Mic’d up Adrian Peterson talks about just how cold Seattle game was

Hey, the Pro Bowl is a joke. We’ve already established that. But maybe something decent is coming of it — the chance to see and hear Adrian Peterson in a more relaxed environment.

Peterson was mic’d up at a recent Pro Bowl practice, and the Vikings’ website has the corresponding video/audio.

There’s something oddly intriguing about watching Peterson take a half-speed handoff from Eli Manning … or interact with Packers fullback John Kuhn … or explain to fellow Pro Bowlers just how cold it was during the Vikings’ 10-9 loss to Seattle in the playoffs.

Here’s the link to the full video.

Michael Phelps strips to tiny swimsuit to distract free throw shooter

phelpsFan behavior at sporting events has been in the news lately, particularly with Wisconsin banning certain common cheers at high school games.

Hopefully we can reach a quorum — if not an outright consensus — when it comes to one specific event that occurred Thursday night: Legendary Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps donning a tiny swimsuit to help distract a free throw shooter in a game between Arizona State and Oregon State … hey, that was funny.

He got behind the ASU “Curtain of Distraction” as Oregon State’s Stephen Thompson Jr. prepared to shoot free throws. Then Phelps emerged with two other ASU fans from the student section while shirtless and wearing several Olympic gold medals. For the second free throw, he dropped down all the way to his tiny suit.

The shooter? He missed both free throws. If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

It was gamesmanship. It was a moment. It was funny.

It also got us thinking: If the Gophers copied this “Curtain of Distraction” idea, who would be the best local famous person to put behind it?

(Is it Prince? It might be Prince).

Your suggestions in the comments, please. Feel free to include ideas for props.

Twins unveil new red home jerseys

twinsjerseyThe Twins on Thursday unveiled new red alternate home jerseys — just in time for TwinsFest, which begins Friday at Target Field. They will be available for purchase at the clubhouse store.

They feature a red cap and red jersey top, both with simple “TC” logos on them. They introduced in 2010 alternate home jerseys with pinstripes, blue caps and blue lettering — so clearly these are much different.

The Twins have a pretty cool infographic explaining the particulars of the new jerseys as well as looking at the evolution of Twins uniforms through the years. As for what the public thinks? Predictably, reaction has been mixed. A sample of two tweets in reply to the Twins account after the jerseys were tweeted out:

Video: NHL referee gets cross-checked by player

The Flames’ Dennis Wideman knocked NHL referee Don Henderson to the ground on Wednesday with a vicious-looking hit from behind.

The  big debate Thursday: did Wideman do it on purpose? Based on my watching of the video, I’d say yes. Wideman gets up after being knocked to the ground, perhaps is upset that a penalty wasn’t called on Nashville, skates toward the bench with Henderson in plain view and knocks him to the ground.

But maybe you see other shades of grey? Maybe you believe Wideman when he says, “I was just trying to get off the ice. And, at the last second, I looked up and saw him, I couldn’t avoid it.”

Take a look at the video and see what you think:

Former Iowa football star, dead at age 27, had CTE

tylersashIt’s the tragic story we’ve been hearing more and more these days: a former football player starts to exhibit odd behavior after retirement, which transforms into a full downward spiral that leads to a tragic death. An autopsy is performed, and the player is found to have CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a “progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms.”

CTE was a hot topic last year. It regained steam over the holidays with the release of the movie, “Concussion.” It keeps popping up even if the NFL would love if it went away. Many times after it pops up it fades away.

But a story posted Tuesday by the New York Times … this one feels different. It’s not that any of these stories should fade as we return/retreat to watching football (again). But again, this one feels different.

This one involves a former Iowa standout and NFL player now dead at age 27. That’s a young adult. He’s Tyler Sash, and he’s dead. He died in September. Not only that, but the autopsy showed signs of CTE. Not only that, but this:

Last week, representatives from Boston University and the Concussion Legacy Foundation notified the Sash family that C.T.E. had been diagnosed in Tyler’s brain and that the disease, which can be confirmed only posthumously, had advanced to a stage rarely seen in someone his age. Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System and a professor of neurology and pathology at the Boston University School of Medicine who conducted the examination, said Tuesday that the severity of the C.T.E. in Sash’s brain was about the same as the level found in the brain of the former N.F.L. star Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012 at age 43.

