Monday

10-5-09: My Four-for-Four Weekend

Hello again everybody...

It's Monday, and that begs the question:

How was your weekend?

Though some of you might believe today's column-title implies that my college football picks went well, that's not what it means at all (though they did just fine).

No, instead, I'll regale you with the tale of the games I attended this weekend, and how each of them turned out nearly perfectly for your humble correspondent.

And though I hate to break with tradition, I'll have to disappoint some of you by delaying my usual Monday Post-Mortem column until Wednesday. I wanted to get it in today, but describing the weekend just took too long.

Will you forgive me? I thought you might...

”An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, stays bought.”
Simon Cameron (1799-1889), American politician


Interesting theory. Of course, it was put forth by a man who served as Secretary of War for President Lincoln, until Lincoln asked for his resignation whilst describing him as “a man so corrupt, the only thing he wouldn't steal is a red-hot stove”. So I guess you could say that Cameron knew wherefore he spoke.

And speaking of President Lincoln, this gives me the chance to remind you that the fourth and final installment of ”The Gettysburg Files” awaits your perusal here. For those of you who've been waiting for the series to be complete before beginning to tackle it, now is your time. Just remember, the posts are situated with the newest being on top. So to start at the beginning, scroll to the bottom.

Clear enough? Okay, moving on...

«Read More...»


Four-for-Four

I had about the best sports weekend a guy could ask for. And while technically, there are more sports associated with the weekend to come, those which I would be in attendance for, are over.

Allow me to explain...

At least once every fall, I take a Friday off to enjoy the wonder that is High School football. My younger (and he would say smarter and more attractive – I might give him more attractive, but it's close) brother is a coach in the Maple Grove football program. He's the head coach of the 9th grade squad, and an assistant with the varsity team.

So this past Friday, I made my way up to one of the side fields at Maple Grove High School to watch the 9th graders do battle with Anoka's freshman squad. It didn't go well early.

A lack of execution combined with weather-induced turnovers lead Anoka to a 14-0 lead at the half. But through an inspirational (so he claims) halftime speech and some clever coaching (again, his claim) in the second half, Coach Cook had Maple Grove on the cusp of a comeback victory, leading 20-14 with a little over a minute left.

Then came a curious series of events. First, Maple Grove intercepts an Anoka pass. My brother then asks the referee how many timeouts Anoka has remaining. He's told they have two. With only two time outs, Maple Grove can take a series of knees and run out the clock. So Coach Cook sends in the “victory formation” and his quarterback dutifully takes a knee resulting in Anoka taking their first time out.

What's that you say? “First” timeout? But how could it be their “first” timeout, if they only have two left? I'll tell you how... The referee screwed up.

After Maple Grove's quarterback took his knee and after Coach had signaled for a second one, the referee turned to him and said, “I'm sorry Coach, they had three timeouts. Now they have two.”

Woops.

That changes the strategy a little bit. It being too late to change the 2nd down play, Maple Grove's quarterback took another knee. Anoka stopped the clock again. Now it's third down. Coach Cook tells his quarterback, “go out there, fake like you're taking a knee, and then run a quarterback sweep, and whatever you do STAY IN BOUNDS.” That worked just fine, running the clock down to about thirty seconds. Anoka took another quick timeout and now it was fourth down.

It had been raining all day. Maple Grove had a punt blocked earlier in the game. So the punt was out. This is where Coach Cook got crafty. He told his quarterback, “Don't take a knee. Instead I want you to drop back, run around, kill as much time as you can, and when I yell, 'NOW', I want you to run out the back of the endzone”.

That would result in a safety making it 20-16, and would require Maple Grove to free-kick it to Anoka. But it should kill enough time to make that kick the last play of the game. Interesting strategy, no? Here's how it actually played out...

The quarterback took the snap, and ran around as directed. But when Coach yelled, “NOW”, his quarterback took a knee... on Maple Grove's 12 yard line... with 3 seconds left. Oh my. I guess that part about “don't take a knee” somehow translated to “take a knee” in the quarterback's mind.

