Minnesotans love to love their own players, but they might be even better at hating opposing players. Finding villains is a point of pride we take very seriously.
Blues center Steve Ott is playing that role beautifully in this Wild playoff series. He’s an agitator. He’s a desperate man. He’s a cheap-shot artist. And he isn’t playing particularly well (unless losing the puck on a breakaway is advised. I don’t know. I never played the game, but it seems to be a bad idea).
Minnesota fans have decided that Ott — for good reason — is their latest villain. Maybe, as Jim Souhan says, he isn’t worthy of that status. But whatever he is doing, he is agitating fans; a picture that accompanied Souhan’s column showed a close-up of a seemingly mild-mannered, glasses-and-sweater-wearing, middle-aged Wild fan giving Ott a one-finger salute during Game 3.
Ott isn’t the last villain fans will chose. And he most certainly isn’t the first. I asked readers on Twitter to name their all-time greatest Minnesota sports villains. Here is a sampling of their responses:
@RandBall Todd Bertuzzi
— Angie Andresen (@angieandresen) April 21, 2015
@RandBall The rally monkey
— Aaron Gernes (@aarongernes) April 21, 2015
@RandBall Al Secord
— tjsimplot (@tjsimplot) April 21, 2015
@RandBall Tim Duncan during KG’s heyday. I hated that anyone other than KG could be considered the best PF.
— Tyler Glieden (@gliedt13) April 21, 2015
@RandBall Brad May.
— Steve Skavnak (@steveskavnak) April 21, 2015
@CSwamptown @RandBall Knoblauch. Has to be Knoblauch. Right?
— Mike Rose (@mrosemn) April 21, 2015
@RandBall Dave Hakstol, Mike Eaves, Barry Alvarez, Terry Pegula, the Dutch, whoever scored that goal for Holy Cross, humidity
— Fake Don Lucia (@FakeDonLucia) April 21, 2015
@RandBall pre-2009 Favre was on the list, then after 2009, “we respected him the whole time”
— Scott (@sdreier21) April 21, 2015
@RandBall Bertuzzi is the champion emeritus, but Roy is the current title holder.
— Rand Paul’s Boutique (@cinatyte) April 21, 2015
@RandBall Ed Hightower
— Sam Pokorney (@the_snead) April 21, 2015
@RandBall Phil Cuzzi.
— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) April 21, 2015
@RandBall Bret Bielema pic.twitter.com/BWd0uGLJRc
— Fake Tim Brewster (@FakeTimBrewster) April 21, 2015
The 2015 NFL regular season schedule will be released tonight at 7 p.m. CDT. Both ESPN and NFL Network will also air “schedule release specials” if you’re sick of watching “The Big Bang Theory.”
We have known for a few months now which teams the Vikings, who finished third in the NFC North in 2014, would play this season and where. The Vikings play the NFC West and AFC West this year, in addition to the six games with their own division and two others against other NFC teams.
But we don’t know when the Vikings will play those specific teams. That changes tonight.
Vikings’ home opponents: Bears, Lions, Packers, Seahawks, Rams, Chiefs, Chargers, Giants.
Vikings’ away opponents: Bears, Lions, Packers, Cardinals, 49ers, Broncos, Raiders, Falcons.
This could be nothing. It could be something. When two sides have as much reported tension as do the Vikings and Adrian Peterson’s agent, Ben Dogra, everything is magnified.
So the fact that he chose to post a picture (below) of himself on Facebook on Monday, with the caption “Game on” means people are going to notice. Charles Robinson, who covers the NFL for Yahoo, sure noticed and tweeted it out:
Note #Buccaneers hat on Adrian Peterson’s agent, Ben Dogra. Not sure if this means the gloves are coming off or what. pic.twitter.com/aPvTfogWi8
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) April 21, 2015
Dogra also posted other pics of Peterson’s jersey on what appears to be a wide-open Facebook account.
#vikings agent Ben Dogra also posted this pic on his apparently wide-open Facebook acct. http://t.co/hZm0kKb3FU pic.twitter.com/ruoKHXLYYv
— RandBall (@RandBall) April 21, 2015
I honestly have no idea what he’s doing, but the AP jersey/Bucs hat is a strange combination. It’s been a rough stretch for Dogra, who reportedly recently lost several high-profile clients.
The early going of the first round of next week’s NFL draft could be dominated by pass rushers, with several collegiate sack specialists currently being hailed as top-10 talents by the draftniks.
But then again, three wide receivers are being called top-10 talents by some of those analysts, too. And there are a couple of quarterbacks who will surely go early, as will USC defensive end Leonard Williams. A couple of offensive linemen could come off the board before the Vikings pick, too.
So it’s not out of the question that a really good pass rusher could still be there at pick No. 11.
What might the Vikings do if that happens? In the latest installment of our “Off the Board” series, we tackle that quandary by creating a scenario in which two of the top edge rushers in the eyes of those draftniks make it out of the top 10. Would the Vikings, who return starters in Everson Griffen and Brian Robison, pounce? Read on for our projection of how that scenario could play out.
1. Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. As the draft nears, some of my media peers are hearing rumblings the Bucs aren’t sold on Winston. I’m not buying it. I still think he’s the pick.
2. Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Whether it’s the Titans or some other team, someone is going to select Mariota here. And since we aren’t doing trades this time around, it will be the Titans.
3. Jaguars: Leonard Williams, DE, USC. The Jaguars are probably going to get the chance to select their preferred defender. They may prefer an edge rusher, but let’s give them Williams.
4. Raiders: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. The ghost of Al Davis turns in this pick for the Raiders, who get a tall, fast athlete who some feel has the most upside in this wide receiver class.
5. Redskins: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. We’ve got wide-outs going back to back. The Redskins, who don’t have a short-term need at receiver, still take this smooth pass-catcher.