Sash, a former all-Big Ten safety for Iowa who played on the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl team, had been playing football for 16 years and had five known concussions — the last of which, with the Giants, effectively ended his career.

The official cause of death was an accidental drug overdose — a mix of methadone and hydrocodone, the latter of which was prescribed to him to help deal with intense shoulder pain stemming from his playing days.

You can reach your own conclusions about what killed Sash, but hopefully we can all agree that this is incredibly sad. It’s not less sad to hear these stories about men twice his age, but it is more jarring to hear them about a 27-year-old.

Pro Bowl has become replacement game, with Vikings leading the way

dennyAs if we needed additional confirmation that the NFL’s Pro Bowl has become a complete joke, this year has taken things to a new level.

Consider this number tweeted by ESPN’s Adrienne Lawrence: 47 players who were healthy and not going to the Super Bowl turned down Pro Bowl invites this year.

Old pal Kevin Seifert, also of ESPN, writesAs of Tuesday afternoon, the official number of players either voted to the Pro Bowl or added as an alternate had reached 133. That’s the highest number in NFL history, according to Elias Sports Bureau research, and well beyond the previous high of 119 set after the 2009 season.

That’s an amazing number, and at some positions it’s worse than others. Only 1 of the 6 QBs originally selected to the Pro Bowl is still playing in the game (Russell Wilson). Cam Newton has a good excuse: he’s playing in the Super Bowl. The other four: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger, have backed out for various reasons. Writes Seifert:

That has forced the league to push far down its list of alternates to fill some positions. Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston, named Monday as a replacement, was the eighth player at his position to be either invited or announced in addition to the six quarterbacks voted in. …  Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, the first alternate, couldn’t play because of a thumb injury that caused him to miss the playoffs. The San Diego Chargers’ Philip Rivers declined an alternate invitation and the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees is presumed to have done the same. That left this collection of quarterbacks for the game: Wilson, the Oakland Raiders’ Derek Carr, the New York Giants’ Eli Manning, the Buffalo Bills’ Tyrod Taylor, the Minnesota Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater and Winston.

This is particularly relevant to the Vikings and their fans. Out of the 86 players originally selected for the Pro Bowl, the Vikings had just one: Adrian Peterson. Now they have five, with Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr and Bridgewater having being added as replacements. I’m not here to say those guys aren’t worthy of going to the Pro Bowl. All of them were critical to the Vikings’ success this year.

However, it is probably a good idea to stop using the Pro Bowl as a measure of big-time success. For example, in the news release the Vikings sent out announcing Barr and Bridgewater had been added this week (keep in mind, the game is Sunday), these facts were included: The 5 Viking Pro Bowlers are the most since 2012 when the club sent 7 players to Hawaii. It also marks 11 different Vikings drafted by GM Rick Spielman to earn a combined 17 Pro Bowls.

Those seem like impressive numbers at face value. But given just how far down the depth chart we’re apparently going to fill out Pro Bowl rosters, it’s much less so.

Let’s dissect in particular that last figure about Spielman. Again, this isn’t to say he hasn’t done a good job identifying talent. Many of the players he drafted were key contributors this season for an 11-5 team. But the Pro Bowl stuff — which I wrote about a couple years ago in comparison to Packers GM Ted Thompson — needs to be laid to rest.

