Surprisingly, Packers Fans Have Handled Big Win With Class

I admit, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XVL Sunday night, and over the past 48 hours, their fans have been too caught up in revelry to rub it in the face of Vikings fans like myself. Don’t get me wrong — there’s been very little sports media consumption for me this week. No ESPN. No KFAN. No Star Tribune sports section. Hell, I didn’t even log into Facebook until Monday afternoon. The Packers and their fans have every right to celebrate that Super Bowl win and it doesn’t bother me at all. But I totally expected Cheeseheads everywhere to resort to child-like boasting.

Guess what — it hasn’t happened. Yet.

An NFL lockout looms if players and owners can’t agree on a new collective bargaining agreement by March 4. It’s possible the Packers will hold the title of “defending Super Bowl champs” even longer than usual. If next season is wiped out, the Cheeseheads get to flaunt their Lombardi Trophy until February 2013. In reality, the Vikings could be rooted in Los Angeles by then. Think about it.

Or don’t. It’s been a rough enough week for Vikings fans as it is.

I call her a Packers fan. Someone in Green Bay calls her mom.

Packers faithful have been nothing but gracious thus far. From what I can tell, the team is made up of upstanding characters who respect and understand their unique franchise, so they’re hard to hate. They’re a team that’s built for the future and a run of dominance that could well outlast the Vikings’ stay in Minnesota. That idea isn’t as painful as it once was, because as long as I can tune out the TV, radio and Internet and avoid public places for a few days, I can ignore each subsequent Super Bowl win. Go wild, Cheeseheads. You go enjoy your little dynasty run in your silly foam hats.

As much as it eats at my soul, I want to congratulate the Green Bay Packers and their fans for… — God, I can’t do this. Yuck. I’d rather comb Clay Matthews’ mane.

OK. Let’s try this again. Kudos to the Packers and their fans for…—No. Hell no. I’d rather eat Cheerios out of Mark Tauscher‘s jock strap.

One more time, with feeling.

Thanks to the Packers and their fans for not being completely obnoxious about winning the Super Bowl … EVEN THOUGH WE BOTH KNOW THE STEELERS COMPLETELY LAID AN EGG AND THERE’S A GOOD-TO-GREAT CHANCE THE GAME WAS RIGGED BY THE NFL TO ERASE THE MEMORY OF BRETT FAVRE AND POSITION AARON RODGERS AS THE NFL’S NEXT MOST LOVABLE QUARTERBACK SINCE PEYTON MANNING IS 35 AND PROBABLY ON THE WAY OUT!!!

Is it baseball season yet? How about them Brewers?

The Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium? I Was There

I went to last night’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium so I could say, for the rest of my life, I was at the game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium.

I didn’t intend on going until late afternoon, when a co-worker not-so-gently coerced me into looking for tickets. I posted an inquiry on Facebook and within 15 minutes we had two upper level tickets for $40 a pop. We darted to Target to buy long johns, wool socks and hand warmers. We caught a few pre-game drinks at Sally’s nearby the stadium. We gaped at the stadium itself, illuminated by the falling snow and electricity of a fan base that had been subjected to indoor football for three decades.

Of course, the Vikings got smoked 40-14.

The game was meaningless to the Vikings, but it wasn’t without intrigue. It was their first outdoor home game since December 20, 1981. It may have been Brett Favre’s last start, despite being ruled out 48 hours to kickoff with a bum shoulder. It was a night the franchise celebrated it’s 50 best players in the team’s 50-year history.

It was a spectacle, albeit a drunken one. We sat by a gang of buffoons who felt it necessary to throw snowballs at innocent Bears fans while yelling things I’ve never before heard at a sporting event. (“Run like you’re a second grader!” and “F_ck you, Chicago!”) We saw paramedics working on several fallen comrades throughout the stadium. We saw liquor-dispensing gadgets that must’ve been invented by Q from the James Bond movies.

