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OK, I’ll admit I was simply rationalizing when I suggested that there’s a big football game in Minneapolis on Sunday, but does anybody care? Of course we care. We want to see it be a good game, and the state of Minnesota make a positive impression for all the millions that have been spent to prepare the entire city of Minneapolis to kiss up to the NFL.
It is interesting that suddenly, with the disclosure than New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has family roots in Browerville, Minnesota, and comes to our fair state every summer to reconnect, there is a softening of the scorn football fans outside of New England generally have for the win-too-much Patriots.
There is also the rude behavior stuff Philadelphia fans have been accused of by Vikings fans who were not treated with any hospitality, or even civility, when the Vikings went out and disassembled themselves in front of Eagles fans and a national TV audience. It was 38-7, remember?
The pain of Vikings fans might be soothed a little watching — for those who watched — Adam Thielen gather in a Drew Brees pass and scored a touchdown in the Pro Bowl last Sunday. We were further heartened when Harrison Smith intercepted a pass, as he often does, and returned it 79 yards for another touchdown, which he has never done, as the NFC stormed to a 20-3 halftime lead. It was not to be, however, as the AFC came back to swipe a 24-23 victory from the NFC. Do we think the Vikings jinxed the Pro Bowl, too?
It has been interesting to listen to Twin Cities based talk shows discussing how the Vikings, who have somewhere between three quarterbacks — Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford — or none — they are all free agents. It was flat astounding to listen to these strangely misguided souls suggesting the Vikings should let them all walk and use whatever it takes to lure Drew Brees away from New Orleans to the Great White North.
It is heartening to see the entire Twin Cities, if not the whole state, rally to put on a strong supporting show for all the outdoor concerts and hypothermia-inducing activities leading up to the Super Bowl. I really care nothing for all that hype, even though I plan to enjoy the game, for what it’s worth. And what it’s worth is a match between the Patriots, who are heavily favored, and the Philadelphia Eagles, who are huge underdogs.
If there’s one thing the Vikings fans learned, however, is that true, your team must play its “A” game at playoff time, but whether you do or not, do not dismiss the Eagles just because their backup quarterback is Nick Foles, and he’s not good enough. In fact, he is good enough, and I think he and the Eagles will win Sunday’s game.
Foles was an outstanding quarterback when he first came into the NFL, but strange things tend to happen to quarterbacks and he got relegated to backup duty. When Carson Wendt broke his leg and was lost for the season, I was as guilty as anyone for assuming Foles would represent a letdown from Wendt, and the Eagles would have little chance of reaching the Super Bowl. But once the Vikings got into the NFC championship game, and I was quite certain they would win it, I did reserve a pocket of concern that Nick Foles has gotten comfortable taking the Eagles snaps and he could be a problem.
He completed 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings in that 38-7 debacle. And despite the focused ineptitude shown by the Vikings that day, their defense was not only No. 1 in the NFC, but it is a far, far better defense than the New England Patriots can put into formation to try to stop Foles. Naturally, we’re all impressed with the poise and skill of Tom Brady, but he must now go against an aroused Eagles defense that took the Vikings apart and chased Case Keenum all over the field. Brady might want to buy steak dinners at JD Hoyt’s or Manny’s for his entire offensive line the night before the big game.
UMD WOMEN HIT PEAK
It seems unfortunate that the UMD women’s hockey team is so close to the end of the regular season. The Bulldogs, after struggling against St. Cloud State and looking comfortable in the lower reaches of the WCHA, rose up and played their absolute best game last Friday to knock off No. 5 Ohio State 4-1,
Katerina Mrazova, Jalyn Elmes, Sydney Brodt and Naomi Roggi all scored goals as the Bulldogs responded to the Buckeyes gaining a 1-1 tie in the second period by rattling off three straight goals, and simply holding off the Buckeyes.
The real shocker came Saturday afternoon. From the outset, it appeared the Bulldogs had spent so much emotional and physical energy Friday that they had nothing left Saturday. Easy passes were mishandled, and frequent turnovers let Ohio State keep constant pressure on Jessica Convery in the UMD nets.
She was capable of handling it all, and only Tatum Skaggs, OSU’s goal-scoring star, scored midway through the second period. UMD’s inability to muster enough energy to pull a cohesive attack together made it look like a 1-0 loss was inevitable.
But freshman Anna Klein, from Edina, playing on UMD’s second line, looked like a seasoned veteran at 3:52 when she was wide to the right of the Ohio State goal, gathered in the rebound of a center-point shot by Mrazova, and drilled a narrow-angle shot into the net for a 1-1 tie. It was her second goal of the season.
The Buckeyes went back to outshooting UMD 13-4 in the third period, and 32-25 for the game, and with 5:30 remaining in the third period, the Buckeyes dropped back to regroup with a D-to-D pass in their own end. Lauren Boyd caught the pass, but as she stepped back, the disc turned elusive. She left it a step behind, and a UMD player, coming in to forecheck, pounced on it.
It was, believe it or not, the same Anna Klein, Edina freshman, who gained possession and walked up the slot, rifling a shot over the shoulder of star goaltender Kassidy Sauve, and off the right pipe and in. It was the game-winning goal, and it gives Klein three goals for the season, none bigger than that third-period pair against the Buckeyes.
Trying to get home ice is pretty much out of the question, but you never know. The Bulldogs have this weekend off, except for an exhibition against the Whiecaps on Saturday, then they come home to face No. 1 Wisconsin, next weekend, before finishing the regular season at MSU Mankato. Then come playoffs.
The bad news is that the Bulldogs can’t play any better than they did against Ohio State; the good news is, they don’t have to! They can beat anybody if they just duplicate the hustle, puck-sharing and goaltending they had against Ohio State, and they can beat anybody.
GREYHOUNDS STRETCH RUN
Duluth East is also into its stretch drive of a sensational season. After beating Bloomington Jefferson 5-1 last Saturday and blanking Anoka 4-0 on Tuesday night, the Greyhounds are 16-1-3 as they head for Superior and another tough game Thursday, then face a week of home games at Essentia Heritage Center that starts against Elk River Saturday afternoon, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Monday night — remember that 6-6 tie early in the season? — and Lakeville South Thursday night. After that, a final game at Maple Grove on Tuesday, Feb. 13, and it’s Section 7AA playoff time!