Yes, the Vikings have had 11 Pro Bowl players since Spielman took over the room starting with the 2007 draft. And yes they’ve combined for 17 Pro Bowl appearances. But Adrian Peterson, a regular invitee, accounts for seven of those. The other 10 players have made one appearance each (so far), and the vast majority were not originally named. Here are those other 10 Vikings who were drafted by Spielman and have made the Pro Bowl:

Sidney Rice, 2009 Pro Bowl, originally selected

Percy Harvin, 2009 Pro Bowl, replacement

Kyle Rudolph, 2012 Pro Bowl, replacement

Blair Walsh, 2012 Pro Bowl, originally selected

Matt Kalil, 2012 Pro Bowl, replacement

Cordarrelle Patterson, 2013 Pro Bowl, replacement

Harrison Smith, 2015 Pro Bowl, replacement

Anthony Barr, 2015 Pro Bowl, replacement

Teddy Bridgewater, 2015 Pro Bowl, replacement

Everson Griffen, 2015 Pro Bowl, replacement

Rice and Peterson were both drafted in 2007. Walsh is a special-teams player. So the Vikings haven’t drafted a position player from 2008-present who was an original Pro Bowl selection for them. Now, I have a hunch that at least a couple of the four guys added this year will make it as original selections at some point in the near future.

But still, let’s not get too excited about being named to the Pro Bowl. Enough players back out now that it’s a reward for good-ness not greatness.

The Wild’s January free-fall: by the numbers

yeopariseAs a calendar year, 2015 was pretty nice for the Wild. A second-half surge a season ago started in January of 2015, helping Minnesota reach the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

That momentum at least carried forward to a reasonable amount at the start of the 2015-16 season — enough that the Wild played the first 36 games this season (the last of which being a 3-1 win at St. Louis on New Year’s Eve) at a 20-10-6 clip. That was good enough for 46 points and a 1.28 points per game pace — which translates to 105 points and a near-cinch playoff berth over a full season.

Since the calendar flipped to 2016, though, the Wild’s fortunes have turned as well. Minnesota is just 3-7-3 in 2016, including a disheartening 2-1 shootout loss to Arizona in the final game before the All-Star break Monday night. That puts Minnesota’s record at 23-17-9 at the break — more losses, overall, than victories and suddenly a much less impressive 1.12 points per game (a pace for 92 at season’s end).

What impact has the rough 2016 start had on the Wild? Here’s a quick look:

1) The Wild’s place in the Western Conference standings has taken a hit, though perhaps not as much of one as we might expect. On Jan. 1, when the Wild was 20-10-6, it was entrenched as the top wild card — just two points from jumping into the top three in its division and seven points clear of the last team out.

Now? The Wild is still the top wild card at the break, though more precariously — tied with No. 2 wild card Colorado (with one game in hand for the Wild) and just three points clear of the last team out. More notably, the Wild is nine points behind St. Louis, the No. 3 team in its division, and will have a difficult time making the playoffs as anything but a wild card.

2) Even though the Wild is still the same seed as it was on Jan. 1, the  percent chance that the Wild will make the playoffs has gone down considerably. I’ve primarily used Hockey Reference for these calculations. In the final weeks of 2015, the Wild was comfortably well above 90 percent when it came to the odds it would make the playoffs. Even on Jan. 13, as the slide started, the odds were only down to 88.9 percent. But now? They’re down to 66.9 percent — still a 2 in 3 chance, but a far cry from the near-sure thing it seemed to be. A month ago, conventional wisdom was that it would take a massive collapse for the Wild to miss the playoffs. The first part of 2016, unfortunately for the Wild, has played out that way.

3) Fortunately for the Wild, it is being propped up a little by a slightly more mediocre Western Conference than the one we saw last year. Remember, the Wild is now on pace for 92 points; a year ago in the West, finishing with 92 points would mean the Wild missed the playoffs by a full seven points. Now, even with their 2016 slump, maintaining that 92-point pace would likely be good enough to make the postseason if we trust the numbers.

Sports Club Stats calculates playoff odds a little differently than Hockey Reference and has the Wild at 75 percent still right now. But most notably, the site says the Wild has an 88.1 percent chance of making it if it finishes with 92 points. Of note too, though, is how quickly those odds go down. Finish with 88 points, just four fewer than its current pace? The Wild’s chances suddenly go down to just 35.5 percent.

If that doesn’t tell you how precious a point here or there is — like the one that got away last night — I don’t know what will.

Joe Mauer is in great shape: a story told through the years

mauerOne of the most amusing parts of the start of every sports season is hearing how this athlete or that athlete is in “the best shape of his/her life” or some variation on the theme. It very well may be true, but it also gets kind of ridiculous year after year.

