“It’s kind of a scary game with all the injuries they have.”
Those were the words of former Minnesota Vikings GM Jeff Diamond this morning. His words were prophetic after the Vikings did the improbable by blowing a 27-23 lead in the last minute in Detroit today against the previously winless Lions.
The Vikings are now 5-7 after the 29-27 defeat and must prepare fast for Thursday night’s home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “It’s a big week for the Vikings,” Diamond told Sports Headliners before the game. “I think they need to win these two games (Detroit and Pittsburgh) and get over .500 before they head into Soldier Field for that Monday night game (December 13).”
With five games remaining on the schedule a loss to the Steelers and another to the Chicago Bears at Solider Field will seal Minnesota’s playoff fate that is already in deep peril. Vikings radio analyst Ben Leber echoed the sentiment of fans on the KFXN post game show when he said the team’s playoff chances may have “gone out the window.”
The Vikings played without injured personnel who count among the team’s most important contributors. Absent were Anthony Barr, Dalvin Cook, Christian Darrisaw, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Patrick Peterson. All were out with injuries except Griffen, sidelined because of mental health, and Peterson on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Then early in the first quarter Adam Thielen was injured and didn’t return to the game.
Head coach Mike Zimmer (who many fans want dismissed immediately) acknowledged “a lot of guys missing” but didn’t alibi about it on the radio after the game. “We didn’t play good enough today,” he said. “That’s my fault.”
Inexplicably the Vikings used a three-man rush trying to protect a 27-23 lead in the last minute of the game. The Lions drove 75 yards with no pressure on Detroit quarterback Jared Goff other than a safety blitz by Minnesota’s Harrison Smith (he may have called the play on his own). The Vikings chose eight-man pass coverage and the Lions took advantage, driving down the field for a last second TD with zero timeouts remaining.
The Lions, now 1-10-1, played at times like the team they are—trying to give away games to opponents. Twice in the game coach Dan Campbell told his team to try for a first down on fourth down. In the first half the strategy led to a Viking field goal. In the second half the failed effort led to the Vikings taking a 27-23 lead with 1:50 to play.
With a makeshift defense playing without its best cover corner in Petersen and perhaps the unit’s MVP in linebacker Kendricks, the Vikings faced a scary closing minute. The ending was a nightmare.
The Vikings’ offense couldn’t be faulted (as in other games) for not targeting play-making whiz and wide receiver Justin Jefferson. He had a career high 182 yards in receptions and one touchdown. He even threw a first half pass.
The second-year Viking needed 73 receiving yards going into the game to tie Hall of Famer Lance Alworth as the fourth fastest player ever to reach 2,500 receiving yards (both players in 28 games). Odell Beckham Jr. (25), Charlie Hennigan (26) and Bill Gorman (27) reached 2,500 yards in fewer games.
Multiple sources report it’s the intent of Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck to hire Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator but processes must be completed before an official announcement is possible. Those stages include a University of Minnesota job posting and possibly legalese in contracts with past employers of Ciarrocca who was the Minnesota coordinator from 2017-2019.
Ironically, as of this moment he is an offensive analyst at West Virginia, the team Minnesota will play in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix December 28. West Virginia, from the Big 12, is 6-6 this season while the Gophers are 8-4.
Two-time All-American Gopher defensive end Bob Stein will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame Tuesday night in Las Vegas. Stein, who played high school football for St. Louis Park, was a junior on Minnesota’s last Big Ten title team in 1967. He was honored as an All-American in both 1967 and 1968 by four major organizations including the Associated Press and United Press International.
Jim Carter, the former Gophers fullback from South St. Paul, was Stein’s roommate at Minnesota and the two have been close friends for over 50 years. “Stein contributed a lot (to the championship team),” Carter told Sports Headlines. “He was a damn good defensive end.”
Stein was schooled by legendary U assistant coach Butch Nash who made sure his ends excelled in fundamentals. Stein played defensive end with a high football IQ and a mean streak. “I tell you what, Stein was a tough son-of-a-bitch and I had to go against him a lot (in practice),” Carter said.
Stein and Carter were drinking buddies at Minnesota. Sometimes they would face-off the next morning in practice after a night of partying. They engaged in one-on-one drills with Carter trying to pass block his on-rushing pal who wasn’t about to give him preferential treatment. “He’d hit me in the head and then laugh,” Carter remembered.
A two-time Academic All-American, Stein earned a law degree after his undergraduate years at Minnesota. His post-Gopher career included eight years in the NFL and founding president of the NBA expansion Minnesota Timberwolves.
Minneapolis businessman and former Gopher football player Mark Sheffert was instrumental in Stein’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Congratulations to both Bob and Mark.
Stein is one of 21 ex-Gophers in the College Football Hall of Fame. Who could be next from the U? Two-time consensus All-Americans Tyrone Carter and Greg Eslinger have the credentials (winners of the Jim Thorpe and Dave Rimington awards respectively).
Billie Jean King, the tennis trailblazer and advocate for equality, is the 2021 winner of the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. As an elite gate attraction for the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis, she helped the league set an attendance record in 1974 at the old Met Center for a match against the Minnesota Buckskins.
A sports marketing authority, speaking anonymously, told Sports Headliners the Minnesota Twins may have prevented the cancelling of up to 500 season tickets by signing Byron Buxton to a $100 million contract. “Had to do this in my mind,” he said.
Dain Dainja, the power forward from Park Center High School, has transferred from Baylor to Illinois. He was a consensus four-star recruit in the high school class of 2020.
Gophers’ first season basketball coach Ben Johnson is 7-0, while the man he replaced, Richard Pitino, is 5-3 leading New Mexico. Johnson and his staff have the Gophers playing extraordinary team basketball, with their latest triumph coming today in an 81-76 win at Mississippi State.
It will be interesting to see if U athletic director Mark Coyle, whose name was linked earlier this year to openings at Kansas and Missouri, is mentioned for the Florida State job.
New Minnesota United CEO Shari Ballard, the former Best Buy executive, speaks to the Twin Cities Dunkers Friday.