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Vikings GM Willing to Take Risks

April 21, 2020 - 1 Comment


Vikings general manager Rick Spielman leads the Vikings in the NFL Draft this week, and his past profile tells fans to prepare for surprises.

Minnesota has two first round draft choices and 12 overall in the seven round event that starts Thursday and continues through Saturday. It seems likely Spielman will trade picks during the 2020 draft, perhaps in the first round.

In the last three drafts, Spielman made multiple trades to maneuver for college players he wanted. More of that makes sense given the club’s many needs including at cornerback, wide receiver and in the offensive line.

Spielman, now in his ninth season as Minnesota’s GM and 30th working in the NFL, is in the last year of his contract. The pressure is on him to reshuffle a roster that has both strength and soft spots by coming up with a winning draft list, and making moves to sign free agent veterans in the weeks ahead (or even in the next few days).

Spielman’s history has consistently been that of a leader not afraid to take risks. He hired Mike Zimmer even though the longtime NFL defensive coordinator had never been a head coach. Just before the season started in 2016 he traded for Sam Bradford, a veteran quarterback known as much for his injuries as his skills.

A couple of years ago Spielman set a Vikings and NFL payroll record by giving free agent Kirk Cousins a guaranteed $84 million deal, and then this offseason signing the inconsistent quarterback to a rich contract extension. Last month he also traded star wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Bills for the No. 22 pick in the first round of Thursday night’s draft.

You decide whether to label Spielman “Trader Rick,” but there is no doubt one of the NFL’s most intriguing storylines Thursday night will be what the Vikings do in the first round. Their first round picks at No. 22 and No. 25 might be leveraged to move up in the draft, or one of them could be used to acquire two draft picks in the second round.

A headline maker would have the Vikings dealing to move into the top dozen picks of the first round. There they could acquire one of the draft’s biggest prizes among corners, offensive linemen and wide receivers. A low-risk-high-reward draftee is Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs. If the Vikings could draft Wirfs to play right tackle and sign Washington Redskins free agent left tackle Trent Williams, the moves would provide a lot of security for star running back Dalvin Cook and Cousins, who often falters under pressure in the pocket.

Worth Noting

At Spielman’s pre-draft news conference this afternoon he wouldn’t describe the 2020 draft as the biggest or most important he has led, but did acknowledge the “evolution period of our roster” and the many spots that need to be filled.

Spielman expects a lot of contributions right away from this year’s draft choices, and plans to add to the rookie pool next week with free agent signings. He said the goal of growing the roster from the present 60 total to 90 can also be aided by signing veteran free agents and acquiring players via what he termed “minor trades.”

This is a particularly deep draft for wide receivers.  Spielman expressed optimism the Vikings could find quality even in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Spielman expects the Vikings will be playing inexperienced cornerbacks next season.  While that is a position of need, the GM said corners the Vikings select need to fit their scheme and have traits liked by the team’s coaches.

Other teams have been calling Spielman in regard to possible draft choice swapping that could have his club moving up or back in the draft.

Bob Lurtsema

Former Viking Bob Lurtsema predicted to Sports Headliners last year that Minnesota would use its first round pick to select center Garrett Bradbury. Now what about 2020? “I think they will draft a wide receiver with speed,” Lurtsema said.

The first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday begins at 7 p.m. Minneapolis time. Start times for Friday (rounds 2 & 3) and Saturday (rounds 4 thru 7) are 6 p.m. and 11 a.m. respectively.

Casey O’Brien, the University of Minnesota football player whose triumphs against cancer have been a national story, is on track to be cancer free next month. His father Dan O’Brien said a spot found on Casey’s lung last January was removed surgically earlier this year and the junior holder is finishing up chemo treatments. Casey will have his degree from the Carlson School of Business in December.

With the pandemic going on and no sports being played, WCCO Radio’s “Sports Huddle” show has been sidelined for more than a month. Dave Mona, co-host of the show since 1981, said the program will resume when Minnesota sports start up again.

The high school sports season in Minnesota is still a possibility, even if it’s a long shot. In the best scenario, spring sports will start in early May and continue through the end of June.

Anyone have a mint condition Fleer 1986 Michael Jordan #57 card? Heritage Auctions online website says it could be worth $30,000 and more.

Todd Woodcroft, who worked with multiple NHL organizations in various positions including the Minnesota Wild, is the new head men’s hockey coach at Vermont.