Was it cold? It was tolerable. There was a light snow which turned to drizzle, very little wind and the temperature hovered in the 20s all night. On TV, the field appeared a sheet of ice and the players appeared on the verge of frost bite. Someday, I’ll feel inclined to fudge the details — just as generations before me did with Metropolitan Stadium folklore — and say it was in fact a blizzard, the wind was whipping and it was so cold, you could see your breath turn to snow if not for the zero visibility.

The question was asked last night where the TCF Bank Stadium game would rank on my list of all-time best fan experiences. I have been privileged to see a lot of great players and a lot of great teams in some of the most historic sports arenas in the country. (To clarify, I’m not talking about the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.) I would rank last night’s game as the best fan experience of my life. It brought together past, present and future in football’s version of Back To The Future. It felt like a game at the Met, but it also felt like a game at the Vikings’ next outdoor stadium (if it ever gets built).

You buy a ticket to see something memorable. You might see a 40-14 drubbing. You might see the greatest quarterback of all time make the last start of his career. You might see shirtless men in 20-degree weather. You might see something no one’s seen for 29 years.

Last night, I saw it all.

Kluwe Cries Foul in Fear of Player Safety at TCF Bank Stadium

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is worried about player safety tonight.

Yesterday, after the Vikings held a walkthrough at TCF Bank Stadium to test field conditions, Kluwe tweeted the field was “unplayable,” adding, “The field is as hard as concrete an hour and a half after they took the tarp off, and anyone that hits their head is getting a concussion.”

Thousands of people — many of whom were temp workers – worked around the clock the past week to help remove the 17 inches of snow that fell on the Twin Cities last weekend. A few weeks previous, TCF Bank Stadium had been winterized and put into hibernation until spring, but when the Vikings faced playing a second straight home game outside of Minneapolis, a deal was made to revive/thaw the field for one more game. In Minneapolis, it’s being considered the sporting event of the year, even if the Vikings are 5-8 and out of the playoff picture.

Back to Kluwe. He’s right in that the NFL should’ve considered moving the game if player safety is the concern they claim it is. However, everyone outside of Kluwe — who won’t be a part of more than eight or nine plays — claims the field is hard, but playable. Maybe everyone else is playing tough guy, though.

You know what drives me up the wall? Football players who refuse to wear long sleeves when it’s freezing out. They have no problem gathering around the portable heater or heated bench on the sideline, but when they’re in the game, they wouldn’t be caught dead whilst properly dressed for the conditions. Wearing long sleeves in a commercial? Well, money talks:

Luckily for both teams, it’s supposed to snow 4-6 inches today and overnight. That could create more padding on the field, but more importantly, it’ll keep the temperature up. (Pardon the meteorological nerdery.) Monday’s forecast has gotten a little warmer each day since TCF Bank Stadium was officially named the site of tonight’s game. Originally, the guess was anywhere from 5-10 degrees at kickoff with something like a (-15) wind chill. If that was the case, players could’ve suffered frost bite to exposed skin in 45 minutes or less.

Kind of offsets Kluwe’s concerns about player safety, doesn’t it? Hard to ask the NFL to move a game hundreds of miles to Indianapolis or St. Louis for player safety when half your team refuses to put on a long-sleeve shirt like petulant children.

In 2002, I played in a high school football game where the temperature was 12 degrees. The field was actually frozen — our cleats were more like tap-dance shoes, unable to penetrate the rock-hard sod. We wore layer over layer and huddled around a propane space heater at every chance. On punts, the ball would bounce upward as if it’d landed in a parking lot. We won that game, no one suffered frost bite, and — most importantly — no one got a concussion.

It’s not something I would ever want to do again, but it wasn’t “unplayable” like Kluwe would probably claim.

St. Cloud Students Vote to Pay Up, Save Football

Had St. Cloud State students not voted to increase student fees, Husky Stadium would've been much lonelier on Saturdays in the fall.

This week, students at St. Cloud State University voted to increase student fees by $1.74 per credit hour to save the football program.

