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Vikings Earn ‘A’ Grade in Opener

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September 11, 2022


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Describe the first game of the Kevin O’Connell era a rousing success.  The Vikings dominated the Packers today in their NFL opener, 23-7, and deserve high marks for their performance.

O’Connell, the new head coach, called an impressive game in a new offensive scheme that included motioning wide receiver Justin Jefferson before the ball was snapped.  The Vikings offense played with tempo and aggressiveness against a Packers defense considered one of the NFL’s best.  Even the suspect offensive line exceeded expectations, providing time for quarterback Kirk Cousins to throw and also opening holes for Dalvin Cook.

Jefferson, heading into his third NFL season, showed why his NFL peers consider him one of the league’s elite players.  He had 186 receiving yards on nine catches, an impressive 20.4 yards per reception.  He scored both of Minnesota’s touchdowns during an explosive performance that included his second quarter 36-yard TD reception. It was an A+ day for No. 18 who befuddled Packer defenders in the first half when he scored both of his touchdowns.

Wreaking havoc on the Packers and setting a tone for a physical defense was outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith.  He was part of a gang tackling effort in the third quarter that caused Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers to fumble. The Vikings turned that opportunity into a 56-yard Greg Joseph field goal to extend their lead to 20-0.

Smith and teammates came up with the defense’s biggest play of the day in the second quarter with the Vikings ahead 7-0.  Green Bay had fourth down on the Minnesota one-yard line but couldn’t get in the endzone.  Smith, Jonathan Bullard and Harrison Phillips stopped AJ Dillon’s run and a 79-yard Packer drive.

Smith, the former Packer signed by the Vikings in the offseason, not only earned high marks for his day but is worthy of a game ball along with O’Connell and Jefferson.  When those three and the other Vikings and coaches weren’t frustrating the Packers, the boys from Green Bay were doing it to themselves.

On Green Bay’s opening play of the game, rookie wide receiver Christian Watson ran past defenders in the secondary and Rodgers delivered a pass into his hands. Those hands didn’t secure the ball, though, and an almost certain 75-yard touchdown.

The Vikings went on to build a 17-0 halftime lead and the Packers never came closer than when they scored a third quarter touchdown to trail 20-7.  Rodgers showed frustration and anger as his depleted offensive line allowed pressure by the Vikings and his inexperienced receivers let him.  Give the defending NFC North Division champions a D grade in their opener.

It was smiles all around by Vikings players and their delirious fans who did their best to disrupt Green Bay communications. Yeah, let’s give an A+ to the Purple Patrons, too.

Worth Noting

Don’t worry Gopher fans. Nebraska isn’t going after P.J. Fleck for its next football coach. Hiring coaches away from another Big Ten member school is a “no-no” in the conference.

Andrew DePaola, 35, is the oldest Viking; the youngest is Andrew Booth, Jr. at 21. Harrison Smith has played the most seasons with the team, 11. Blake Brandel and Brian O’Neill are the tallest Vikings at 6-7; Dalvin Cook is the shortest, 5-10. Dalvin Tomlinson is the heaviest at 325 pounds, while Chandon Sullivan the lightest at 189.

Ken Mauer, Jr., the St. Paul native with 37 years of NBA officiating experience, received a two-sentence letter from the league earlier this month notifying him of his termination. The letter wasn’t a surprise after he was suspended without pay all of last season for refusing to be vaccinated for COVID.

Mauer and other referees who took the same anti-vaccine position are suing the NBA in federal court. The league allowed players to decide whether to be vaccinated but mandated referees use the vaccine. “I just don’t think that’s right. I don’t think that’s fair,” Mauer told a luncheon group in Bloomington last Thursday.

Ken Mauer Jr.

The power of the National Basketball Players Association apparently made the league take a different stance with the players than it did with the officials. Mauer is prouder of the stance he is taking in litigation than the NBA career he loved. ”What I am going to win (in court) is that it’s wrong to take anyone’s civil liberties,” Mauer told his audience. “You should be allowed to decide for yourself whether or not you want to put a needle in your arm. …”

A practicing Catholic, Mauer has a strong religious faith. However, he doesn’t criticize others who choose to take the vaccine or wear masks.

Mauer, 67, was hired by the NBA before the 1986-87 season. At 30 years old he was on his way to achieving his life’s dream. He started refereeing in grade school and continued on from there including while on a baseball scholarship at the University of Minnesota. Others scoffed at his ambition to become the first NBA ref from Minnesota.

“Well, they’re doing JV games and I refereed 37 years in the NBA,” Mauer said. “They don’t laugh at me anymore. I am a little bit proud of that.”

Despite physical challenges like broken ribs, Mauer never missed a game during his career including 19 NBA Finals that he worked. He spoke to the CORES group at the Bloomington Event Center. CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.

Bruce Feldman’s August 31 story for The Athletic on 37 college football assistant coaches to watch this year included Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi (“one of the most underrated coaches in college football”) and running backs coach/assistant head coach Kenni Burns (“recruiting skills and ability to have all his guys ready to perform”).

Former Gophers basketball public address announcer Dick Jonckowski is battling his third round of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and will learn Tuesday whether treatment has made him cancer free.

Steve and Dortothy Erban’s locally-based Creative Charters is offering transportation to all Gophers football away games starting with Michigan State September 24. That game will have customers flying out and back to Minneapolis the same day. The next road game, October 15 at Illinois, will have travelers Amtrak bound for Chicago and Champaign, and then returning home via plane.

Among reasons to like the chances for the Guardians to win the AL Central Division is they close the season at home with six games against the Royals, a team that is 27 games under .500.

Ouch: Since 2002 the Twins are 38-98 against the Yankees. Since 2027 they are 2-16 at Yankee Stadium.

Word is Pete Najarian, the former Gopher and pro football player who is known nationally as a stock market guru, will continue indefinitely on WCCO Radio’s Sunday “Sports Huddle.”

All five of the Timberwolves preseason games will be televised. Bally Sports North will have the October 4, 9 and 14 games against the Heat, Clippers and Nets. ESPN will televise October 6 and 12 games against the Lakers.

At Cincinnati, where former Gopher administrator John Cunningham is the athletics director, the Bearcats’ home football games are sold out for the season.

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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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