Thursday, May 31, 2012

National Friday League: Jerome Simpson, ladies and gentlemen

Jerome Simpson (1)
Bill Musgrave is excited about Jerome Simpson (PFT, Star Tribune). As I always say, offseason stories like this mean very little (a offensive coordinator telling a reporter the team's new offensive player is going to be good? Really?). But Jerome Simpson's record does suggest he can be a productive receiver. If Simpson can average 14.5 yards per catch for the Vikings, and catch 3-4 passes a game, he really will provide an element they didn't have last year. The Vikes only had two players average better than that last season, and they had 26 and 2 receptions. Of course part of that may be the system, time with inexperienced quarterback, etc. But unless those Arkansas rookies are ready immediately, the Vikes will really be relying on Simpson to be the one to do anything in the mid-range and downfield passing game.

Jerome Simpson (2)
Christian Ponder is excited by Jerome Simpson (PFT). But let's remember something about practice: Simpson is going against the Viking secondary. He's going against a pass defense that was really bad last season, and might be really bad this season. I'll need a little more than great practice performances against his own teammates to get too thrilled about Simpson. Stories framed as "Offensive Player A looks really great in practice against his teammates" could just as easily mean "Defensive Player B..and C...and D... look really awful."

Jerome Simpson (3)
Screw it!  After the '09 NFC Championship game, 6-10, and 3-13, we can have enough with the jaded cynicism. We need hope! I buy it: Jerome Simpson adds the speed, creates fear of a deep threat, and has the athleticism to transform the Viking passing game. What do we lose by setting aside our skepticism here? We're just fans: we can't do anything about it. Jerome Simpson! We're going to love what he does to the Vikings' offense: I can just feel it!

My Least Favorite Moment of a Basketball Broadcast
My least favorite moment of a basketball broadcast is when a sideline reporter interviews a coach, mid-game, coming back from a break. They show this interview while the game is being played (voice over isn't enough), so they shrink the screen the game is being played on so they can show the coach looking irritated and unhappy as he says absolutely nothing of worthwhile substance (if it is substantive, it is the same obvious thing the announcers have been able to point out during the game).  It is pointless.

This has been my least favorite moment of a basketball broadcast.

Rajon Rondo
I couldn't have hated Rondo's Game One more than I did: turnovers that were almost flamboyantly bad, erratic drives to the basket, the unwillingness/inability to shoot the ball when left wide open (I'm irritated when a big man doesn't develop a shot to at least require a defender to come out and guard him; I'm completely vexed when somebody who developed the ball skills to play point guard didn't also, at some point, develop a shot).

Then came Game Two (53 minutes, 44 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals). It is something to see when a player gets 44 points without ever really even looking for his own shot (at times even avoiding it). He took and made his jumpers, drove to the lane to pick up fouls (and hit his free throws), made a lot of really great, tight passes, and intercepted several cross court passes. He could not have been better.

But the Celtics lost, so the effort was wasted. And I don't think the Celtics can repeatedly expect games like that from Rondo, so they have to win them when they happen. The Heat don't really  have a point guard, so Rondo can be a game-turning performer -- but if the Celtics lose even when Rondo has such a performance, it's trouble. It's like when Adrian Peterson has one of those 150 yard, I-will-not-be-dragged-down-no-matter-how-many-defenders-you-put-in-the-box games where he gets big runs again and again and the Vikings lose.

Narcissism and me: why is this Vikings and Timberwolves fan talking about the Celtics?
It's not just that I was raised on Larry Legend, that Celtic shirts have always kept accumulating in my wardrobe, that I swallowed up NBA history with voracious hunger and that's a lot about the Celtics, or that the Celtics would have been my favorite team if the Timberwolves didn't start playing when I was already nine years old, or that I never stopped liking Kevin Garnett. You don't care about that. My rooting for the Celtics should clearly be seen as a defense mechanism, a psychological compensation as a Viking fan.

After the Packers won that Super Bowl in the '10 season, I was something of a wreck. '09 put me into despair as a Viking fan (I compensated in weird ways), and '10 put me into despair as a football fan. This was it: I was destined to root for a perennial disappointment whose biggest rival won more titles than anybody else, and was going to keep on winning them.

Let's say, in my moments of despair, I went to my dresser to pick out clothes for the day. Let's say I looked around and saw all sorts of shirts featuring the team that had won 17 NBA championships. Let's say putting on these shirts and thinking about Larry Bird made me feel happy. Let's say thinking about a football team that played for 50 years without winning the biggest title was putting a strain on me, and thinking about a team (that I had some natural connections to) that won more of it's league's titles than anybody else relieved that strain a bit. Is that so weird? Is that so bad? So I'm sort of a Celtics fan. What of it?

That doesn't mean I invest even a quarter of sports-emotion into the Celtics that I do into the Wolves (if the Wolves were in the playoffs--next year, baby!--it would be all I'd think about every day. Ricky Rubio is my favorite current player and it isn't even close), or even 5% of the sports-emotion I invest in the Vikings. It's just something that happened.

Kick Ass Links
Jarius Wright (Vikings.com).

In their look at the NFC North, Football Outsiders focuses on the Vikings' Middle Linebacker need.

Watching Adrian Peterson run and work out (Star Tribune).

I hope Kevin Williams can finish his career a Viking (Pioneer Press).


Steve Aschburner takes us back to Larry Bird's famous steal (NBA.com).

This is the future of Minnesota basketball sitting there, people (Pro Basketball Talk).

It's hard to overestimate how much Zach Lowe's analysis of the pick-and-roll explains the Spurs-Thunder series (via Pro Basketball Talk). After reading about this, it was amazing to watch how often the Spurs' offense starts with a very basic screen for the ball handler, and how often the Spurs' points came off of that basic screen (sometimes not immediately off the screen, but it was the initial screen -- and how it was defended--that disrupted the defense and allowed the Spurs to do what they do). The Thunder have some athletic players that can deflect passes and block shots, but they have to play better team defense against against that disruptive screen to beat the Spurs.

The Spurs, "The Most Ignored Dynasty in Sports" (Slate).

Weekend
Have a good one, suckers.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Asher Allen bids the Vikings, and the NFL, adieu

It's not often we see a young athlete, in his athletic prime, walk away from professional sports willingly. But apparently, Vikings cornerback Asher Allen is doing just that, and is retiring from the NFL at the age of 24.

