Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times sports editor Gary Larson, former Princeton Union-Eagle editor and sports columnist Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: What did you think of this past weekend’s National Football League Playoff games and who are your picks to win this coming weekend’s NFC (San Francisco at Seattle) and AFC (New England at Denver) title games and advance to the Super Bowl?
-Dorr: The games were basically competitive and there were no surprise winners for me, although I thought Carolina would give San Francisco more of a game than it did. And Indianapolis wasn’t as competitive against New England as I thought it might be. What that might mean is that any team with Tom Brady as the quarterback has a very good chance to win, no matter the circumstances. Denver and Seattle look like the winners Sunday, although an upset isn’t out of the question. Of those two favorites, I think Seattle is the most likely to lose, San Francisco is playing very well lately.
-Marxhausen: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning and Colin Kaepernick vs. Russell Wilson. Fans couldn’t ask for better conference championship games, with the four best teams in the NFL. The Patriots said they were a running team and that is what they did. They compiled 234 rushing yards and six touchdowns, controlling the clock with their ground game. If they are able to effectively put the ball on the ground and run like they have been they have the ability to keep Manning on the bench and the game in their hands. On the other hand, Manning has so many effective weapons he is able to put the ball in his teammates’ hands and they make plays. San Francisco doesn’t have the best record against the Seahawks and when they do play, the 49ers make mistakes and the Seahawks capitalize. Century Link Stadium was made to help generate noise and it disrupts opposing offenses, causing penalties and turnovers. The 49ers worked the Panthers up and down the field, but I don’t think they will have the same success against Seattle. The Broncos will advance over the Patriots 34-31 and Seattle will topple San Francisco 42-35.
-Larson: Like Luther, I expected Carolina to give San Francisco a better game. But the 49ers showed they were the better team. The other results were no surprise. This week Seattle’s defense will be the difference as it tops San Francisco 23-16 and Peyton Manning will lead Denver past New England 31-20.
-Johnson: After San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s display of mocking Carolina quarterback Cam Newton when he scored a touchdown Sunday, I really wanted Carolina to come back and win the game. I have a low tolerance for “show-boating” in the end zone and when you visit another team’s stadium and disrespect the face of its franchise in front of the team’s fans, you aren’t going to earn my respect. San Francisco did, however, end up winning the game. New England and Denver both looked good in their wins. The Brady vs. Manning showdown this weekend is bound to be a classic and perhaps the last time the two will meet. I’ll pick Seattle over San Francisco and the Broncos over the Patriots.
•Question: What do you feel were the top six Minnesota sports stories in 2013? You can also mention a couple honorable mentions.
-Dorr: I disliked the Metrodome or, as I called it for years in columns, The Dump. But its closing was a big Minnesota sports story in 2013. But not my top one. I’d call the Minnesota Lynx’s second WNBA title in three years the top story, especially in a state where the pro teams have struggled for quite awhile. In second place I’d put the U of M women’s hockey team winning its second straight NCAA title and then extending a winning streak to an unreal 62 games before losing to North Dakota this winter. For third place I’ll pick the firing of a big-name coach like Tubby Smith, even after the Gopher men’s basketball team won in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And we’ll add the hiring of Richard Pitino, son of a top coach, to that item. In fourth, how about the 8-5 season by the football Gophers, even with another bowl loss? In fifth place, the firing of Leslie Frazier after a dismal 5-10-1 season. And in sixth, a tie between the Dome closing, after hosting a myriad of events through the years, and the Vikings, Wild and Lynx all making it to the playoffs in the same year. Under honorable mention you could list the showing of the St. Cloud State and Bethel football teams, and the dismal showing (third straight season of 90-plus losses) by the Twins. That last one was formerly big news. Oh, and Joe Mauer moving to first base.
-Marxhausen: 6. Minnesota Gophers Women’s Hockey Team win steak ends at 62 in a 3-2 regular season loss on Nov. 17 against North Dakota. 5. WNBA Minnesota Lynx breezed through the regular season and the playoffs to their second WNBA championship. 4. The Vikings go 5-10-1, then fire head coach Leslie Frazier. 3. The Minnesota Twins trade Justin Morneau and move Joe Mauer to first base. Also Mauer’s wife gives birth to twin girls. 2. Tubby Smith fired from head coaching job at the University of Minnesota and Richard Pitino gets the job. 1. Gophers football has best record in years, but fails to win its bowl game against a mediocre Syracuse team.
