:15 p.m. August 15 at the Athletes Village.

NFL players vote the top 100 players each year and the 2022 list will be revealed on Sundays this month starting August 14 on NFL Network. The Vikings on last year’s list were Dalvin Cook, No. 20; Justin Jefferson, No. 53; Eric Kendricks, No. 70; and Adam Thielen, No. 80.

Tom Lehman, 63, had right knee replacement surgery a few weeks ago but when recovered he plans to resume playing on the PGA senior tour. Jim Lehman, 64, described his brother as “young at heart” and looking forward to continuing the pro golf career that began in 1982 after being an All-American for the Gophers.

Jim’s Minnetonka-based Medalist Management company represents pro golfers including Tom who in 1978 walked-on with the Gophers, initially having no scholarship offer. It’s easy not to get noticed in the golf world growing up in Alexandria, Minnesota but Tom, who has over $13 million in career earnings, is the only male Minnesotan ever to win one of golf’s biggest tournaments.

In 1996, three weeks after finishing second in the U.S. Open, he won the British Open. He was the leading money winner and Player of the Year in 1996.

“Think about that,” Jim said. “A kid from Alexandria, who was never even recruited to play college golf. Not even the University of Minnesota recruited him and he goes on to be the No. 1 player in the world. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty incredible.”

Tonight’s Twins-Dodgers game from L.A. could be a fun pitching matchup with Minnesota’s Joe Ryan, 8-4 with a 3.67 ERA, against Julio Urias, 11-6, 2.57 ERA.
The Dodgers swept a two-game April series in Minneapolis by scores of 7-2 and 7-0.

The Twins, struggling to hold first place in the AL Central, haven’t finished a month over .500 since May when they were 18-12. Minnesota was two games below .500 in both June and July, and 4-3 so far in August.

The Dodgers are No. 1 in MLB.com’s latest power rankings, with the Twins No. 11.

 

LPGA Legends Classic Bargain for Fans

August 07, 2022 - (0) comments

 

The Land O’Lakes Legends Classic presented by The Meadows at Mystic Lake is an opportunity to see some of the greatest women golfers this coming Saturday and Sunday while going easy on the inflation-weary family budget.

Tickets cost $25 each per day or $40 for a two-day pass, plus free parking adjacent to the golf course. Anyone 17 and under accompanied by a ticketed adult is admitted free. Active and retired military with ID also receive free admission.

Jim Lehman

“I love the fact fans can get right up next to the players,” Jim Lehman said. “We don’t have ropes and stakes. …They can get autographs at the end of the round. We don’t have the same limitations on fans that you might see at the 3M (Open) or other major tournaments.”

Lehman is co-owner of the Legends Classic with former Golden Gophers women’s coach Michelle Redman. It was about three years ago Redman came to Lehman with the idea of making the Minneapolis area a tour stop for The Legends of the LPGA. The tour dates back to 2000 and provides competitive opportunities for LPGA Tour professionals and eligible amateurs age 45 and over.

Lehman, who has been running his local sports talent management company for 30 years, liked the idea of putting the Legends on the August golf map in Minnesota and giving the public an opportunity to see some of the biggest names in women’s golf. “Minnesota people love golf,” Lehman told Sports Headliners. “They love golf competitions, and we’re hoping that we can continue to grow the Legends event at Mystic Lake.”

The first Legends tournament in Minnesota was last year. “I’m really excited about the field this year,” said Redman, a two-time LPGA Tour winner with four wins on the Legends of the LPGA. “I think it will be even more competitive than last year. I have been working on my game pretty hard to get ready, but I’m also just really looking forward to seeing everyone out here. It will be a great celebration of women’s golf.”

LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster is back to defend her championship, and there are newcomers of note. “I thought last year’s field was really good,” Lehman said. “This year is even better.”

Newcomers include Amy Alcott, a World Golf and LPGA Hall of Fame member with 29 LPGA Tour wins and five major championship titles, and World Golf Hall of Famer and 16-time LPGA Tour champion Jan Stephenson. Others making their debuts are Liselotte Neumann (13 LPGA wins), Danielle Ammaccapane (7 LPGA wins), Brandie Burton (5 LPGA wins), Maria Hjorth (5 LPGA wins) and Lorie Kane (4 LPGA wins.)