It's a surprising move by Allen. He's in the final year of his four-year rookie contract, and after starting nine games last year – albeit because the Vikings lost the services of Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook early in 2011 – Allen had a chance to build on his decent play in the latter part of a lost season for the Vikings.

But one wonders if this is really the end for Allen. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier didn't give a reason for why Allen's decided to retire. He did say it didn't have anything to do with concerns about concussions, which Allen has had in the past.

Perhaps it had more to do with the Vikings activity this offseason to address what was the worst secondary in football in 2011. Winfield is coming back after missing most of last season with a neck injury and a broken collarbone. The Vikings welcomed back Cook with open arms after he was acquitted of domestic assault charges in March. The team signed Zack Bowman and Chris Carr during free agency. And they drafted Josh Robinson in the third round.

It's quite possible Allen was going to find himself sixth on the cornerback depth chart after starting most of last season. That had to be weighing on his mind this spring. I wouldn't be surprised if Allen takes a year to clear his head, assess his immediate future and resurface at age 25 for a team in need of some help at cornerback (there's always some club in dire straits).

The Vikings are now 0 for 2 during the Rick Spielman era when drafting cornerbacks in the third round of the college draft. Allen was frequently picked on by opposing quarterbacks after being selected in the third round, 86th overall in the 2009 draft.

Two years earlier, Spielman thought he got a steal when he snagged Fresno State corner Marcus McCauley in the third round with the 72nd overall pick. McCauley was also frequently picked on by opposing quarterbacks (when he saw the field) and lasted two seasons with Minnesota. He is now out of football.

I sincerely hope Josh Robinson bucks this mini-trend. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Vikings weekly wrap – better late than never edition

Prior to April's NFL college draft, I set up a couple of interviews with the National Football Post's college scouting guy Wes Bunting. One of them was so I could publish a post on what Bunting thought of the Vikings draft and each of the team's picks.

Well, work got hectic and now it's been over a month since the draft took place and I still haven't got a post up on this. But today is the day.

I think this is still relevant information, even if it's a month late. None of these draft picks has even participated in training camp yet. We have no idea what they can and cannot do. To get some comments on the Vikings draftees from a guy who eyeballs hundreds of draft prospects each year can give fans some insight into what these players might become. I did this with Bunting back in 2009 at the old Grant's Tomb blog and his comment's have turned out to be pretty spot on (except for how Asher Allen turned out).

I found his thoughts on some of the less ballyhooed picks – Audie Cole, Blair Walsh and Robert Blanton – to be the most interesting. Let's see if you agree.

Bunting's thoughts on the Vikings draft
"I didn't think they were one of the clear winners. But they got the best offensive tackle in the draft. I felt they got a solid safety, but I don't think Harrison Smith was worth a first round pick. That was my biggest complaint. I thought their draft was solid."

Matt Kalil (Offensive tackle, 1st round – 4th overall)
"He's a guy who can come in and play tackle right away. He needs to get stronger, but at the same time he can be one of the better left tackles in the NFL once he hits his prime in two or three years. I don't know what else you could ask for.

He's 6'7 and only 295, so he's got the frame to get bigger. He's going to mature physically. He's a good athlete. He can change directions. He can bend. He's got a little stiffness to his game, but he's 6'7 – you're going to get that with any offensive tackle. He's tough to beat on the edge, he can pass protect, he's got long arms and he can re-direct on contact."

Harrison Smith (Safety, 1st round, 29th overall)
"I think there is some tightness and he doesn't get in and out of his breaks very well. He's not initially explosive when asked to get over the top on a deep pass. I think he's a good run support player who can check tight ends at the line. But if he's asked to hold up in man [coverage] – and at some point in zone coverage it turns into man because you've got to make a play on the football – I don't think that's his strong suit. If you're taking a safety in the first round he should be able to hold up in the pass game. Maybe they didn't think he's be available in the second round. I think he'll be OK. I don't think he'll ever be a plus pass defender."

Josh Robinson (Cornerback, 3rd round – 66th overall)
"He's a better athlete than a corner at this stage. There have been a lot of fast guys that haven't been good corners and flopped. At the same time, there's some physicality to his game. He will strike you and there is some initial burst. He's a little raw with his footwork and has a tendency to slow his feet and pop upright when he's asked to turn and run. But as a "click and close" guy, which he will do in a Cover Two and come up and tackle, I think he'll be a good fit. But I think he's an outside only player. He's not a guy who could play in the slot."

Jarius Wright (Wide receiver, 4th round – 118th overall)
"I like Wright. I think he can play in the slot early and I think he can play on the outside. He can run those deep crossing patterns and get in and out of his breaks. He needs to catch the football better. But I think he was the best Arkansas wide receiver."

Rhett Ellison (Tight end, 4th round – 128th overall)
"I think he is more of a tight end/H-back/fullback hybrid. He can catch the football and they can line him up all over. He can play some fullback for them. At the same time they can put him on the line. He can get off the line and be a solid number two tight end. If you want to play him as an H-back, he can do that. He's not just a one-trick pony. He can offer a lot – catch the football and block."

Greg Childs (Wide receiver, 4th round – 134th overall)
"He was just banged up with injuries [in 2011]. If he's healthy, he can start as the strongside receiver, as the "Z" [receiver]. He's got deceptive speed. Injury was the biggest thing with him. He's a good football player. When you watch him as a junior, he was one of the best wide receivers in the SEC. He doesn't separate a ton though. He's never going to separate a ton in and out of his breaks. I think [former Viking, current Seattle wide receiver] Sidney Rice played a little faster and was a little bit better of a vertical threat. This guy is more of strider. It takes him a lot longer to get going. I thought there was a lot of similarities between him and Alshon Jeffery [who went in the second round to Chicago]."

Robert Blanton (Cornerback, 5th round – 139th overall)
"I thought he was at his best when he was in press coverage and got his hands on people. I think he is more of a nickel safety where you can bring him down and have him beat on the big tight end and be physical. That would be where he'd be at his best. He's not a guy you want to trust in space. Much like Harrison Smith, he doesn't get in and out of his breaks well. But if you can bring him down and get him physical with the tight end, he can hold his own in man coverage. He's one of those hybrid nickel players.