-Larson: 1. The Vikings struggle and fire coach Leslie Frazier a day after the 5-10-1 season ends. 2. The Twins suffer 90-plus losses for a third-straight year, trade Justin Morneau, then retain Ron Gardenhire as manager and Terry Ryan as general manager. 3. The University of Minnesota fires Tubby Smith as coach, then hires young Richard Pitino. 4. The Gopher football team tops Penn State and Nebraska and finishes with eight victories. 5. The Minnesota Lynx win the WNBA title. 6. The Metrodome hosts its final pro event. 6. The Gopher women’s hockey team wins 62-straight games. An honorable mention would be the great seasons the St. Cloud State University and Bethel College football teams had.
-Johnson: In no particular order, I will begin with the Minnesota Lynx winning the WNBA championship. This was the second championship for the Lynx in three years as they swept the Atlanta Dream. Second, the Minnesota Twins traded Justin Morneau. Although this was expected, Morneau was part of the franchise for 10 years and an integral part of six playoff teams. Third, the Gopher football team beats Nebraska 34-23. This was the first time the Gophers beat Nebraska in over 50 years. Fourth, the Vikings hosted the last professional sporting event in the Metrodome. For over 25 years the Metrodome was home to the Vikings and Twins and it hosted many other nationally-covered events. Fifth, the Minnesota Wild make the playoffs for the first time in six years. Although they lost in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Wild have sparked hope for perennial success with young talent. Sixth, the Twins lose 96 games, making it the third year in a row with 90-plus losses. After six playoff appearances in nine years, the Twins have fallen into a dark hole with records and stats across the board that are at the very bottom of MLB. Fortunately, there is only one way to go. Other than the Lynx winning the WBNA Playoffs and the Wild making the playoffs, it was a disappointing year for Minnesota sports fans. Lets hope 2014 will bring better memories.
•Question: The tearing down of the H.H. Metrodome has begun. What are your favorite memories of the Metrodome?
-Dorr: For me it will always be World Series Game 7 in 1987 and Game 7 in 1991. The first one is always special and that means that the 1987 game trumps the 1991 game for me. It was so loud that the person next to me couldn’t hear what I had to say, even though I was yelling. A few days earlier I was there as about 55,000 people welcomed the Twins back home from Detroit for a surprise celebration. That was just about as good as the Series win. Sad to say, I had a great view from the other end zone as Gary Anderson’s missed field goal in the 1998 NFC title game ended the quest for what I thought would be a trip to the Super Bowl. Anderson hadn’t missed a field goal all season and this time he missed a 38-yarder. I had partial season tickets for the Timberwolves in their initial season and was there in 1989 as the Wolves opened their first season with a loss to the Bulls as Michael Jordan scored 45 points. The crowds (35,427 that night) were huge that season. Game 163 in 2009, which the Twins won in the bottom of the 11th to win the division against Detroit, was as good a playoff game as I have ever seen. There are lots of other Dome memories but those are some of the top ones.
-Marxhausen: Because I was born in 1989 my memories of the only Minnesota World Series in my lifetime are very blurry and not much comes to mind besides what I have watched on ESPN Classic, but the Twins have had other successful ventures in my current memory. In 2006 the race for the AL Central title came down to the last game of the season as the Twins faced the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers faced the Kansas City Royals. The Twins beat the White Sox 5-1 and then the team and 35,000 fans waited and watched the Tigers eventually lose to the Royals on the big screen to make the Twins AL Central champions. Years later the Twins would be facing the same situation but would need an extra game against Detroit for game 163 in 2009. The 12-inning game was a fantastic finish with Alexi Casilla singling and Carlos Gomez scoring the winning run.
-Larson: The Game 7 World Series victories in 1987 and 1981 are at the top of my list. So many Twins and Vikings players provided so many memories over the years, along with players from the teams they were playing against. It was a great venue for Monster Truck, motorcycle and bicycle racing events. My last visit was the Vikings’ victory over Washington this past season. It wasn’t an attractive facility but it served state residents well.
-Johnson: The most memorable moment of the Metrodome for me was the tie-breaker game number 163 the Twins had in 2009. Alexi Casilla had a game-winning hit in the bottom of the 12th inning, sending the Twins to the playoffs. The Twins came back from third place in the division to finish the season 17-4 and capture the AL Central title. I was too young to recall the World Series the Twins won in 1987 and 1991 but highlight reels and replays of the games are a memory never to be forgotten. Football memories include Randy Moss running up and down the field in his rookie season in 1998, the Gary Anderson missed field goal in the 1998 NFC championship game, and Adrian Peterson’s charge against the Packers in the last game of the 2012 season which carried the Vikings into the playoffs. Personally, one of my favorite memories of playing in the Metrodome includes pitching for the Milaca High School Wolves my senior year in 2005 against Cloquet. I think I struck out 13 batters or so in a 3-2 victory. I also remember hitting a ball off of the notorious “baggy” in right field in this game. The other memory of my playing career was my first appearance as a freshman for St. Cloud State when I struck out two in the final frame to pick up the save against Jamestown College in 2006.
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