6. Jets: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. The Jets are the first team to scoop up a pass rusher, adding Fowler to a revamped defensive unit that should be one of the league’s best this season.
7. Bears: Danny Shelton, NT, Washington. The Bears would be tempted by some of these pass rushers, too. But they also need a stout run-stuffer on the inside, and Shelton is the top nose tackle.
8. Falcons: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson. The Falcons are another team in need of a pass rusher, and they can’t resist Beasley, who made a ton of plays on the edge at Clemson.
9. Giants: Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa. The Giants have a history of taking pass rushers in the first round. But in this instance, they pass on one, too, and add a potential Vikings target in Scherff.
10. Rams: Devante Parker, WR, Louisville. The Rams might favor White or Cooper, but they are both gone already. That’s OK, though. Some analysts see Parker as a top-10 talent, too.
11. Vikings: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska. Scherff and Parker, two players linked to the Vikings in mock drafts, are off the board. But the Vikings probably wouldn’t be displeased with how this board fell. Another Vikings target in Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes is still available, as are pass rushers such as Missouri’s Shane Ray and Gregory, who failed a drug test at the scouting combine. Cornerback is a greater need now, but the Vikings, who have done their homework on Gregory, may do backflips if this playmaker tumbles out of the top 10 picks and into their laps.
OK, your turn. Leave a comment to tell me who you would want the Vikings to pick in this scenario.
Each day this week, we will break down where the Vikings stand at certain positions heading into next week’s NFL draft. Today, we continue the series with the offensive line.
The Vikings will have a new starter along the offensive line this season. But who will it be?
They released veteran left guard Charlie Johnson in the offseason, leaving a starting spot up for grabs. It remains to be seen whether David Yankey can seamlessly transition into a starter after spending his entire rookie season on the bench, or if the Vikings find a starter at some point in the draft. If both options fail, the Vikings re-signed veteran Joe Berger as a safety net and won’t be forced to reach on a guard.
It’s almost a guarantee that General Manager Rick Spielman’s draft classes will include an offensive lineman. The only year Spielman hasn’t selected an offensive lineman during his tenure with the Vikings was in 2007. Plenty of mock drafts have the Vikings selecting an offensive lineman in the first round, particularly Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. While Scherff is a talented prospect, the move would be out of the ordinary for Spielman. The only lineman he’s selected in the first round was left tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick.
The Vikings were decimated by injuries along the offensive line last year, particularly on the right side. Right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt both tore their pectoral muscles and were placed on injured reserve. They should be set outside of guard, however.
Projected starters: Kalil at left tackle, Berger at left guard (for now), John Sullivan at center, Fusco at right guard and Loadholt at right tackle.
Don’t forget about: Berger has been a reliable veteran for the Vikings over the past four years. He made nine starts last year and held his own. He’s penciled in as the starter for now at left guard, but the Vikings hope that either Yankey will develop into a starter or they find a starter in the draft.
Level of need: High. It’s among the top three biggest needs along with linebacker and cornerback. They settled on bringing Johnson back last year, and it turned out to be a bad decision. The Vikings didn’t address the need of a left guard in free agency and can’t go into training camp assuming Yankey or Berger will pan out. One of their first three picks next week must be an offensive lineman.
Five prospects to remember: Iowa OT Brandon Scherff, Duke OG Laken Tomlinson, Hobart OG Ali Marpet, Alabama OG Arie Kouandjio and Oregon OT Jake Fisher
Our best guess: The Vikings will pass on selecting an offensive lineman in the first round and look for Day 2 prospects to fill the need at left guard. Tomlinson and Marpet are two guards in this draft to keep an eye on that fit the description. Tomlinson appears to be a second-round pick, while Marpet could slide into the third round.
Midway through the second period of the Wild’s 3-0 victory over St. Louis on Monday, a transformation took place.
A building that was nervous … and a team that was tentative … suddenly united with the rarest of Minnesota displays: confidence.
Some might even call it swagger.
From the point Zach Parise found Jason Pominville for a tap-in goal to the final whistle, that’s what I saw on the ice at Xcel Energy Center. And as someone who wondered going into this game how the Wild and its fans would respond to the pressure of expectations … well, consider me impressed.
The Parise/Mikael Granlund/Pominville line was simply dominant, particularly in that second period. The first goal was set up by great stickhandling by Granlund before great vision by Parise and the easiest finish of Pominville’s life. The second goal was classic Parise, outworking a defensive player in the slot for a loose puck and banging it past goalie Jake Allen in one quick motion.
Still, after Granlund missed a bad-angle tap-in that would have iced the game in the third period, the veteran hockey minds around me concluded that it would be a nail-biter at the finish – that the Blues would score and threaten to tie.
These folks have seen a lot of Wild games. They’ve seen a lot of Minnesota sporting events. It’s a natural reaction. But again, there was that swagger.
The Wild closed it out with ease, never being threatened before adding the empty-netter that sealed the deal with 2 minutes left. Minnesota gave up just 17 shots all game. Vladimir Tarasenko, one game after notching a hat-trick, was a minus-3 and had zero shots.
If that wasn’t enough confidence for you, how about Jason Zucker, one of the smallest Wild players, mixing it up with every Blues player he could find – including one shift in the second when he and Alex Pietrangelo jabbed at each other for at least 20 seconds.
Or Matt Dumba, playing in his first playoffs, laughing at Blues chief goon Steve Ott for whiffing on a check near the Wild bench.
Or even the Wild fan on the giant scoreboard hoisting a faux Stanley Cup.
After the game, Wild coach Mike Yeo had the most #Minnesotan quote ever: “We have pretty decent confidence that we’ve been working a long time to get.”
This confidence … it’s so unfamiliar. Maybe we could all get used to it?