Joe Mauer, who retired after the 2018 season and turned 37 years old Sunday, still wouldn’t be the oldest player on the Twins roster, with that distinction going to DH Nelson Cruz who will be 40 in July.


Ex-U Star: Tougher Times for Addicts

April 16, 2020 - 1 Comment


It’s no easy path recovering from addictions but Jim Carter is fortunate the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t raising hell for him the way it is for many others who are fighting daily battles with demons like alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, opioids, and other substances.

The halt to in-person support gatherings has created a new challenge for addicts. Alcohol sales are skyrocketing and that’s just one measure of how the coronavirus is impacting those with a dependency on booze. Finding statistics on how the virus has negatively affected other sources of addiction, including illegal drugs, is more difficult to document but it’s a reality only the delusional will deny.

Socially, emotionally, physically and economically the pandemic is disrupting lives for millions of Americans. Those with addictions are among the most vulnerable because in the face of adversity they are likely to abandon the things keeping them on the right path. It’s a reality that Carter, a recovering addict since 2003, learned long ago.

“The truth of it is in some cases, because of our disease, because of our addiction, we look for any excuse to say, ‘Oh, screw this, I am going back out. Oh, I need a drink. I need to go place a bet. This life is too hard. This corovavirus is too confining.’ …Many, many addicts—given any reason—they will grab it and say I gotta go act out because of that.”

Carter, the Golden Gophers 1969 football captain and for most of the 1970s a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, believes once the coronavirus epidemic passes the damage done to the addiction population could be eye-catching. “The recidivism rate is high in the addiction field,” he told Sports Headliners in a telephone interview.

Suicide in the coming weeks and months will even be the ultimate ending for some with addictions. Whether it’s relapse or ending one’s life, a culprit during these times is the isolation caused by the pandemic. Government guidelines have for now done away with small gatherings of support groups.

Without those social resources involving other people, addicts can also stop doing their daily individual work like a 12-step program that keeps them on track with guiding principles for recovery. Addicts can be drawn to isolation, not reaching out to friends by telephone for dialogue and support. “Addicts are the only people in the world that try to solve loneliness by isolating,” Carter said.

While Carter feels as “cooped up” as most of us while confined to his winter home in Palm Springs, he doesn’t feel the anxiousness others are experiencing and the temptation to relapse into booze or other addictive behavior. “I have two very close friends back in Minneapolis that anxiety is a big part of their issue and it’s been very, very hard for them (in these times),” he said.

Carter occupies parts of his days spending time with his wife and reading books. He also works with his 12-step program and talks to people in recovery everyday. “I know a lot of them all across North America. …I always touch base with somebody.

“I am not what we would call ‘slippery.’ That’s a term we use for people that might be getting nervous and thinking a drink might be an answer. I don’t have that (anxiousness) on a day-to-day basis.

“I can be an ass—you’ve seen plenty of that. I can be feisty and ill tempered, but I don’t have the anxiousness about thinking it might be a better idea to go get drunk rather than just minding my ‘p’s and q’s.’ That’s not a daily concern for me.”

Jim Carter

Carter and many others in recovery are using technology to care for one another during these difficult times. With concern about the virus increasing last month, he stopped attending meetings with a support group on March 10. A couple weeks ago the group of about 15 started convening daily at 7 a.m. via Zoom. Twice a week he connects via technology with a group back in Minnesota.

Carter spends most of a typical year living in the Twin Cities area. He not only attends formal support gatherings but meets with friends for coffee. “I stay with it pretty regularly,” he said.

At support meetings Carter might be listening to recovering addicts talk about menaces other than alcohol, including gambling, sex and obesity issues. No matter what the addiction, he can run it through his head and personalize it to his own struggles that have included booze, marijuana and rage.

“For me and other people that continue to go (support groups), it’s not necessarily a day-by-day concern that I might relapse,” Carter said. “It’s more of a concern for me to remind myself that I’ve got a lot of work to do to be a better person. To tell the truth, to do the next right thing, to have respect for other people, to not judge other people.

“All the way down the line. I am still obviously a long ways from perfect but that’s why I go now is to…do the self-examination, trying always to be aware of who I am, how I am operating and whether I am doing what I need to do to be a better husband, to be a better person in the community.”

Carter, 71, gave up drinking in 1982. He was in the car business in Wisconsin and a few years retired from pro football. “When I was in business in Eau Claire in ’82 I got all drunked up one night and did some stupid things—which I often did—and the next day I quit forever,” he said.