Twins first baseman Joe Mauer is a local athlete whose health is CONSTANTLY being monitored. I’m not here to pick on Mauer because health is an important thing and in many cases he’s probably just responding to questions about it, nor am I poking fun at writers who are pursuing relevant stories.

But a trip back down memory lane is enlightening nonetheless. Let’s start a couple days ago, when Charley Walters on the St. Paul side had this nugget (h/t Parker Hageman for the link):

Jan. 23, 2016: After spending the offseason working regularly with St. Paul strength-flexibility guru Roger Erickson, Mauer is much stronger than in past seasons.

That’s all well and good, but there was this published in the Star Tribune a year ago in a story by La Velle E. Neal III:

Feb. 28, 2015:  “It’s kind of like, ‘Slow down, take it easy, and just ease into it,'”  Mauer said. “But I am excited. I feel really good, and I’m trying to slow myself down and not try to do everything right away.” Hold the presses. Mauer is excited. It’s a result largely of the offseason work Mauer put in with St. Paul stretching guru Roger Erickson.

Mauer responded in 2015 with a healthy season but one in which he posted the lowest OPS of his career (.718). But how did he feel before the 2014 season? Here’s from the end of spring training that year, again from our guy La Velle.

March 30, 2014: Mauer spent spring training enjoying life as a first baseman. He usually reports to camp weighing around 235 pounds, then loses 7 to 8 pounds before Opening Day. He has fought through the years to keep his playing weight around 227. He reported this year at 228, no longer needing to build up a base weight that’s usually knocked down by catching in camp.

Mauer in 2014 also had a subpar year by his standards and played in just 120 games. Maybe, though, expectations were too high? After all, he was feeling pretty good coming into 2013 as well — per a story from La Velle that year quoting Mauer heading into camp.

Feb. 19, 2013: “This is the best I’ve felt in a couple years coming into camp. I’m trying to get my legs underneath me and get ready to catch” Mauer said.

Mauer only played in 113 games in 2013, but he was quite productive — posting an .880 OPS, the third-best mark in a 100-plus game season for his career (lower only than his MVP season of 2009 and his first batting title season of 2006). The spring before? This from La Velle again:

Feb. 24, 2012: (Mauer) dedicated himself in the weight room during the offseason and appears to be in terrific shape.

This was coming off the brutal 2011 season in which Mauer appeared in just 82 games and dealt with all sorts of leg problems. And lest you forget: Mauer in 2012 was awesome: 10 homers, 85 RBI, a .319 batting average and a league-leading .416 on-base percentage. People complained about his lack of power even then, but that was a very good season. The last time he didn’t really feel good in the spring was 2011, of course, which is as far back as we’ll go in this exercise. Per La Velle:

March 17, 2011: Mauer said he might be in late February shape and still building leg strength, while most of his teammates have made steady progress toward being full-throttle by Opening Day.

That turned out to be pretty spot-on, signaling a deviation. Between 2006 and 2013, Mauer had a batting average over .319 and an on-base percentage above .400 in six of eight seasons. For a while, 2011 was the outlier. But those numbers dropped off considerably in 2014 and 2015 in spite of reports that Mauer came into camp looking good. Will another year working with a strength/stretching guru be the thing that gets him out of his 2014-15 slump?

We’ll have to wait to see what 2016 brings.

‘For next 10 (years), give me Josh Freeman over Cam (Newton)’

newtonfreemanSports success can be brutally fleeting, which makes the sustained success of organizations like the Patriots and QBs like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that much more impressive.

One minute you’re the next big thing. The next minute, you’re not.

But while success can be short-lived, hot takes … oh boy, hot takes are forever — especially if you float them out there on Twitter dot com instead of simply letting them go gently into the night on a bar stool or even over the airwaves.

This juxtaposition of ideas brings us to ESPN’s Skip Bayless, who has made a lucrative career out of shouty hot takes. He’s not for everyone, but I will say this: I’m not using the example below to specifically pick on Bayless. Rather, I’m using it to illustrate the idea of fleeting success vs. permanent opinions.

