Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  It will be the New England Patriots vs. the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. New England tipped Baltimore 23-20 for the AFC title and New York edged the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 for the NFC title Sunday. What are your thoughts on Sunday’s games?

-Dorr: Since I picked both games right last week I’d like to stop picking while I’m ahead, after going only 2-2 the week before. So you may not get me to pick a Super Bowl winner. Both games Sunday were decided by the slimmest of margins, which is the way it should be in games of that importance.  I had thought prior to the games that the Giants’ Eli Manning would be better than San Francisco’s Alex Smith and that would be the difference, and that New England’s Tom Brady would be better than Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. None of the quarterbacks were anything special and, in fact, Brady had a less-than-spectacular day. But both games were enjoyable to watch. I haven’t watched that much football in a long time.

-Marxhausen:  I felt that the better offenses emerged against the better defenses Sunday. Each game can be broken down to key individual performances that influenced the outcome. The Ravens had Tom Brady exactly where they wanted him, on his toes and limited time in the pocket so he would not be able to get comfortable. Brady finished the game with 239 yards and two interceptions. The bulk of the failure to keep the game alive fell on Billy Cundiff’s missed 32-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. Though he is the scapegoat used in this game, Ray Lewis said it best in the postgame interview, “one play did not lose this game.” In San Francisco, Kyle Williams is facing threats from fans for his performance on special teams against the Giants. The game could have gone either way all four quarters. It was back and forth with the lead changing four times in a low-scoring game. The statistic that stands out is the fact that the Giants had the ball 11 minutes more than the 49ers. The 49ers punted 10 times while the Giants punted 12 times, but Eli Manning’s poise in the pocket to complete the pass helped the Giants secure the Super Bowl berth.

-Larson:  The games were entertaining and pretty well played. Quarterbacks are expected to be the key players in these games and, with the exception of Eli Manning, were unspectacular. And, Manning was hardly flawless. The missed field goal by the Ravens’ Billy Cundiff and the  fumbles by San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams were the games’ biggest plays. That’s why before a big game at any level, the first thing coaches always say is, “we have to avoid the big mistakes.”

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•Question:  College football coaching legend Joe Paterno died Sunday at the age of 85. Paterno compiled a 409-136-3 record at Penn State, where his teams won two national championships (1983, 1987) and went to 37 bowl games. He holds the Division I record for most victories. Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State defensive coordinator and a member of Paterno’s staff for many years, was arrested on child-molestation charges Nov. 5 and Paterno was fired  a few days later on the grounds that, while he reported a molestation incident involving Sandusky to school officials, he didn’t do enough. Paterno was never charged with any wrong doing. What will Paterno’s legacy be?

-Dorr: When someone reaches the God-like status that Paterno did, the fall from grace is always harder to accept. That’s part of the problem with sports. I think it’s OK to admire someone or, if you’re a kid, to hold someone up as a hero. But coaches, and players, shouldn’t attain the status that Paterno did among some. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Paterno knew about the abuse, nor do I have doubt that he should have done more. And that will tarnish his legacy. He’ll be remembered as a guy who won a lot of games, and did a lot of good things for Penn State, but there will always be an asterisk attached to his record.

-Marxhausen: It does sadden me to see such a legend as Joe Paterno go down in history with a horrible story attached to his reputation. His life affected so many at Penn State. He was a true coach in that he put his players above winning. He reached out to them so that their priorities first included academics before football and preached about the University instead of just the football team. He was a true leader and a man who fought every day for the sake of going out on that field to teach young athletes the finer points of a great sport. He will be known for the love of his players, the love of Penn State and the love of the game.

-Larson:  There are two legacies at play here. One is Paterno’s football legacy, which is pretty much unmatched. When some called for his firing back in 2004 because “the game had passed him by,” he spit in their faces and showed them it hadn’t and went on to several more good seasons. He was not only Penn State football, he was Penn State. That image and legacy likely isn’t going to change.

The other legacy is Paterno the man. I didn’t realize this country had so many folks eligible for canonization into sainthood until the Sandusky child-molestation charges broke into the news. So, so many people, including those in the media, cried out that they certainly would have done more to stop the molestations. They would have done much more than the assistant coach who saw a boy being molested but didn’t physically step in to stop it. They would have done much more than Joe Paterno, who reported the incident to officials. Really? Remember, at 85, Paterno is from a generation much older than most of us. He grew up at a time when incidents like the Sandusky case weren’t every-day news like they have been the past couple of decades. At a time when things like this were taken care of by “the proper authorities.”  That doesn’t excuse Paterno from not doing more but it might explain why he didn’t do more.