While Carter stopped drinking, he didn’t do much self-examination for a long time after 1982. He engaged in habits that he can only now look back on with regret.

“Being disloyal to partners, having affairs in my marriage, smoking a lot of weed, finding other ways to soothe myself,” Carter said. “Basically (that) is what we do with any of our addictions. We don’t want to face reality, so (we) either drink a lot, or we smoke a lot of weed, or we get laid a lot, or chase a lot, or gamble a lot—thinking that will soothe us. And it does temporarily but the consequences most always are very severe.”

Twenty-one years after giving up drinking Carter went for treatment in Arizona, spending 30 days in a facility to help addicts like him. Then 10 days followed of what he describes as “aftercare.”

“Ever since then I’ve been pretty strong in my 12-step regimen,” Carter said. “…I try to keep my head in that program for me to continue to get better, hopefully. Some days it’s two steps back and one forward, but generally to be a better person I work at it and talk to other people in the program.”

Many addicts, as much as they self-analyze, struggle to find the cause or causes of their demons. “But a lot of us in our addiction talk about it coming from a hole in our soul or somewhere deep down,” Carter said. “And it’s probably some type of abandonment, either physically or emotionally when we’re children, or abuse of some type.”

Carter has been unable to pinpoint what has caused his issues with anger and the drive for perfection leading to unhappiness and the use of substances to soothe himself. Whatever the causes he has tried to figure it all out and make peace with himself. He was the youngest of four children, growing up in South St. Paul as the son of a car dealer and stay-at-home mom. His father, Bob, had a temper like Jim’s leading the son to now believe that at least part of his behavior issues came at birth with his DNA.

Bob’s rages made a lasting impression on Jim who recognizes that while there was no physical abuse in the family, the emotion of words and how they are said can be highly impactful on children. His father was also gone from home a lot and maybe that, or receiving less attention as the last of four children, led to feelings of abandonment in Jim’s early life.

Carter speculates multiple factors were involved in shaping his feelings and behavior. Whatever the causes, he had an early desire to be recognized that has never gone away. “To have my name in lights,” is how he puts it.

A great prep football player at South St. Paul, Carter could have opted for Notre Dame but instead chose the hometown Gophers. He was a star player and important contributor as the fullback on the 1967 Big Ten championship Minnesota team. He was also a heavy drinker and “smoked weed.”

The Packers made a linebacker out of him, and the desire to achieve—to be perfect—haunted him in Green Bay just as it has most of his life. He believes many athletes are obsessed with being perfect, having an “I’ll show you attitude.” Many of them, Carter reminds, are also addicts.

The drive for perfection is something Carter continues to wrestle with in retirement (he still has an investment and advisory involvement with car dealerships in Wisconsin). He wants to control things—perhaps he speculates because he couldn’t as a child, our was out of control in his youth.

“I have horrible control issues now. I want to control everything I can. Our home, (and) even 12-step meetings. I am terrible. If it’s not going the way I want it, I want to control it.”

Day-to-day Carter confronts his challenges, and sometimes his past comes up all too vividly and painfully. He loves the University of Minnesota and was encouraged by friends to run for a vacancy on the Board of Regents. He became a finalist but the pursuit of a regent’s seat was cut short by the resurfacing of an incident that happened decades before when he played for the Packers and asked a woman in the organization for oral sex. He and many others thought 40 years was enough to put the embarrassing event behind him, but it became public all over again.

“That was very hurtful to me because I have done so much work to overcome it (the incident),” Carter said. “I can’t change the past. That’s part of the price I paid for that behavior 40…years ago.”


More Kirk Cousins Trade Speculation

April 14, 2020 - (0) comments


Welcome to a Tuesday notes column with information to know on the Vikings, Gophers, Twins, Kevin Garnett and more.

Trade rumors have been associated with 31-year-old Kirk Cousins during his NFL career dating back to his years with the Washington Redskins. The most recent conjecture comes from website 12.Up that speculated yesterday on the benefits of the Houston Texans sending potential franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson to Minnesota in exchange for Cousins and draft choices.

The Vikings are salary cap challenged and have two first round picks in next week’s NFL Draft. Cousins received a two-year contract extension in March that reportedly not only pays him $66 million but waives the no-trade clause in his previous deal. Watson, 24, is being paid about $14 million total on a four-year rookie contract and is not eligible for a new deal until next year.