How did such a major decision come to a student vote?

The SCSU athletic department faced  deficits of $550,000 in fiscal year 2012 and $600,000 in fiscal year 2013. Student fees, the budgetary equivalent of duct tape at state universities, were seen as one of the few lifelines that could rescue Husky football. So, the SCSU student government coordinated a vote and 20 percent of the student body showed up over three days to approve the measure.

President Earl H. Potter III confirmed the vote yesterday and  promised students and faculty he has no intention of cutting any sports. In the meantime, administration and the athletic department will work with boosters and corporate partner to strengthen revenue streams.

As a St. Cloud State student, it might’ve been easier to vote no. The increase is capped at 12 credits, so no full-time student will pay more than $41.76 for a school year. Still, that’s $167.04 over four years alongside increasing tuition and book prices and shrinking faculties and course offerings. As part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, SCSU’s academic budget will be cut four percent in 2011 alone.

For those of you keeping score at home, college students, in general, are paying more to receive less than ever before. But don’t feel sorry for St. Cloud State students, because at least they still have Husky football.

I wish President Potter would’ve taken the heavy handed approach and said something like,

“No more. While we honor the 88-year history of our football program, we cannot expect to burden students with more fees unless their investment is fruitful. Just 100 men among our 20,000 students play football, and I can’t fathom more than a dozen will continue on to playing or coaching careers. This is a new era for St. Cloud State University, but we will go on without football. We are a proud state institution, and what does or doesn’t happen for a few hours each Saturday afternoon in the fall won’t harm our reputation. This is in the best interests of the students and the school.”

Yeah, right.

Did I mention I’m a huge college sports fan? Basketball, especially. Don’t think I was one of those bitter jerks who didn’t support his college’s athletic program. I did. Faithfully. But had the athletic program just gone and disappeared, each and every sport, I would’ve been fine. I went to college to get a degree. I’m reminded of how expensive it was each month when I cut a check to payback my student loans. A percentage of that debt came from student fees, paid out over five years and dispersed to clubs, organizations and causes I couldn’t begin to name.

If SCSU students are content with paying up so young men can play a sport, so be it. I suppose that’s honorable and part of a liberal state of mind I generally respect.

My only question is what if the library had been in peril? What if the debate team was on the verge of extinction or the theatre department was drying up? What if the student newspaper could no longer afford printing costs?

Kudos to SCSU students for delving deeper into their student debt, so long as that charitable nature exists when other groups need it, too.

No, Really — The Timberwolves Make a Great Anniversary Date

I follow Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Anthony Tolliver on Twitter on the good advice of my friend Joe Eckert, who attended Creighton along with Tolliver and good vouch he was “a good dude.”

Maybe you’ve heard of Tolliver. Shortly after LeBron James told the world he was “taking his talents to South Beach” on ESPN’s one-hour special, The Decision, Tolliver took to YouTube tell tell the world he was going to play for the Wolves:

Yesterday was mine and my girlfriend’s third anniversary. Money’s been tight, so I had to get creative to come up with a date. Luckily, my girlfriend is a sports fan. I was aware Tolliver gives away home tickets via Twitter whenever the Wolves are in town. That said, I kept close watch on Twitter all day, until:

Bingo! So, I responded as quickly as possible:

Though I wasn’t the first to respond, Tolliver decided to give Beth and I the tickets anyway, given it was our anniversary. We sat in Section 133, Row H, just a few rows from the Timberwolves’ bench. We were surrounded by wealthy season-ticket holders, players’ friends, players’ girlfriends, players’ wives and players’ mistresses. So romantic.

Awesome game, too. Both the Los Angeles Clippers and Wolves are more likely to make the NBA Draft Lottery rather than the NBA playoffs, but there was plenty of young talent on the court, including several players from the vaunted high school recruiting class of 2007. From the Timberwolves (with their Rivals.com class ranking): Michael Beasley (No. 1), Kevin Love (No. 6), Kosta Koufos (No. 16) and Jonny Flynn (No. 22), who is injured. From the Clippers, Eric Gordon (No. 2), DeAndre Jordan (No. 8) and Blake Griffin (No. 23). These players have competed against one another for years now, so it made for an entertaining match-up.