Returning to Mystic Lake with Inkster are Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez and Hollis Stacy along with LPGA Tour past champions Rosie Jones (13 LPGA wins), Christa Johnson (9 LPGA wins), Tammie Green (7 LPGA wins), Michelle McGann (7 LPGA wins), and Pat Hurst (6 LPGA wins).

Lehman remembered a story from last year illustrating the depth of accomplishment by the women in the field. He was enjoying the company of Stacy and inquired what year she won the U.S. Women’s Open. Her response: “Jim, I won it three times.”

Forty LPGA legends compete in the tournament, along with four senior amateur women who appeared in last year’s event and have been invited to return: Leigh Klasse of Cumberland, Wisconsin, and Minnesotans Adele Peterson of Eden Prairie, Claudia Pilot of Brainerd, and Brenda Williams of Hopkins.

Juli Inkster

Official tournament rounds of 18 holes each will be played Saturday and Sunday with tee times starting at 9 a.m. both days. Inkster won $24,750 at last year’s tournament with a purse of $165,000. This year’s purse is $250,000.

Lehman said the pandemic was a setback for the Legends tour with events cancelled. There were about twice the number of tour stops as there are now. The result has been high interest from players to compete at Mystic. “We had a lot of women on a wait list trying to get in,” Lehman said.

The Meadows is an acclaimed golf course and it will challenge the players next weekend including with its water hazards. “They have to hit it pretty straight,” Lehman said. “That’s probably the challenging part about the golf course. Keeping the ball in play and hopefully making a couple of putts for birdies.”

The 18 holes will be set up to play under 6,000 yards. “We don’t kill them with distance but they have to hit it straight, and the greens will be fast,” Lehman said. “It will be pretty similar to last year.”

Land O’Lakes as the title sponsor and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community as the presenting sponsor are vital to the tournament’s existence. “It’s definitely profitable,” Lehman said about the tournament that made money last year and will again.

The support from the sponsors and others including the fans make Lehman optimistic about the event’s future. “We definitely want to keep this event going. … We’re going to make every effort to make that happen.”

Golf ties run deep in the Lehman family originally from Alexandria, Minnesota. Jim, a former Minnesota amateur champion, represents golfers with his Minnetonka-based Medalist Management company including brother Tom who won the 1996 British Open. Another brother, Mike, is a former Gopher golf captain.

 

Thielen: Kirk Cousins Ignores His Critics

August 02, 2022 - (0) comments

 

Vikings notes from training camp and beyond:

Quarterback Kirk Cousins, 33, is in training camp preparing for his fifth season with the Vikings and 11th in the NFL. Is there anything different about Cousins, who often has been harshly criticized by fans and blamed for the team’s failures that include two straight years of missing the playoffs?

Kirk Cousins

The answer is no, per teammate and veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen. “That’s the great thing about Kirk. He is always the same Kirk,” Thielen told Sports Headliners. “He’s a guy that comes out here (and) he doesn’t care what people say about him. He doesn’t care what people think about him. He’s going to come out here (and) he’s going to bust his tail. He’s going to do whatever it takes to prepare.

“I don’t want to see anything different from Kirk. I want to see the same Kirk we’ve seen…the last four years that he’s been here, and a guy that…does everything to try to make his teammates better and help this team win.”

Thielen, 32, is in his 10th season with the Vikings. A zero handicapper, he intends to pursue a professional golf career when finished with football. Does he have a clear plan right now to make that transition?

“I have no idea,” Thielen said. “I just know that I am going to try and get as good as I can get, and see where it takes me.”

Where does his golf game have to improve? “Probably just consistency,” he answered. “I feel like I can kind of do everything at certain times but I am very, very inconsistent.”

Thielen’s best advice to hackers? “Just keep it (the ball) in play. Keep it in play because I feel like that’s one of the things I always struggle with a little bit is I bring trouble into play too much, and swing too hard when I don’t need to, or hit the wrong club. But this game is so much easier if you can just get it around the course, keep it in play.”

ESPN.com recently published top 10 NFL players by position groups as determined by Madden NFL 23 for its upcoming launch. The rankings show a talent discrepancy between the Vikings and Packers who are the betting favorite to again win the NFC North Division.