So now Anoka has one play left. If they score and convert a PAT, they win.

Fortunately for the Crimson, Anoka's pass was batted down and the game ended on a harmless incompletion.

So you want to be a football coach, eh? Oof.

But I was one-for-one in wins at sporting contests which I attended.

Which brings us to Friday night...

See, it's not just my brother's game that I attend when I take that day off. I always try to make it a 9th grade/Varsity double-header. And Friday night's varsity game just so happened to be Maple Grove's homecoming... against their staunchest rival, the Osseo Orioles.

Which left me with a conundrum. You see, I attended Osseo High School (Class of '92) before there even was a Maple Grove High School. So where would my allegiances lie? With my family? Or with my Alma mater?

Actually, the decision wasn't all that difficult. Though I have several close friends whom I met through school (and I apologize if they dislike my reasoning here), I wasn't overly fond of my high school years. The reasons why are many and not terribly interesting, so I won't belabor the point. Suffice to say, family far outweighed the Alma mater in this instance. So I was guilt-free in my decision to don the Crimson and Gold and walk the Maple Grove sideline as a guest.

As it turned out, the game was nail-bitingly close. As the defensive stops mounted, it seemed like the first team to score a point would win the game. That turned out not to be the case.

Regulation ended in a 0-0 tie. Now, that may sound like a dull game to many of you. But to those of you who truly enjoy the ins and outs of football, you'll understand when I say it wasn't dull at all.

Both defenses made huge plays to stop drives which appeared destined to result in points. Turnovers weren't plentiful, but those that happened were critical.

In the end, it came down to overtime. Maple Grove got the ball first, and on what was a busted sweep, scored when the quarterback found a seam and took it ten yards to the endzone. After the point-after was converted, it was Osseo's turn.

The Orioles struggled on first and second down, but executed a brilliant fade route on third down to bring the score to 7-6, Maple Grove with the lead.

Often in these situations, when a team is on the road, or feels it has any kind of disadvantage, a coach will call for a two-point conversion to try and win the game right there. In Friday's case, Osseo had no choice. Their holder had been injured on Maple Grove's touchdown, and the weather conditions were such that trusting a back-up wasn't anything you could consider.

So the Orioles lined up and went for two. Their sweep to the right failed however, and Maple Grove won the game 7-6 in dramatic fashion.

That made me two-for-two.

Then came Saturday. A friend of mine is a Gopher football season ticket holder. When he told me he'd purchased season tickets for this years inaugural season in TCF Bank Stadium, I was happy for him. When he told me that he'd be more than happy to sell me his tickets for the Wisconsin game, I was downright thrilled.

I made my purchase and presented the second ticket to my brother as his birthday gift (his actual birthday is a couple weeks off yet, but the Big Ten schedule makers apparently failed to take this into account).

So off we went to “The Bank” for our first game inside the new stadium. TCF Bank Stadium holds slightly over 50,000 fans for a football game. And while that seems like a large number, when you consider that there are three stadiums in the Big Ten which hold over twice that much, you'll understand what I mean when I call it, “cozy”. It's a beautiful facility with great sight lines. It just feels a little small for big-time college football. The University built it small on purpose. The idea being to reduce supply in order to drive up demand. A theory which makes nothing but sense.

So congratulations on your nice little stadium Minnesota. Once you draw enough people to justify adding the 30,000 or so additional seats that you plan to, you'll have enough of a “big boy” stadium to rival even Camp Randall! Maybe...

But I digress...

The Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe itself was fantastic. Wisconsin converted an early turnover into points, and led 7-0 in the first quarter. Minnesota fought back and after a touchdown of their own and a smattering of field goals, the halftime score was 13-10, Gophers.

That was the last lead Minnesota would hold.

Wisconsin found their running attack at halftime and rushed for the bulk of their 295 yards on the ground in the second half.

I've been predicting that running back John Clay would be a beast for the Badgers this season, but it took until the fifth game for him to make good on my prognostication. He gashed the Gophers for 184 yards and three touchdowns.