Kirk Cousins

While Watson is a valued young QB, 12.Up describes Texans general manager Bill O’Brien as unpredictable and capable of trading the 2017 first round draft choice. Last month many observers found it inexplicable the Vikings were willing to extend Cousins when his contract had a year to go and his performance has been inconsistent. But could there have been a potential trade in the front office’s planning?

Tarvaris Jackson, who died in a car crash Sunday, is part of a legacy group of Viking African-American quarterbacks that began with Warren Moon in 1994. Jackson, a 2006 second round draft choice, played five seasons with Minnesota and started 20 games. Other African-American starting quarterbacks with the Vikings have included Randall Cunningham, Daunte Culpepper, Teddy Bridgewater and Donovan McNabb.

In next week’s NFL Draft, the Vikings don’t need a repeat of how things worked out in 2016. The only player remaining on the roster of seven selections from that draft is linebacker Kentrell Brothers. Among those who didn’t make an impact from the 2016 draft is the team’s overall No. 1 pick, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.

The Gophers’ 2021 recruiting class has moved up to No. 18 in the latest 247Sports national rankings after the recent verbal commitment of four-star cornerback Steven Ortiz Jr. from Goodyear, Arizona. Minnesota beat out prominent programs for Ortiz, including Penn State, Oregon and Washington, according to an online story last Thursday from the Arizona Republic.

“I love the energy of the coaching staff,” Ortiz said in the article. “It’s a program on the rise.”

As of today the current bid via VSA Auctions for Kirby Puckett’s game six worn 1991 World Series jersey was $37,925. The bid on a 1987 World Series Puckett jersey was $12,650.

The auction was mentioned to Gregg Wong, the former Pioneer Press sportswriter who reported on the Twins and Puckett for years. Wong said Puckett is his “favorite athlete” he ever covered and he had many opportunities to ask for memorabilia but never did.

Wong, now a Twins gameday official scorer, received news yesterday from Major League Baseball. Official scorers will no longer be independent contractors but instead will be hourly paid employees.

The Twins, valued at $1.3 billion, rank No. 19 in Forbes.com’s annual valuation of MLB franchises posted last week. The Twins had an eight percent increase in valuation. The Yankees rank No. 1 with a valuation of $5 billion.

Twins Hall of Famer Rod Carew (Triumph Books) has an autobiography coming out May 12 about his struggles and successes including his heart transplant. “One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs” will be promoted by the Twins, and club president Dave St. Peter describes the book as “a great read.”

The 74-year-old former seven-time American League batting champion is beloved by Minnesota baseball fans. “I think he can be a little bit misunderstood,” St. Peter said. “He’s not an outgoing, affable guy. He’s generally quite quiet. …He can be taken as moody, or something of that nature. The Rod Carew I know is very caring, very focused on how he can help other people. He’s very much in love with our game and the Twins’ organization. “

During the work stoppage of Major League Baseball Twins players and those in the farm system receive daily communications from franchise representatives like managers, coaches and trainers to check on their well being.

St. Peter on whether the coronavirus pandemic will allow MLB games to be played this summer: “I don’t know. I am hopeful.”

If there is a 2020 MLB season, players will have their salaries paid on a pro-rated basis.

Expectations are building already among Connecticut women’s basketball fans who are hoping Paige Bueckers from Hopkins can help the Huskies end a national championship drought dating back four years. Bueckers, the Gatorade National Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year, is so special Hopkins boys’ basketball coach Kenny Novak considers her the only girl that could have started for him. “She is the complete package,” Royals girls’ coach Brian Cosgriff said of his point guard.

Kevin Garnett, the former Timberwolves superstar headed for induction later this year into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, has for years wanted to own an NBA franchise and now is making his interest public to have a team in Seattle. Garnett might pull it off but he couldn’t have made too many friends among NBA powerbrokers with his recent rant against classy Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.

Veteran hockey authority and sports journalist John Gilbert talking in an email about the 2020 Hobey Baker Award winner honoring the top player in college hockey: “Scott Perunovich (Hibbing native) has been the best reason to watch a hockey game at any level in Minnesota for the three years he’s played defense for the UMD Bulldogs. He made All America all three of his years before signing two weeks ago with the St. Louis Blues. The Hobey Baker Award is a fitting climax to his college career, because he not only was the best player in the NCHC and the country, but he also was the leading scorer in the NCHC—rare for a defenseman—and he could control the tempo of any game. …”


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