So, can we have two different Paterno legacies? I can.

Another observation. Paterno should have been allowed to coach until the end of the regular season. The way his firing was handled (over the phone) by Penn State officials was gutless and only took the spotlight off Sandusky and put it on Paterno.

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•Question:  The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team thumped Northwestern 75-52 Sunday for its third-straight Big Ten victory after opening the conference season with four losses. The Gophers are now tied with Iowa for eighth place. What’s behind the surge and do you think the Gophers can finish .500 or above in the conference?

-Dorr: The Gophers have played well recently but their 3-4 record should be 5-2, at worst. If they were at 5-2 I’d say they would finish above .500 in the Big Ten. Now I think it will be difficult with the schedule that remains. Freshman Joe Coleman has been a nice addition to the starting lineup but the biggest thing in the last three games is that the players are finally making shots. Some want to know why Coleman wasn’t in the lineup earlier but they forget the team was 12-1, even if you don’t think the schedule was the toughest. There was no reason to have Coleman in the lineup then. The losses to Illinois, Michigan and Iowa will come back to haunt the team.

-Marxhausen: It certainly took some time for the Gophers to find a rhythm that all of them could dance to. Tubby Smith has molded these young athletes into playing like a team. If you look at the past three victories for the Gophers, the bulk of the weight is balanced across the starting five with some weight resting on the bench. But, the key is that the Gophers have not relied on just one player every game. They also shot consistently from the field because they passed the ball, getting it to the open man while playing extraordinary defense that forced poor shots from the other team. The Gophers do have six out of their last 11 games against ranked opponents in a tough Big Ten Conference. I do not feel that the Gophers will be able to play consistently enough to get their record at .500 and keep it there.

-Larson:  The Gophers are too good of a team to have gone on losing games and too average of a team to dramatically push their near .500 status upward. Simply, when Minnesota shoots well and plays well on defense, it has a chance to win. When it doesn’t shoot well and play well on defense it will lose. The Gophers lack the game-changer that can lead them to victories when the team doesn’t play well. If it continues its recent surge Minnesota has a chance to finish where it is now, a game under .500.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Gophers football team showcased a new set of uniforms Friday. The uniforms and pants, maroon, gold and white, can be worn in nine different combinations. Coach Jerry Kill, the players, and even athletic director Joel Maturi, were ecstatic over the new looks. All cited how a team dresses for games plays a role in attracting recruits. What did you think of this development and which uniform combination did you like the best?

-Dorr: It’s a good way to get publicity in the middle of a Minnesota winter. I didn’t read the story so I’m not up on the different combinations. I guess I’ll have to do more research. The old all-gold uniforms are kind of ugly but maybe that’s what’s needed. I’ll be watching to see how much difference the uniforms make.

-Marxhausen: When I first heard about the new uniforms I was expecting something closer to the lines of Oregon, Maryland and Navy. They all have uniforms that reflect the future of jerseys in the NCAA. The Gophers kept a more traditional approach, with the maroon, gold and white combinations. They will have the option of choosing what combination they will wear each week. I feel they could have added some effects into the jersey with a lighter complexion so it does not take away from the color or the number, similar to what Oregon did with its multiple designs. I don’t mind the white jersey with white pants look, but I still like the traditional look of the maroon top with the gold bottoms.

-Larson:  I didn’t realize Minnesota, like, I suppose, most Division I schools, purchased new uniforms every year. It’s hard to believe the 2011 uniforms had much wear and tear. The reason given for the new looks, according to current players, coach Jerry Kill and even athletic director Joel Maturi, was that high school recruits take into consideration how a school’s uniform looks when they’re considering what school they’re going to make dazzling plays for. Funny, I thought a school’s success on the field, things like championships, bowl games, winning records, etc., were deciding factors. “Winning” and “tradition,” along with “name” coaches are the reasons Southern Cal, Notre Dame, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Oregon and the rest of the big boys attract the elite athletes. Not uniforms. Minnesota’s best selling point right now isn’t new, fancy uniforms, it’s “if you can play pretty good, you can play right now, son.”

That said, the new Gopher uniforms are quite nice. Nine combinations….that’s six more than the number of victories last season. I saw the color photo. My favorites were the gold top, white bottom, where the player was hoisting the Paul Bunyan Axe and the white top, maroon pants, where the player  had a Rose Bowl trophy on one shoulder and the Little Brown Jug on the other. Not really.

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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