But it wasn't a walk in the park for the Badgers. Despite Wisconsin's 13-2 record against Minnesota in the last 15 years (including the last six in a row), playing the Gophers rarely qualifies as “easy” for the Badgers.

Wisconsin was up 24-13 in the fourth quarter, and driving for a back-breaking score to finish Goldy off when a curious thing happened. Instead of handing the ball to Clay, as Wisconsin had done with such impressive success, Coach Bielema sent in running back Zack Brown to help ice the game. Unfortunately, Zack forgot the ball control lessons that coaches have been trying to drill into his head for two weeks and fumbled the ball.

But it wasn't any ordinary fumble. No, the ball came out, and took two hops into the waiting arms of Gopher defensive back Marcus Sherels who proceeded to run 88 yards in the opposite direction to make the score 24-21 after Minnesota converted a 2-point play.

Joy.

Now what was a seemingly assured win was turning into a nightmare before my very eyes.

Fortunately, the Badgers maintained their composure and put together a critical drive, including a brilliant call of a naked bootleg, which quarterback Scott Tolzien executed to perfection, resulting in a 47-yard gain. John Clay finished the drive off, and the Badgers led 31-21 with three minutes left.

Game Fin, no?

No.

Weber-to-Decker for 40 yards was followed by Weber-to-Tow-Arnett for 38 yards was followed by Duane Bennett rushing for one yard into the endzone. And in 47 seconds, Minnesota had cut the lead to 31-28.

So all Wisconsin had to do was make a couple of first downs and run out the clock right? As ESPN's Lee Corso would say, “not so fast, my friend”.

The Gopher defense finally found their collective spine and held Wisconsin to a three-and-out, leaving me a nervous wreck.

Minnesota managed to pick up a huge first down on a 3rd-and-18 play to begin me wondering why there was life on this planet.

Then Badger linebacker Blake Sorensen reminded me why. His sack of Gopher QB Adam Weber forced a fumble which was recovered by his mate Chris Borland and sealed the win for Wisconsin.

We went from “tight game” to “potential blowout” back to “tight game” and eventually to “Badger win”. It was exhausting, but an amazing amount of fun.

Two lines so humorous I had to include them: first, kudos to your favorite Sports Take guest-columnist, The Hammer, for this little nugget that I turned into my Saturday Facebook status - “Tomorrow's headline: Bucky robs Bank, uses Axe in stick-up”. And secondary kudos to WCCO-TV's Mike Max for using said headline (which I texted to him as a taunt) as the lead to the story on Saturday's 6pm sports!

Secondly, a t-shirt we saw displayed amongst the Wisconsin faithful at the game read: “Minnesota – Native American for 'We Suck at Football'”. Now that's comedy ladies and gentlemen!

Bucky's win made me three-for-three in what I thought would be my final sporting event attendance of the weekend. But fate had other ideas in mind...

After getting home, I got a text from my Uncle Greg which said, “Hey Dan, I've got an extra ticket to the Twins game tomorrow (Sunday). Would you like to go?”

The final regular season game at the Metrodome? The Twins with a chance to win a Central Division Title and cement one of the great comebacks in recent baseball history? Umm, yes please!

So it was down to the Dome on Sunday to watch the Twins versus the Kansas City Royals.

The Twins sent Carl Pavano, who'd been so-so against Kansas City this year, to the mound while the Royals countered with Luke Hochevar. Hochevar, to borrow a phrase, is I believe Native American for “I can't pitch very well”.

Hochevar lived up to his billing as he walked Denard Span to lead off the bottom of the first. Span promptly stole second. After Orlando Cabrera was unable to move Span to third, Hochevar gladly threw 4 pitches nowhere in the vicinity of home plate to walk Joe Mauer.

With first base open and one out in the inning, I'd have walked Mauer too. What I wouldn't have done is followed that up by throwing a cookie to Jason Kubel on the first pitch which he proceeded to deposit in the right field seats for a 3-0 Twins lead. But that's just me.

Luke “I can't pitch very well” wasn't done there though. Delmon Young was the next Twins batter and sent another batting practice fastball hurtling into the left field seats to make it 4-0 Twins after one inning.