How’d it shake out? The Wolves won 113-111 after Beasley hit a game-winning shot with 2.3 seconds left. We had a great view, too:

So, nothing but good vibrations from this new Timberwolves convert. I love the product on the floor right now, even if the team is too young to reach the postseason.

I also appreciate my girlfriend, who is willing to put up with a guy who, in desperation mode to take her on a date, resorted to Twitter and the uncommonly good nature of an NBA player.

In Defense of Brad Childress and Player Accountability

This photo was taken, appropriately, from firechilly.com, which was established in 2008.

The Minnesota Vikings eked out a 27-24 overtime victory yesterday against the Arizona Cardinals, despite trailing by 14 with under four minutes remaining. At least for now, head coach Brad Childress and the Vikings have life.

Thousands of fans missed out on the late-game theatrics because they’d long left the Metrodome before Ryan Longwell’s 35-yard field goal sealed the win. Of course, those fans were probably exhausted from spending a better part of the game booing at any and every chance. Those same fans probably came with their “FIRE CHILDRESS” signs and T-shirts, as if attending a protest and not a football game. Those same fans actually wanted their team to lose just so they could be adieu to the mustachioed one.

You know how other fans decry the Vikings fan base? Call them fair-weather fans? Easily on and off the bandwagon? This is why.

I know fans who hoped the Vikings would sandbag it yesterday, purposely lose, just so that coach Childress would be fired. Never mind the Vikings are still technically in the playoff chase. Never mind an NFL lockout looms after this season, meaning the Vikings may not play a meaningful season for two years. Never mind the Vikings have the talent to win now, and only get better this week when star wide receiver Sidney Rice returns from injury. A division of Vikings fans wished failure for their team just to have a different coach at the helm, virtues be damned.

Childress has made for a convenient target all season, despite some serious shortcomings by players like Brett Favre, Jared Allen, Phil Loadholt and the entire defensive secondary. Then there’s the Randy Moss debacle. Childress turned fans’ disappointment to fury last week when he decided to waive the future Hall of Famer after a series of tirades and perceived poor effort on the field. Many felt he not only should’ve informed ownership of this decision, but he should’ve consulted the fans, as well.

Please. This isn’t the St. Louis Park Pee-Wee Football League. If Favre throws a pick-six, that’s Favre’s fault. If Asher Allen whiffs trying to tackle something called “Danny Woodhead,” that’s Allen’s fault. If the Vikings defensive line is made to look like an elementary school recess with it’s paddycake pass rush, that’s the defensive’s lines fault. Coaches are responsible for putting players in a position to succeed. Coach Childress put basically all of the same players in the same position last year on the way to a 12-4 season. Don’t kid yourself — that this team is 3-5 has nothing to do with a shift in strategy or philosophy, but rather execution. Until there was 3:34 left in yesterday’s game, the Vikings looked like a team waiting for something good to happen.

Then, finally, they made it happen.

Speaking on Vikings fans after the game, Childress said, “I think they came expecting to see an execution, and it ended up a pretty good football game at the end.”

Childress isn’t off the hook. In fact, nothing short of the most improbable Super Bowl win could bring Childress back for another go-round. I’m not arguing to bring Childress back, either.

As fans, consider who you’re shooting at before drawing your bow. In fact, make sure you’ve got more than one arrow, because this year’s futility has been a group effort. No matter how poorly Childress has coached — and his blunders are plentiful — it hasn’t impacted a single player’s ability to perform at a high level. Don’t kid yourself there.

“Do I always get along with my head coach, quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator? No,” Favre said. “Do I always agree with the plays that were called? No. Why should that factor in to me wanting to be the best player I can be?

“It is easy to point blame at this person and that person. To say the coach, coordinator, running back or quarterback is at fault is being a coward.”