Blanton was good when he could be physical and press because he could manhandle college receivers. But against more athletic receivers? He had a tough time matching up against USC and those athletes, and those are the type of athletes that are in the NFL."

Blair Walsh (Kicker, 6th round – 175th overall) 
"He was the only senior kicker that was given a draftable grade coming into the season. He was really solid as a freshman and had great years as a sophomore and a junior, then he lost his confidence as a senior. He missed eight or nine kicks last year. He missed one in the bowl game that could have wrapped it up. He's a strong-legged kid who looks the part. He had three great years of production in the SEC and for whatever reason just lost his groove as a senior. That caused him to fall. He still got drafted. If he can get his confidence back he'll be a good player. But that's definitely a concern."

Audie Cole (Linebacker, 7th round – 210 overall)
"I think he's a guy who could end up starting as a strongside backer. He reminds me of Ben Leber, to be honest. He's not dynamic in any area of the game. He'll play special teams from year one. But ultimately will end up as a good football player. You're not going to mistake him for Derrick Brooks, though. He's at his best when the play is in front of him and he can click and close. He's going to be tighter when asked to turn and run in coverage. But on third down you will probably want to get him off the field anyway – like any strongside linebacker."

Trevor Guyton (Defensive end, 7th round – 219th overall)
"He could be that strongside player in a 4-3 [defense] as a defensive end on first and second down. You could kick him inside and play the three technique. He played in the 3-4 [defense] front at Cal. He's got some get-off and some natural power. But he's not really sudden when asked to stack and shed."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

National Friday League: Thunderdome

If you ever attended a Viking game in the Metrodome, you get the homefield advantage. You’ve watched quarterbacks both good and bad look totally rattled (you’ve also seen quarterbacks good and bad destroy the terrible secondaries the Vikings have regularly put on the field for the last two decades, but whatever). You’ve been a part of a crescendo of noise on every opponent’s third down. The Metrodome may not have been aesthetically pleasing, but that sucker was loud, and it was a beautiful place to see teams play a football game. I’ve sat all over that dome, including the very back freaking seats. And it was always a joy.

But the problem, for whatever reason, is that during their time residing in the Metrodome, the Vikes had many, many seasons as a terrible road team. It wasn’t just that they lost on the road (especially when playing outdoors on grass), but that they so frequently lost to seemingly inferior teams on the road. Maybe it was because they built their roster for the indoor atmosphere and the fast turf. The Vikes built offensive and defensive units dependent on speed, and they could take advantage of their strengths on turf, but their strengths often seemed absent on grass. Or maybe they really did become psychologically comfortable playing in the warm indoors, and didn’t have the internal strength to play in poor conditions. I don’t know. But whatever the reason, the Vikings found themselves very far away from the days when Bud Grant didn’t allow heaters on the sidelines. 

One of the most ridiculous Viking seasons was 2003. Four teams tied for the worst NFL record that year. The Vikings, who finished 9-7, played all four—and lost to all four. Three of those losses were on the road, on grass. There doesn't seem to me any good reason the team should have sucked so bad away from the Dome, but they usually did.

Still, who will forget walking out of Thunderdome with the air from inside the dome literally pushing you out? That was always good for some laughs, some smiles, and some hats blown off.

If you'll allow me a moment's self-indulgence, here are my five favorite games that I was lucky enough to attend in the Metrodome.  I'd love to hear about your favorite games in the comments.

Cowboys ‘93
This wasn't the first Viking game I ever went to, but it was the first when I was old enough to know or care about what was happening.

Dolphins ‘94 
The Vikes built up a 28-0 lead behind three Cris Carter touchdowns (including one of my favorite catches of all-time).  Then Dan Marino and 431 yards happened, and the game was tied, before the Vikings finally pulled it out.

49ers ‘03
The main thing I hoped for was to see Randy Moss catch a touchdown pass.  He caught three, and had 172 yards.

Chargers ‘07
I seethed through halftime after watching Antonio Cromartie return a missed field goal 109 yards.  Then the crowd erupted as we watched Adrian Peterson rush for 296 yards.  On one day, Thunderdome saw the longest play possible in NFL history, as well as a cherished single-game record.

Colts ‘08
The Vikes built up a 15-0 lead behind five field goals.  The pass rush was absolutely crushing Peyton Manning, and Adrian Peterson was grinding out positive rushing plays.  But the Vikes didn't have the passing game to finish drives when they got in scoring position, and a 15 point lead wasn't enough to hold off Manning.

Nobody roots for Goliath 
I’m not rooting against Lebron James and the Miami Heat because I think they did something immoral or disreputable in the summer of 2010. I’m just not rooting for the Heat because they are a team with Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. In sports, you don’t have to convince yourself a player is an evil villain in order to root against him; you can decide to root for or against anybody for the sheer hell of it. Lebron James is the best player in the league: that’s why he’s won three of four MVPs. There’s no rule that says you have to root for the best player! There’s also no rule you have to create a moral justification for rooting against the best player. Just root for or against whomever you want for whatever reason you want.

Kick Ass Links
Jared Allen was really, really dominant last season (Football Outsiders).

A first-hand epic about the politics of the new Viking stadium (Grantland).  I will say, though, that it is a bit grating reading how we Minnesotans think, feel, and act.  The generalizations are a bit much.  I'm irritated when Garrison Keiller tries to tell me what I am, and I'm not sure I need Steve Marsh doing it, either--even when I feel he is basically right.  And I really enjoyed this piece.

A former Viking and a current one led the league in special teams tackles (Football Outsiders).

Who says there's nothing to follow during the summer? (Vikings.com).

Peyton Manning will be one of the most interesting fantasy impacts this season.  I'll probably keep linking to articles about how he's looking in practice (Yahoo!, NY Times, Star Tribune).  Of course every article is going to have every hallmark of an offseason story (looks good in practice!  building playing relationship with teammates!).

There are players who don't like Roger Goodell (Yahoo!).

Well, it does seem weird for teams to be penalized for spending too much in an uncapped year (NY Times).

Pro teams and relocation (Good).

Reminiscences on Latrell Sprewell from a Knicks fan (The New Yorker).  Reminiscences from a Wolves fan: for one special T-Wolves season, Spree was a joy: running the floor he always seemed covered in knife blades. His movements were sharp and quick, with both a powerful toughness and an agile swiftness as he sliced around the court.  He was the third best player on that '04 team (behind KG and Cassell), but a versatile and athletic offensive player who could take over for parts of a game, always exciting to watch.