Somewhere in the course of Carolina’s blowout win over Arizona on Sunday, which propelled the Panthers and MVP-worthy QB Cam Newton to the Super Bowl, a tweet that Bayless sent out on Sept. 16, 2011 resurfaced. It read:

For next 10 yrs, give me Josh Freeman over Cam. More accurate. Clutch gene. 25 TDs, 6 INTs last yr. Really like Cam. Love Josh in big games.

It’s the kind of thing that A) Bayless routinely does, taking a stand on something in hopes of being right and B) Looks absolutely awful right now considering Newton is perhaps the most dangerous offensive player in the NFL while Freeman didn’t throw an NFL pass for all of 2014 and most of 2015. It’s particularly laughable here in Minnesota, where fans witnessed the Freeman wreckage in an ugly Monday Night game in 2013, his only game in purple after a baffling-in-retrospect midseason pickup.

But in 2011? The take was hot, but it wasn’t ridiculous. Freeman, as Bayless noted, had a very good 2010 season in which he led the Bucs to a 10-6 record while playing very efficient football. Newton was the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 and, at the time of the tweet, had played exactly one NFL game (albeit a debut in which he threw for more than 400 yards).

There was a chance that Newton would eventually turn out like Robert Griffin III while Freeman continued a steady climb into the upper-echelon of more traditional pocket passers. At the very least, it would have been hard to predict the dramatic fall of Freeman — far less so than predicting the dramatic rise of Newton.

But Twitter is forever. As long as nobody goes back and looks at my Johnny Manziel vs. Teddy Bridgewater tweets from April/May of 2014, everything will be fine.

Twins President Dave St. Peter on the bullpen, Major League Soccer

stpeterI’ll have a print Q&A with Twins President Dave St. Peter in Sunday’s Star Tribune, but here are a couple of items from our conversation this morning for you to chew on a little early:

Q The Twins made a couple moves early with the Byung Ho Park signing and the Aaron Hicks trade but it’s been quiet lately. Do you anticipate that changing at all before the start of spring training?

A We went into the offseason relatively vocal about wanting to improve in a few areas. We wanted a bat to replace the offense we lost with Torii (Hunter), and we believe Park has the ability to do that short-term and maybe even be a bigger bat long-term. The catching situation, we feel good about the move to get (John Ryan Murphy). We gave up a player in Hicks who we think is going to be a very good player to get someone who can be part of our franchise going forward.

We’ve been unable to this point to bring in those higher-profile bullpen guys. … I’m not sure Terry Ryan and our evaluators had a tremendous amount of conviction toward (relievers) out on the market. We’ve seen the relievers market explode to a certain extent. You weigh that compared to in-house options. The one thing I feel really good about is within our minor league system we have tremendous depth with power arms. I’m optimistic those guys ultimately are going to be the answer over time. I’m not sure those guys are going to be ready for the start of the 2016 season, but it’s more important what your roster looks like as the season evolves than what it is on opening day.

You go back to last year’s opening day roster compared to the core that really led us through the end of September and the hunt for a postseason spot, and my message is that rosters evolve. I believe we have the ability over time to improve our team. Our first options will be guys we’re bringing in to camp but in the longer term I believe it’s going to be those in-house options that make us even better in our bullpen.

Q It’s been reported that Target Field, among other venues, is in discussions to be the temporary home for Minnesota United in Major League Soccer if play begins here in 2017. What kind of update can you provide on that?

A We’ve said all along we want to be supportive of Minnesota United and their pursuit of MLS. They have expressed an interest in understanding what soccer could look like at Target Field in 2017. We’ve met with United and MLS and discussed that possibility. There’s a model there, the Yankee Stadium model where they’re hosting an MLS team now, so there are lessons to be learned from that. One reason I’m positive about this is because our groundskeeper, Larry DiVito, worked in an MLS/MLB combination at RFK Stadium as a groundskeeper for the Nationals. He’s lived through the soccer/baseball experiment and has given me comfort.