Fans, take note.

I’m Pledging Allegiance to the Minnesota Timberwolves

The No. 1 reason I'm becoming a Timberwolves fan? Kevin Love. Have you seen him outlet pass?

I’ve been an Orlando Magic fan now for 18 years, dating back to Shaquille O’Neal’s rookie season. Growing up, I had a mural of Shaq on my wall featuring him flying over Florida palm tree with a Superman cape on. I owned all of his rap albums. I owned his video game, Shaq-Fu. I had his No. 32 Magic jersey in blue. I went to Kazaam in theaters the nigh it opened. When he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, I bawled. I hated Shaq and remained a Magic fan.

I’m still a Magic fan, but I’m wondering what it takes to transfer your allegiance to another team. That’s generally considered jumping on another bandwagon, but so be it. I never liked the Magic based on proximity and frankly, I feel like I should be supporting the local ball club. They have no bandwagon.

I watched the entire Minnesota Timberwolves game last night — the first time I’ve watched a full T-Wolves game when they weren’t playing the Magic. They’re awful, but in the cutest way possible. Last night, they lost at home despite scoring 116 points against a team playing without their two best players. Kevin Love, probably the best player on the Timberwolves, played just 23 minutes and sat the last eight despite earning a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) by halftime. This is one hot mess of a team that you can pay just a few bucks to see in person.

Last night got me thinking about Bill Simmons, the closest thing the sportswriting world has to a rock star. Simmons writes long-winded columns for ESPN.com, often riddled with obscure pop culture references as glue for his fragmented rants. Still, he’s managed to make a 700-some page book about basketball a best-seller. He must be doing something right.

Simmons and I suffer a similar affliction. He’s based in Boston where he makes no bones about his pro sports leanings. He’s a Red Sox and Patriots fan to the core, but when it comes to basketball, he actually chooses the putrid Los Angeles Clippers over the vaunted Boston Celtics. What gives?

On Dec. 1, 2004, Bill Simmons declared himself a Clippers fan for the good of the franchise. He wrote,

“After the Patriots and Red Sox won titles within a nine-month span, I found myself without any remaining challenges as a fan. I had climbed every mountain. I was like Garry Shandling after the final “Larry Sanders” show, at a complete loss for how to top what just happened. So I decided to go the Jack Morris route. I became a hired gun. I brought my winning résumé to a franchise that always loses. That’s right … I became a Clippers season-ticket holder. Only one outcome would be more improbable than the Sox winning the Series: The Clips winning a series.”

Simmons actually has the fan equivalent of dual citizenship. He’s a Clippers and Celtics fan. In fact, last spring, he started a new Twitter account — @CelticsChants — for the sole purpose of leading the Celtics crowd at TD Garden in heckling.

I won’t paint switching to a lesser team martyrdom like Simmons did. Sorry Orlando, but I’m doing it. Maybe not all at once, but I’m becoming a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. That means reeling through seasons of futility — like this one — and getting to know exciting young players, like Anthony Tolliver and Nikola Pekovic. It means calling for the coach’s head — watch it, Rambis — and plastering message boards with anti-David Kahn sentiment. It means tempering the shit out of expectations, which is second nature for fans of any Minnesota pro sports franchise.

I can do this.

Unlike Simmons, I bring no “winning resume” as a fan. I was barely eating solid foods when the Twins won their last World Series and the Vikings — well, you know. I did stay a Florida Gators fan after Mitchell, S.D.-native Mike Miller played there, so I get their back-to-back college basketball titles in 2006 and 2007. I was a Tiger Woods fan. The Michigan Wolverines split a title with Nebraska in 1997. That’s my track record and it’s not about to get any better.

I’m no Bill Simmons, but I want to be a voice for the Minnesota Timberwolves fan base. (All 13 of us.) Pro sports are about entertainment. Last night, I couldn’t look away from a squad that went 15-67 last year. This is going to be a fun ride.