When December comes along, and the Packers are rolling, the Bears and Lions are fighting for a Wild Card, and you find the Vikings unwatchable (OK, I'm more optimistic than that) at least there will be this:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Who would you rather have? Keith Millard, John Randle or Kevin Williams?

Kevin Seifert of ESPN's NFC North blog penned a post today about the Detroit Lions Ndamukong Suh. But what caught my attention were the statistics embedded in the Suh post that showed just how good the Minnesota Vikings have had it at defensive tackle over the past 25 years.

In Seifert's post he lists the defensive tackles with the most double-digit sack seasons and the DTs with the most sacks in their first two seasons. In the former category, Hall of Famer John Randle leads the pack with seven double-digit sack seasons. Keith Millard is tied for third place on that list (with five other guys) with three double-digit sack seasons.

As for the latter category, Williams tops that list by posting 22 sacks in his first two seasons and Millard comes in second with 21.5.

Now sacks are only part of how to measure the worth of a defensive tackle, but it did get me wondering who I'd rather have playing defensive tackle in his prime for the Vikes – Williams, Millard or Randle.

It's a tough call. Randle has the Hall of Fame resume and the gigantic personality to go with it. No defensive tackle was more disruptive than Randle in his prime. But there are many observers who say Randle couldn't/wouldn't defend the run and consider him a one-dimensional player. That probably is accurate, but Randle's one dimension – rushing the quarterback – was one hell of a dimension.

Williams might be headed for the Hall of Fame someday as well (although even with six Pro Bowls and five first-team All-Pro selections to his credit, but no Super Bowl rings, I have my doubts). His sack totals have fallen off since his first two seasons, but he was, and still is, a superior run defender compared to Randle. And he, along with  Pat Williams, were the fulcrum of some historically good run defences from 2006-2009. Williams was also a master of batting down passes at the line of scrimmage and even if he hasn't posted a 10-sack seasons since 2003, he's still a guy you have to account for when the QB passes the ball. And he remains a three-down player.

Millard is the toughest guy for me to assess. My memories of his 1984-89 Vikings heyday are a bit hazy 20-plus years on. I remember him being a maneater as a pass rusher. I don't have photographic recollections of his abilities against the run, but I remember him being solid in that area and the Vikings were in the top 10 in run defense most of that era. While there was some great talent on those lines back then (Chris Doleman, Doug Martin, Henry Thomas, Al Noga), Millard had something to do with that. What makes Millard tough to rank is that his career was cut short by a major knee injury in 1990. He was not close to the same player after that.

So who would I rather have in his prime? I'm going to go with Millard. He was just as dominant a pass rusher as Randle when healthy and was a much better run defender. As for why Millard over Williams, weighing his pass rush and run defense abilities against Williams, I give Millard the slight edge there. But not by much.    

Monday, May 21, 2012

For NFL and Vikings fans, the dog days of May have arrived

There should be some sort of Internet rule that gives NFL bloggers – both those that are paid to do it (not me) and those that do it for fun (me) –  the month of May off.

This story from a week ago by ESPN 1500's Judd Zulgad illustrates why that would be a good idea. In the piece, Zulgad gives us the story of Arkansas teammates and wide receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, who didn't like each other all that much when they first met as fourth graders.

Wow! That's astounding. These guys didn't like each other when they were 10, but by the time they were 15 or so, they were best buddies. That never happens, does it?

Actually, it happens all the time. There were a whole bunch of kids I couldn't stand when I was in grade four (and they didn't like me much, either) that I ended up liking a lot by the time my high school graduation rolled around.

But I shouldn't be too hard on Zulgad, because there just isn't much news to report on. Free agency is done. So is the NFL draft. All the club's coaching changes have been made. Even the stadium issue is pretty much resolved. So we're left with stories about the Vikings signing guys like Levi Horn and where they will be holding training camp in 2012.

However, for the 2012 Minnesota Vikings, the dearth of subjects to write about seems even greater this year than in previous springs. I think I even know why.

In year's past (I've been blogging about this team since 2007), the Vikings seemed like a legitimate playoff team. So there was more to write about from a blogger's perspective. If the Vikings could just get a bit better play from Tarvaris Jackson/Gus Frerotte/Kelly Holcomb at quarterback (it never happened); if they could just find an elite pass rusher (hello, Jared Allen); if Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian could emerge into a big play receiving threats (one out of two ain't bad, I guess). If, if if.

Because the Vikings had Adrian Peterson, a stout run defense, a deadly accurate placekicker and guys like Antoine Winfield, E.J. Henderson, Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk still in their primes, an upgrade of one player at one position could potentially be enough to turn the Vikings from an average team into a playoff – even a Super Bowl contending – one.

But the 3-13 season the Vikings put together in 2011 has stripped away any hope from fans, and bloggers, that if the team can just improve a littler bit at wide receiver and a little bit at cornerback, they'll be in the thick of the hunt for the elusive Lombardi Trophy.

I'm not going to give up hope in May that that could happen, because anything can happen in the NFL. Still, it seems much more plausible that the Vikings won't be contending for a playoff spot – let alone the Lombardi Trophy – until 2014, at the earliest. And so, there is a lot less to obsess about when it comes to improving the Vikings roster. The Vikings need to get a lot better at every position. This team has no strengths (although it does have some very good individual players) and that makes it more difficult (for me, anyway) to write anything compelling about whether Jasper Brinkley can handle the middle linebacker job or if Jerome Simpson can be a deep threat at wide receiver.

It would be a positive development if those guys panned out. But even if they don't, and that's very possible, it won't make a break the Vikings 2012 season. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

National Friday League: The End of Urgency?


Since the ending of the Vikings' '98 season, I've followed football with the desperation to see the Vikings win a Super Bowl right now.  Sometimes it felt like a physical pain knowing that the Vikings had never won the Super Bowl.  Each game carried such intense significance, had to be watched with such emotional fervor, because it was one necessary step toward making this the year the Vikings win the Super Bowl.

But I don't feel that way anymore.