That's as close as the Royals would get for the rest of the game. Which isn't to say that the game lacked drama.

First off, we were all monitoring the Detroit/Chicago contest which began an hour earlier than the Twins game. If the Twins held their lead, and the White Sox finished off a sweep of Detroit, the Twins would be Central Division champs. I can honestly say that Sunday was the only time I've ever heard the chant “Let's go White Sox (clap-clap, clap-clap-clap)” in the Metrodome. Amazing.

Alas, it was not to be.

In fact, shortly after learning that Detroit had finished off a 5-3 victory over Chicago, came the second little bit of drama for the Twins.

Carl Pavano had as good a 5 and two-thirds innings coming on 3-days rest as anyone had a right to expect. But after Alex Gordon smashed a home run which is still orbiting somewhere near the International Space Station I believe, it was clear that Pavano had given everything he could.

So with the score 8-4 Minnesota, Pavano was relieved by Bobby Keppel. Well perhaps “relieved” isn't quite the right word.

Keppel “replaced” Pavano and got exactly nobody out, giving up singles to Luis Hernandez and Willie Bloomquist, putting runners at the corners, still with two outs.

Out came Keppel, in came lefty-specialist and former Royal, Ron Mahay... who proceeded to plunk Mitch Maier squarely in the back and load the bases.

Out came Mahay and in came Big Jon Rauch. That's right. He's not just “Jon Rauch”. When you're 6'11, 291 pounds and sport a neck tattoo, you become “Big Jon Rauch”. Big Jon Rauch needed only four pitches to strike out Billy Butler and end the threat in the 6th. I'm considering a neck tattoo of my own in his honor.

(Just kidding, mom. Mostly...)

Mix in two Orlando Cabrera RBI-doubles, a rare Matt Tolbert RBI-double, and a fitting 2-run Michael Cuddyer bomb to left and the Twins pulled away to a comfortable 13-4 victory.

Their win, along with Detroit's, brings us right back to where we were one year ago. The Twins have to play Game 163 to earn a berth into the playoffs.

This time, however, Major League Baseball has smartly amended their rules. No more coin-toss garbage. This year, the team with the better series-record hosts the play-in game. And since the Twins took 11 of 18 from the Tigers this year, that means that Sunday wasn't the last “regular season” game at the Metrodome after all.

(Aside: MLB rules dictate that statistics from any play-in game are counted towards “regular season” records, ergo, the game is a de facto “regular season” game.)

But regardless, the Twins win left me Four-for-Four on the weekend, and feeling pretty darned good about life in general (sports can do that, you see).

I owe a big thanks to my Uncle Greg and Aunt Colleen for offering me the chance to get a fourth win. Thanks, it was a wonderful time!

Though my attending games over Minnesota's Sports Armageddon Weekend is over, the sports themselves are not.

First, there's the small matter of Monday Night Football tonight, with future Hall of Famer Brett Favre facing the Green Bay Packers for the first time. Think one or two people are going to be watching tonight? I hear ESPN has a pool on how big the rating's going to be. If the game is good enough, even they might be surprised.

Then there's Game 163 tomorrow afternoon. Set your reminders now, Twins fans. First pitch is at 4:05pm and the game will be on TBS (check your local listings). Scott Baker (15-9, 4.36) takes the hill for the Twins versus Detroit's Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.04). Baker's 1-1 in four starts versus the Tigers with a 6.75 ERA. Porcello is 1-2 in four starts against the Twins with a 3.09 ERA.

The last two times Porcello has started against the Twins? Minnesota's won both games.

Baseball's a weird game, and nothing is certain. But when your team goes 16-4 in their last 20 games to tie for the Division title, and you're 11-7 against the team you're tied with, I think you can feel some confidence. Not cockiness. Just confidence.

Game 163. How can you not love baseball?!

That's it for today folks. I'll have your delayed Post-Mortem on this past weekend's college football picks, as well as a new slate of picks for you on Wednesday. I may or may not be discussing baseball depending on how tomorrow's game goes... we shall see.

Until then, thanks for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment