Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021


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Diggs Deal Works Big Time for Vikings

 

There is no second-guessing any more about the Vikings’ March 2020 trade that sent veteran big play wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Bills. Dissent was all but buried yesterday by the headline performance of second-year wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

The Vikings received draft choices in return for a disgruntled Diggs who didn’t want to be in Minnesota’s offense. Those draft choices gave the Vikings not only Jefferson, but potential significant contributors in safety Camryn Bynum and defensive end Kenny Willekes.

Jefferson, of course, is the prize and all he did yesterday was catch eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns in the team’s 34-31 win over the Packers. “…He loves to go out and compete,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said on KFXN’s postgame radio show. “He’s been catching the ball great and running good routes, and he just lives for these moments.”

Diggs and Jefferson are similar in stats this season. Jefferson has 63 receptions for 944 yards and six touchdowns. Diggs has 60 catches for 773 yards and six touchdowns. Jefferson has 17 plays of 20 or more yards while Diggs totals eight.

Not only does Jefferson have the edge in key numbers but at age 22 he is six years younger than Diggs. And he’s a bargain with a base salary of about $1.2 million, while Diggs costs the Bills over $12 million, per Spotrac.com.

Jefferson is also a happy camper with the Vikings who talks team, not just about himself. He likes this offense that helped pull the Vikings to a 5-5 record yesterday against the 8-3 NFC North Division leading Packers.

“I feel like this offense is tops in the league with him (RB Dalvin Cook) running the ball, and me, Adam (WR Thielen), K.J. (WR Osborn) catching the ball. We can go a long way,” Jefferson said. “I feel like it’s hard to stop all of us on this offense and it’s a great offense.”

Quarterback Kirk Cousins, of course, is a big part of the rejuvenated offense that has been so productive of late, and so is his offensive line. Cousins threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns in the win Sunday while the line, including guards Ezra Cleveland and Uli Udoh, and center Mason Cole had success handling Packers defensive tackle and play wrecker Kenny Clark.

Regular center Garrett Bradbury is back from COVID but it seems likely Cole continues to start.

Worth Noting

Vikings network radio analyst Ben Leber was critical of safety Xavier Woods’ performance against the Packers who passed for 385 yards. “No, he did not have a good day,” the former Viking linebacker said after the game. “There were a couple times where it looked like to me it’s simple discipline things where he just has wrong leverage. He is not understanding where his help is and it’s unfortunate for a guy that is such a veteran player, and he’s had a great season so far. …”

The pandemic, high ticket prices and the team’s slow start to the season has the Vikings running TV commercials for single game tickets for remaining home games.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said health issues shouldn’t sideline any of his starters for Saturday’s game against the Badgers at Huntington Bank Stadium.

However, defensive line depth is impacted with news Sunday that M.J. Andersen is leaving the team and today that Rashad Cheney is doing the same. Don’t be surprised if other players enter the transfer portal between now and Minnesota’s yet to be determined bowl game.

Quarterback Tanner Morgan, who lost his father about five months ago, has long received the admiration of his coach. Morgan has won more games (25) than any QB in program history and Fleck praises him for his talent, courage and leadership.

“I might be working for him someday,” Fleck said.

Analytics have made 3-8 Nebraska a slight favorite (about three points) over 9-2 Iowa for Friday’s key West Division game in Lincoln.

Ex-Gophers Thomas Barber and Justin Conzemius, along with a TBD Gopher assistant coach, will headline Friday’s Goal Line Club preview lunch of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game at Elsie’s in northeast Minneapolis. www.goallineclub.org/events.

The 4-0 basketball Gophers led by first-year coach Ben Johnson and top assistant Dave Thorson are playing with more togetherness than any Minnesota team in memory.

Tony Oliva

Former Twins Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva will know December 5 whether they are voted into baseball’s hall of fame. “Both should be in the hall of fame,” former Pioneer Press Twins writer Gregg Wong told Sports Headliners.

Kaat, 83, won 283 games during a 25-year career with the Twins and other MLB teams. For 16 consecutive seasons he was a Rawlings Gold Glove winner, and sometimes was both a pinch runner and hitter with the Twins. “Not a better all-around pitcher in the game,” Wong said in comparing how well Kaat stacks up with pitchers of the past and today.

Oliva, also 83, had a lifetime batting average of .304 and is the only player in MLB history to win batting championships during his first two seasons. Oliva was a three-time American League batting champion and led the AL in hits five seasons. The Twins’ right fielder was a feared hitter who could hit pitched balls headed for the dirt into the seats.

Kaat and Oliva are part of a 10-person Golden Days Era ballot that includes Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Roger Maris, Minnie Miñoso, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills. Kaat, Oliva and Wills are the only ones still living. “Even better reason to get them in the hall of fame,” said Wong who is a hall of fame voter but not a member of the Golden Days Era Committee deciding the fates of the 10 ex-players.

Any candidate who receives votes on 75 percent of the ballots cast by the 16-member committee will be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and inducted in Cooperstown on July 24, 2022.

Wong and former Minneapolis Central High School football teammate Bill Forsyth recently had dinner and reminisced with their former coach, 93-year-old Chuck Elias. “One of the most enjoyable evenings of my life,” Wong said.

The 1963 Pioneers were undefeated and City Conference football champions.

Much anticipated in these parts is Patrick Reusse’s annual Turkey of the Year column in the Thanksgiving Day issue of the Star Tribune. Who wins in 2021? Rocco Baldelli and Mark Coyle could be contenders.

The Vikings don’t play on Thanksgiving Day in 2021 but they have taken a liking to such games, going 6-2 over the years. They have won three of the last four with two straight over the Cowboys and splitting two with the Lions.

The Gophers defeated the Badgers 14-0 in Minneapolis on Thanksgiving Day 1963. The game had been rescheduled from the previous Saturday because of President John Kennedy’s assassination.

Former KARE 11 sports anchor Eric Perkins is the latest “Behind the Game” guest of co-hosts Patrick Klinger and Bill Robertson. Perkins is deciding on his next career move. The program is available for viewing on the “Behind the Game” YouTube Channel and via cable access throughout the state.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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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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