Part of this is aging: as the memories of seasons watched accumulate, it is easier to recognize that this season is not the only season, and before long there will be even more memories of seasons watched, and so it is easier to feel there will be more chances.*

Part of this is the Packers winning the Super Bowl in '10.  I desperately wanted the Vikings to win their first championship before the Yankees of football won another one, and seeing** the Packers win was as bad as I thought it would be.  But it's done; it happened.  Football goes on.  Is it really going to be so awful if the Packers win yet another before the Vikings win their first?  Yes, but not cataclysmic as it was then.

But mostly its the stadium.  Part of that desperation was the knowledge that the Minnesota Vikings may have until only 2011 to exist.  At least one Super Bowl win for the storied Minnesota Vikings before they moved would have made things palatable.  It is something like a beloved TV show ending its run: you're sad it is ending, but you also will have some closure and after all you'll always have those DVD sets to return to.  But losing the Vikings without seeing them win a Super Bowl would mean 50+ years of memories that are also a little sad, empty, and unfulfilled.  There would be a futility in trying to rewatch those metaphorical DVDs.

But not now!  When the Vikings lost that devastating game, one of the things I wrote about was fear of relocation, that "I should be so lucky as to spend the next 50+ years being disappointed by the Vikings."  Well now (God willing) I'll get that chance.  Year after year, decade after decade, the Minnesota Vikings will be putting a team together, playing a full NFL schedule, and trying to win as many games as possible to make the playoffs, and if they make it, trying to win one playoff game at a time.


We still may never see the Vikings win the Super Bowl, but the clock winding down our opportunity to see it is no longer tied to the Metrodome lease.  That clock is now tied to something darker, but (hopefully, anyway) not quite so close.


*and there are other personal reasons that need little elaboration here: natural maturation, learning to live with long-term patience, focusing attention on other interests, yada yada yada.

**well not exactly seeing, as I didn't watch it.  But in some ways the following season, with the constant references to the world champion, is just as bad.  And I work in Wisconsin, so...

Lingering Stadium Thoughts
--I don't know how much credit Mark Dayton deserves for the new Viking stadium: whoever was governor when the Metrodome lease ended was the most likely governor to usher in a new deal, so it is mostly a matter of timing (in hindsight it seems silly anybody ever thought a deal would be done before 2011 or 2012).  Still, he made it a major legislative priority (another governor might not have), and the stadium deal was a long, complex, compromised, evolving process, and another governor might have handled that process in a different way that might not have resulted in a deal.  I'm not making a partisan plug here (like I said, the timing was the crucial factor), but after a messy process, Dayton deserves credit for accomplishing his priority.

--I think it might be fun to try ignore as much as possible about the stadium design and construction, and just be awed when it is finally built.  This will be impossible, of course, for anybody who does things like, say, watch football games, read about football, or drive through Minneapolis.

--Someday soon I will have to write an ode to Thunderdome, a much-maligned, misunderstood, but in its own way beautiful building.

Bob Cousy
I know I that of any of the subjects I shouldn't argue with Bill Simmons on, it is Celtic history.  Still, I found this statement strange: 


"By the time Pierce's career wraps up, we'll remember him as the fourth greatest Celtic behind Russell, Bird and Hondo (in that order). There's just no way around it."  


Bob Cousy was All-NBA 1st team 10 times (Paul Pierce was only even All-NBA 2nd team once), won six championships (Pierce has one), won an MVP (Pierce was never close), and led the NBA in assists and assists per game eight straight seasons (Pierce has led the league in points once, and in free throws made and attempted once).  Granted there's extreme difficulty in comparing a playmaker whose prime was the '50s to a scorer whose prime was the '00s, but if measured by the context of their time, Cousy needs to be up there.


Kick Ass Links
It's here!  It's here!  The part of the off-season when players make outlandish predictions about their next season's statistical achievements!  Making it the unofficial start of the Fantasy Football Preparation and Speculation Season!  Reggie Bush, ladies and gentlemen (Roto Arcade).  


One Minnesota legislator tried (and failed) to add an amendment to the stadium bill preventing blackouts (Yahoo!).  That's an idea I've supported for a long time: if we're handing over public money, we should get to demand some concrete things in return, such as no blackouts.  Dan Wetzel explores the anti-blackout logic and history.


Baseball and memes (Good).


The Staples Center will host six playoff games in four days (NY Times).


Mike Tanier at Football Outsiders on concussions:

"I sincerely believe that in 20 years, we will be watching and enjoying football, and that concussions and post-concussion symptoms will be manageable medical problems that we have learned to avoid in many cases and treat responsibly in the others. American football used to have problems with severe spinal injuries and on-field deaths, first at the turn of the 20th century and later before World War II. Rule, equipment, and attitude changes have made these tragic events rare. Concussions will never be quite as rare, but I believe long-term concussion symptoms will come to be contained as medical knowledge grows and football practices evolve."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Vikings Weekly Wrap – Mother's Day edition

From the ESPN family this week, we get two very different articles about Vikings owner, Zygi Wilf.

Kevin Seifert views Wilf as a patient man, who didn't use the relocation threat card to get a new stadium for the team, and who was finally rewarded for his patience.

Patrick Reusse has his own take, and points out Wilf is actually putting down very little of his own money to build the $975 million stadium and shouldn't be viewed as a sympathetic figure.

I don't think there are any heroes or villains in this story. Wilf made a deal that will increase the value of his franchise and make it more profitable, which you would expect. The politicians delayed making a decision on this matter until they had to, which you would expect.

I think the debate that's surrounded the Vikings stadium journey was worrisome and annoying for the fans, but better there be a healthy public airing on the wisdom of using taxpayer dollars to build a stadium than none at all.

I'm glad to see this issue put to rest. There isn't much need to write about it anymore.

Now it's time for the Vikings and their fans to focus on the fun stuff – like can Christian Ponder improve in year #2? How much better will the secondary be in 2012? Can Adrian Peterson possibly regain his pre-knee injury form? How will Alan Williams fare as defensive coordinator?

Those are the things I like thinking about and writing about. I don't like thinking about or writing about stadiums.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

National Friday League: Barely Believing

You don't have to like public money being spent on this stadium; in fact, you probably shouldn't.  But that's the realpolitik: as commenter Ethan noted, the league has the supply of teams, and the league can demand communities help pay for their stadiums or they'll relocate (the league and teams don't really have an ethical argument to add to that, as much as they try to talk about jobs and economy).  It is up to a community, through its democratic processes, to make the choice about whether to meet the league's demands.  The efforts of humans to live together in a society are often full of compromises and moral ambiguity.  This is messy.  But in the end, while I don't blame those who disagree, Minnesota is a better state for having the Vikings, and many Minnesotans will live happier lives for having the Vikings.

I was more than usually traumatized by the end of the 2009 season because I thought it was the last chance: I feared pretty strongly that there would be no Minnesota Vikings after 2011, and that if we were ever going to see a Super Bowl win to remember no matter what else happened, that would be the year.  And while watching a team rebuild, and trying to dissect Christian Ponder's development and hope over Matt Kalil and praise and criticize the Vikings' moves, it's been easy to worry that they're not rebuilding toward anything that we'll be rooting for.  But now that the Vikings will be in Minnesota for at least another generation, we can know that if Christian Ponder doesn't pan out, the Vikings can try again and maybe somebody else will. If Leslie Frazier gets fired, maybe the next coach will be the one to take us to the proverbial promised land.  If Adrian Peterson's prime is spent without a Super Bowl title, we'll have the memories of AP as the team tries to move on and win a Super Bowl after AP.  If the team we're watching at the moment fails, then the team can be remade, again and again, for decades, until hopefully, maybe, someday, there is purple and gold confetti falling down at the Super Bowl.

That's what a stadium gives us: decades of possibility.  Instead of bitter memories, we live with hope, and that hope provides a year-round, every-year spring of joy.

This news has filled me with a sort of inner jubilation.  The dread of years is over.  The Vikings are ours, still.


Kick Ass Links
The Vikings cut Ryan Longwell (Star Tribune).  Longwell just missed the chance to make the kick to send the Vikings to the Super Bowl for the first time since the '76 season.  I would have trusted him from 50 indoors.  And I will never see the 12 men in the huddle penalty again without being sad.

Seattle Seahawk Deuce Lutui has gotten trimmer and healthier by going vegan (Seahawks.com).  Welcome to the club, Mr. Lutui.

Cris Carter set some bounties, too (City Pages).

Peyton Manning in Denver (Yahoo!).

I gave my hair tribute to Tony Parker by trying to match his short hair with beard look; I mean, it's working for him (OK, really it's my Finals Week beard.  It's not like I'm going the full Harden or anything.  My wife, by the way, only knows Harden as "the beard."  These days I frequently fall asleep on the couch watching Western Conference playoffs, find out the next morning who won the game I fell asleep watching, and then report whether the beard's team won or not).  But this guy... (Yahoo!  err...here's what I'm talking about).  It almost makes it seem less weird to paint your face purple or put on a horned helmet and go hang out at the state capital.  I don't judge!  I love the flamboyance of it. We need more events that allow for ostentatious costume, not fewer, even if it does look semi-insane.  Really, it makes me happy to see my purple-blooded brothers and sisters doing the full super-fan at the capital.

NFL players (wait, no) N.F.L. players actually tend to live longer lives than other men (New York Times).  I certainly don't like to think I'm watching gladiators destroying themselves for my entertainment, and recent events have made me feel that way.  A story like this is encouraging, while still offering concern to keep on pressing about player safety.  (Also Football Outsiders, citing Slate).

Has anybody ever won by expressing anger toward somebody with a camera?  It is being filmed!  You'll look ridiculous!  Rajon Rondo, anyway (Yahoo!).

Every political topic requires two-colored maps! (MinnPost).

Blair Walsh "has big shoes to fill" (Star Tribune). Blair Walsh can buy his own damn shoes, or the team can buy him new ones, which is how I think they do it.   And I doubt they still have Jan Stenrud's shoes sitting around Winter Park, so you don't have to worry about that.  And if they give Walsh shoes that are too big, won't that make it harder to kick?  Just give him shoes that fit him.  I don't know what his shoe size is though: NFL.com tells his hand size, which really doesn't matter.  God, it's Finals Week, what am I doing trying to find Blair Walsh's shoe size just for a bit?   By the way, I now deal with overused cliches by taking them literally.

It's hard for me to believe the legislature is making important decisions in the middle of the night (Star Tribune).  How many bad decision get made after midnight?  I picture the capital after midnight like a giant dorm building--maybe the drinkers are out, but those still around are ordering crappy food and getting weird and giddy, doing increasingly stupid things.  Most people make it through college without ever making a 3:30 a.m. decision that would affect an entire state for a generation, though.

Randy Freaking Moss (SI).

Weekend
Have a good one, suckers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Is the Vikings Holy Grail within reach?

It's taken, what, about three weeks to accomplish what couldn't be accomplished for a decade in Minnesota.

The state's House and Senate have fashioned a stadium bill that looks like it is ready to be sent to Governor Mark Dayton for his signature – one that requires the Minnesota Vikings to pay an extra $50 million to build the $975 million stadium. I'm not ready to call this one yet, but it sure seems like fans of the franchise are very close to seeing the threat of their favorite team leaving Minnesota disappear. If that happens, we can go back to obsessing about one thing instead of two – the fact the Vikings haven't won a Super Bowl in 51 years of existence.

Here are a few other thoughts on an issue that I really hate writing about:

1. For me, the most annoying part of this process the past few years has been that politicians, whose job description includes making tough decisions on things, went out of their way to not make a decision about the Vikings stadium. About a year ago I stopped caring if the Vikings got their stadium and just wanted this thing resolved. Now it looks like it's been resolved.

2. I don't know what your thoughts are on Roger Goodell, but the guy has got some serious juice. He suspends assholes like Sean Payton for a year for their dirty deeds and, apparently, he can rouse state politicians into action with a simple visit. If you're the Republican Party, shouldn't you have been asking this man if he was interested in running for president in 2012? (And should a guy named "Mitt" be allowed to be in the position to run a country anyway?)

3. One thing that will be extremely satisfying if this bill gets done is it takes some verbal ammunition away condescending Packer fans (I don't think they are the majority, by the way) who liked taunting Viking fans that their team would be moving to L.A. soon, and maintained that this was somehow our fault because we didn't truly support the team. It wasn't a lack of fan support that caused this to drag on as long as it did.

4.  I don't live in Minnesota, but I wonder if the next time I want to build a house if I can get the government to pay for more than half of it? My new house would be a job creator – putting some carpenters, electricians, etc. to work. And if my family decides to build a house and put down roots in a community, that certainly has an economic impact because we'll buying groceries, gas, clothes, going to movies and on and on it goes.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Could Vikings ownership lose fanbase's support in stadium push?

This might be how the Vikings brass loses its fans.

As the the Minnesota House and Senate tinker with how to finance a bill to get a new stadium built for the Minnesota Vikings, the team's stadium bagman, Lester Bagley, may have made a fatal error by saying that the Vikings owners will not pay an extra $105 million, as the House wants them to do, to get a new stadium built.

I understand the Vikings will keep driving a bargain to not spend a penny more than they've committed. But Bagley's comments can't sit well with most Minnesotans.

I think the House's voting in favor of a stadium bill that would see the Vikings pay slightly more than half for the $975 million stadium, instead of slightly less than half, was the kind of deal you have to expect and accept.

Surely Zygi and Mark Wilf must understand that there are plenty of Minnesotans who have a problem using half a billion dollars in state money to pay for a football palace that will make the Wilf's business more profitable. And surely they know that Minnesota politicians know this, and so those politicians are going to be cautious about voting "yes" to doing so if it might cost them their jobs.

Voting in favor of a stadium bill that lessens the state's commitment by $105 million, and also has the stadium proponent pay at least half its share, is something the politicians probably felt they could sell to their constituents come voting time.

However, with Bagley saying the team will pay $427 million and nothing more on the stadium, the team has lost some moral high ground here. The stadium will make the Vikings a more profitable team and it will increase the value of the franchise significantly. In the long run, the Wilf's and their minority owners will make a nice return on that extra $105 million investment. And they won't go down in Minnesota history as the guys who moved the most popular sports franchise in the state to Los Angeles.

That must be worth something to them.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Vikings weekly wrap – The sad tale of E.J. Henderson edition

What did E.J. Henderson do to deserve this?

Last year – his ninth in the NFL, all of them with the Vikes – the team's starting middle linebacker had the kind of year we've come to expect from E.J Henderson. He had 110 tackles, picked up two sacks and forced three fumbles. Despite swelling in the leg he broke horrifically against Arizona in 2009, he didn't miss a game and was his usual ferocious self on the field.

So even though Henderson may have missed a few more tackles than we were used to seeing and maybe he was beat more in pass coverage than during his 2007-2009 peak, it was impossible to argue that Henderson couldn't still function as – at worst – a solid two-down Mike linebacker for someone in the NFL.

Yet May has arrived and Henderson is still unemployed.

To me, that just seems terribly unfair for a player who has been one of the great linebackers in Vikings history and who has sacrificed his body for our entertainment for nearly a decade. Yes, Henderson was well-compensated for his sacrifice, but I wonder what it feels like to still be very good at your craft and yet no one will hire you? How would any of us feel if, at 32 years of age (Henderson turned 32 in March) we were told our career was over?

Except I don't think Henderson's career is quite over. Thirty-two NFL teams decided they had no need for his services when free agency kicked off in March. But training camp is still almost three months away. No one is hitting anybody yet. Everybody is relatively healthy.

My bet is that the first team that loses it's starting middle linebacker for the year during training or preseason will quickly be giving Henderson's agent a call.

Even a return to the Vikings isn't completely out of the picture. The team is rebuilding and has decided it's going to give fourth-year linebacker Jasper Brinkley the job. But not everyone is convinced Brinkley is up for the task. As ESPN 1500's Judd Zulgad tweeted last week in a response to a tweet to him:

"Here's your issue. No guarantee Brinkley is the MLB for a Tampa 2 defense. Fingers crossed by team on this."
I hope Brinkley works out for the Vikings. But if he doesn't, or if he gets seriously injured again, the Vikings don't have a lot of depth or starting options waiting in the wings. Henderson knows the defense, and he knows the playbook. As long as he's keeping himself in shape, he could quickly go from the street to the Vikings starting Mike linebacker pretty quickly – if the Vikings feel they finally need him

Thursday, May 3, 2012

National Friday League: Oedipus

Oedipus and the Problem of Fandom (or, "I killed a bunch of strangers on a road because they looked at me wrong.  And, also, why do the gods hate me?) (or, centuries ago a genius wrote a masterpiece so that I could whine about the Vikings on the internet)
Oedipus killed his father and married his mother.  His father Laius and Oedipus himself received prophecies of this fate, and each took actions specifically intended to avoid this result.  The actions they took to avoid this result specifically brought about this result.  These are the machinations of those malevolent gods.  This is fate.

But here's something you need to know: Oedipus is a dooouuuuuche.  He really did kill a bunch of strangers in a right of way dispute.  He really did angrily accuse his brother-in-law of treason on no evidence at all (and refused to back down).  He really did threaten to torture an old blind man if the man wouldn't tell him what he wanted to here.  Oedipus was violent, threatening, impulsive, rash, and angry.

There may have been a problem of fate, but Oedipus was the sort of asshole likely to do all the things he was fated to do.

The Vikings' performance on a Sunday probably affects your mood on Monday and for the rest of the week.  But of course it goes deeper than that.  When the Vikes are having a good season, you* look forward to Sundays.  You have excited and energetic conversations with people.  You find yourself thinking about the Vikings at all sorts of different times of the day.  You have some hope, and you walk with a little spring in your step.  And when the Vikings have a season like they had last season...well, I don't know how you respond to that sort of season.  Anger?  Sadness?  Despondency?   There is a lot that is different about you during the Viking season, that is dependent on how the Vikings play.

When the Vikings succeed, you feel and maybe act differently than you do when the Vikings fail.  And here's my question:

Is that on the Vikings, or is it on you?

How the Vikings perform is obviously beyond my control.  In that sense, my mood, feelings, maybe even my sense of general well-being, is affected by the Vikings.  I might ask, do I choose to be the sort of person to let the Vikings' performances change my day-to-day attitude?  But that only leads to another problematic question: to what extent do I choose to be a Viking fan at all?   I'm guessing many of you became Viking fans in ways that precede rational choice: you fell into it through geography, family, friendships, and the like, probably when you were young.  By the time you realized you cared way too much about the Vikings, you already cared way too much about the Vikings.  Could you, at any point, have made a different decision?  Could you have chosen otherwise?  And at this point, could you choose at all?

In that way Sophocles' Oedipus the King got to the mess of it all: even if you set aside religion, our lives are a giant mess of some things we choose, and even more things we have no goddam control over at all.

*I'm making some assumptions about "you," but tell me I'm wrong, person reading a fan blog devoted to the Minnesota Vikings.  Tell me I'm wrong.

But of course I want a stadium!
Well, sure.  It's complicated.  But in my heart, I desperately want the Minnesota government to approve a stadium.  The state gets and spends money in all sorts of ways I don't understand.  A lot of the ways the state gets and spends money don't affect me.  But whether the Vikings play in Minnesota or not affects me a whole hell of a lot.  The getting and spending of money can seem a little abstract, but watching the Minnesota Vikings on Sundays in autumn--no, following and caring about the Minnesota Vikings all year round--is very, very concrete.

If I use my values (civic, social values), public money for the stadium seems like a bad idea.  If I use reason, public money for the stadium seems like a bad idea.  But as Dostoevsky says in Notes from the Underground, "anything can be said of world history, anything conceivable even by the most disordered imagination.  There is only one thing that you can't say--that it had anything to do with reason."

When your favorite team sucks, you can console yourself with some sense of hope.  Things are bad, but they might get better (I watched a lot of bad Timberwolves basketball without ever despairing!).  But when there is fear that your favorite team might really relocate, then when that team sucks, it is hard to have any hope at all.  If I know that for the next 30-40 years, there will be a Minnesota Vikings,* then I can brace myself to watch a lot of bad football games with some kernel of purpose.  But when you have a constant fear the team might move, then watching the team suck is just watching the team suck: any moments of comfort you take in the future are immediately thwarted by your fears of the future.

*I mean, to the extent that I know that if the world and/or human civilization doesn't crumble to ruin first, there will be a Minnesota Vikings for the next 30-40 years.  You never know.  Be realistic, people!

Sadness
Junior Seau. And there are serious things to think about (Slate).

Kick Ass Links
"In 'The Great Gatsby,' Fitzgerald described a stretch of wasteland along West Egg as a 'valley of ashes.' Since 1964, the Mets have called that spot home" (The New Yorker).


Dan Marino seems like a trustworthy fellow; I like to support those products and organizations he lends his name to.  So how do I join this AARP? (The PostGame).

Parks and Recreation actor Roy Hibbert is also a professional basketball player (Grantland).

Rick Spielman tells Peter King the Vikes' coaches "fell in love with Harrison Smith" at the Senior Bowl (SI).

But who will grade the graders?  "I don't know.  The coast guard?" (Football Outsiders).

If a rookie QB has an up-and-down rookie year for a bad team, but he's already enshrined as the starter for year two, you can bet during the following offseason there will be plenty of stories with interviews talking about being more comfortable, about the team now being his team, about all the work being done to improve, about leadership.  Ladies and gentleman, Christian Ponder! (Pioneer Press).


The Brooklyn Nets appeal to hipsters (Good).


I suppose it is inevitable to label it flip-flopping, but I don't think it worthy of the derisive label every time a person changes his/her initial reaction after seeing more evidence, talking to people, re-assessing the situation, and trying to bring about a positive outcome.  With this Viking stadium situation, the story is changing constantly, and it seems pretty natural that people with power that want the stadium built have to be flexible and evolve their views and attitudes in response to what other people do to change the situation (PFT).


Weekend
Have a good one, suckers.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Postmortem Discussion: The case for a speedy linebacker (or two)

Postmortem 1 from me. Postmortem 2 from PV. Postmortem 3 from TBird.

It used to be that the Vikings couldn't pick a productive defensive end to save their life. Chris Clemons. Derrick Alexander. Michael Boireau. Kenechi Udeze. Erasmus James. The list was long and undistinguished. Then the Vikes found a gem in the 2006 draft in fourth-rounder Ray Edwards. The club has since followed that up by drafting Brian Robison (4th round – 2007) and Everson Griffen (4th round – 2010). 

But just as the Vikings seem to have found the golden touch in drafting and developing quality defensive ends, they've lost their way doing the same with linebackers. Yes, 2006 first round pick Chad Greenway has been a solid, durable pro. But other than selecting E.J. Henderson in the second round of the 2003 draft, Minnesota hasn't hit on the linebackers its drafted.

Recent picks Ross Homan (2011 draft – 6th round) and Nate Triplett (2010 – 5th round) didn't even make the team. And who can forget stellar picks like Rufus Alexander, Dontarrious Thomas, Rod Davis and Raonall Smith?

All those missed draft picks, and the fact the Vikings haven't drafted a linebacker higher than the fifth round since 2006, has left the Vikings very, very, very thin at linebacker. And other than selecting Audie Cole in the 7th round, the Vikings didn't address it in the just completed college draft or during free agency.

That strikes me as a problem. What the Vikings really need is a linebacker who can run and cover these Aaron Hernandez-type wide receivers who masquerade as tight ends. They don't have one. Greenway is just OK in coverage. It looks like Jasper Brinkley will start at middle linebacker in 2012, yet he's viewed as a two-down player who will come out in passing situations. Erin Henderson is probably the best cover guy of the starters, which is faint praise indeed.

As TBird pointed out in his postmortem, with teams employing more scatbacks and hybrid wide receiver/tight ends, you need linebackers who can run and cover. The Vikings need a Jacquian Williams. 

Not familar with that name? I'm not surprised. Williams was a rookie last year and he didn't even start. But if you watched the New York Giants Super Bowl run, you might have noticed a player wearing #57 who kept on breaking up passes intended for elite tight ends like Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, Green Bay's Jermichael Finley, San Francisco's Vernon Davis and, in the Super Bowl, Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. That player was Williams, a 6'2, 225-pound whippet who might not be the stoutest against the run, but boy can he cover.

The Vikings starting linebacking unit (and for that matter, the reserves) do not, collectively, have the skill set to match up with today's multiple receiver sets. And the fact the Vikings didn't address this weakness during the offseason means you can expect to see a lot of tight ends catching 20-yard passes down the middle of the field, and plenty of dump-offs to backs and slot receivers turning into first downs against the Vikings.

You can't address every need in a seven-round draft. But the Vikings didn't seem to try very hard in this case, either.