While Green Bay players are ranked, Minnesota has no top 10 representatives at quarterback, offensive line, interior defensive line, cornerback and edge rusher. The latter will draw the ire of Vikings fans with Green Bay’s Rashan Gary ranked No. 10, while Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith are near misses in the rankings.

A sore point for Packers fans? Davante Adams, who Green Bay lost in free agency to the Raiders earlier this year, is the No. 1 wide receiver in the Madden rankings. Justin Jefferson from the Vikings is No. 6.

The Packers had no top 10 safeties, while Minnesota’s Harrison Smith tied for 7th with three other players. Former Gopher De’Vondre Campbell, now with the Packers, ranked No. 9 among linebackers, while Eric Kendricks from the Vikings is in a 7th place tie with Micah Parsons of the Cowboys.

Because of injuries the gifted Hunter missed the entire 2020 season and 10 games last year. He wants to break Jared Allen’s single season franchise record of 22 sacks. “That’s the kind of drive you like to see,” Allen said. “That dude could be insanely special. …The key to his game, stay healthy.”

Allen will become the seventh defensive lineman to be part of the Vikings’ Ring of Honor when he is inducted at the October 30 home game against the Cardinals. There are 21 other players that are Ring of Honor recipients and the largest representation is d-linemen. When Allen played for the Vikings he was aware of the greats who had come before him like “Purple People Eaters” Carl Eller, Jim Marshall and Alan Page. “Certain organizations kind of have a knack for certain position groups,” Allen said.

After Allen joined the Vikings in 2008, Marshall soon reached out. Marshall told him players come and go, stats are what they are, but championship banners last forever. “I’ve got a special place in my heart for Jim Marshall,” Allen said.

The Vikings’ three preseason games will be broadcast on Fox 9 and KFAN with a simulcast crew of Paul Allen (play-by-play) and analysts Pete Bercich and Ben Leber. The fourth member of last year’s KFAN crew, Greg Coleman, has retired.

Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen from Fox Sports are likely to be the TV talent for the much anticipated Packers-Vikings game in Minneapolis on September 11. Minnesota’s second game of the regular season will be in Philadelphia for a Monday night national telecast on ABC with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.

Remembering Bill Russell

In the late 1950s and into the early 1960s Sunday afternoons were appointment TV viewing for NBA fans across the country. The barnstorming league was trying to establish itself on the same level as baseball, the NFL and college football. There were only eight teams in the NBA in the 1950s and up to 1960 no franchise on the West Coast until the Lakers moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.

Sunday afternoon viewers got a steady diet of match ups between Bill Russell’s Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain’s Warriors. Watching these extraordinary athletes compete against one another was a rivalry and show not seen before or since. Russell, a lean 6-9, and Chamberlain, 7-1 with legendary strength, had contrasting physiques but put up rebounding, shot blocking and scoring performances for the ages. Theirs was a battle of not only bodies but wits.

News of Russell’s passing Sunday prompted national mourning for the man and the basketball player. Chamberlain, although two years younger than Russell, died in 1999. Both were players with skills ahead of their time. Russ and Wilt could drop into today’s NBA and be superstars.

Sid Hartman wrote in his autobiography Sid that the Minneapolis Lakers tried to secure Russell by getting the No. 1 NBA draft pick in 1956. The Lakers were faltering during the 1955-56 season and Hartman, who worked for the team, wanted to trade muscular forward Vern Mikkelsen to the Celtics who coveted rebounding help. Trading Mik would have nosedived the Lakers and probably resulted in the league’s worst record and being rewarded the first pick in the draft.

Hartman said the Celtics agreed to take Mikkelsen in exchange for three Kentucky players who were in military service but that Lakers owner Ben Berger nixed the deal. In Hartman’s book he wrote: “We argued for a few minutes, and I said, ‘Fine, Bennie. I’ll call Walter Brown (the owner of the Celtics) and cancel the deal, and we can regret it for the rest of our lives.’ “

That may not be an exaggeration. Russell’s Celtics won 11 NBA titles and perhaps saved the Celtics franchise from relocation. If Russell had joined the Minneapolis Lakers it’s possible the team never would have left for Los Angeles in search of better home attendance and fan support.

 

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