Vikings out, Packers in, beware of Titans

John Gilbert

It’s over. The Vikings fizzle and are done, the Packers move on after a narrow escape, Kansas City goes from getting blown out to winning a blowout, and the amazing Tennessee Titans might just be America’s team after their second huge upset in the NFL playoffs.

And Louisiana State made a comeback of its own to whip Clemson for the NCAA title on Monday night, as Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow threw five touchdown passes and ran for a sixth to turn a 17-7 deficit into a 42-25 romp.
And all of that wild and crazy action got done just in time for Hockey Day Minnesota to make an intriguing stop in Minneapolis this weekend — a huge and historical year for the Minneapolis City Conference which has dwindled to one team for all the city schools.

It’s possible that the organizers of Hockey Day Minnesota, at an outdoor rink at Parade Stadium, may not even be aware that this is the 50th anniversary of the only state hockey title ever won by a Minneapolis City Conference team, although all who were at Met Center that weekend will recall Brad Shelstad goaltending the Southwest Indians to a stunning 1-0 overtime victory over defending champion Edina.

So it’s appropriate for all this football to spend its formidable self as a preliminary.
In Minnesota, of course, there is mourning, and legitimate reason for concern about the old gang disintegrating after they left their hearts — and, come to think of it, their shoulders, knees, tendons, muscles and assorted other body parts — in San Francisco. Filled with optimism after upsetting New Orleans the previous weekend, the Vikings planned to run Dalvin Cook right at the 49ers, and let Kirk Cousins pick them apart with his surgical passing game. Instead, a lackluster performance filled with curious plays and a curious game-plan resulted in a 27-10 crunching at San Francisco.

We won’t dwell on it, but they ran Cook nine times for 18 yards, and then never gave him the ball again. Think about it. Shades of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings run a premier running back a few times, and if he doesn’t go 40 or 50 yards to rack up a couple touchdowns, ignore him. The result was the Vikings rushed for 21 yards, to 186 for the 49ers, who had a total yardage edge of 308 to 147. Cousins was 21-29 passing for 172 yards and a quarterback rating of 84.3, while Jimmy Garoppolo was 11-19 for 131 yards and a passer rating of 74.7. Both atrocious in such a big game. Right afterward, a few players started looking at free agency, as did a few offensive and defensive coaches. Well, a new offensive coordinator might arrange for Cook to run wild.

The Packers seemed to be routing the dangerous Seattle Seahawks, but when Russell Wilson started moving his team in the second half, nobody took a deep breath in Titletown. Green Bay led 21-3 at the half as Aaron Rodgers put on a show. But when it was over, and the Packers were able to deprive Wilson of a last bid, the statistics were interesting. Seattle outscored the Packers 20-7 in the second half, and it was nail-biting time in Green Bay.

Rodgers wound up 16-27 for 243 yard and two touchdowns, and a passer rating of 113.7; Wilson — my pick as league MVP — was 21-31 for 277 yards and one touchdown, and a 106.5 passer rating, and it must be noted he also rushed for 64 yards, beating both teammate Marshawn Lynch’s 26 yards and Aaron Jones, who had 62 yards for the Packers.

Look how close the stats were: First downs 23-22 for Seattle; rushing yards 110 Seattle to 109 for Green Bay; passing yards 265 for Seattle to 235 for Green Bay; total yards 375 Seattle to 344 for the Packers; and time of possession went 30:31 for Seattle to 29:29 for Green Bay. The margin of victory could be attributed to sacks, where Green Bay nailed Wilson five times, and allowed the Seahawks to get Rodgers just twice.

Kansas City, heavily favored over the Houston Texans, trailed 24-0 in a shocking first half. Then came back behind Pat Mahomes for an astounding 51-31 triumph. Mahomes was 23-35 passing for 321 yards and five touchdowns, with a QB rating of 134.6. But the unheralded Tennessee Titans, who has shocked defending champion New England the first week, hammered the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens 28-12, running the most potent running back I’ve seen in a decade — Derrick Henry — 30 times for an incomprehensible 195 yards. He didn’t score a touchdown. Didn’t need to. He averaged 6.5 yards a carry. Mark Ingram, wearing Ravens colors, had 6 carries for 22 yards. They must have had a phone hookup to the Vikings!

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore’s quarterback who is so much fun to watch, was 31-59 for a whopping 365 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions, and a passer rating of 63.2., The comparatively unknown Ryan Tannehill was 7-14 for Tennessee, for a mere 88 yards, but two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 109.5 rating.

This weekend, the Packers go to San Francisco and the amazing Titans play at Kansas City, with those two winners heading for the Super Bowl.

When it comes to passer ratings, though, a glance at the college final will indicate why the Cleveland Browns will take Joe Burrow with the first overall draft pick.

He was 31-49 against Clemson in the NCAA title game, for 463 yards and five touchdowns, plus he ran for one, and had a QB rating of 176.3. Clemson’s excellent QB, Trevor Lawrene, was 18-37 for 234 yards, no touchdowns, and a respectable 101.8 QB rating. But the Tigers from LSU beat the Tigers from Clemson and nobody can argue with Burrow winning the Heisman or the NCAA trophy. He is from Ohio, went to Ohio State before transferring to LSU, and probably won’t mind being the next great hope for Cleveland.

Southwest, Gopher star Lives in Duluth now

When Brad Shelstad stood in goal for the purple-clad Southwest Indians back in 1970, it was after he had upset City Conference power and top Region 5 seed Washburn 3-0 in the final to reach the state tournament.
Even though they were undefeated, the Indians were given little chance against Edina’s free-wheeling Hornets in the final. But Shelstad stood in there and made all the saves, as two former goaltenders dueled as coaches — Willard Ikola for Edina and Dave Peterson for Southwest.
Shelstad recalled how his junior year he thought Southwest was the best, and when that team lost in the state semifinals, he said he figured his last shot at a state title had gone south. Turns out, it had gone Southwest, and he made it happen in 1970, as a senior.
Shelstad then went on to play at the University of Minnesota, where he tended goal during the transition from Glen Sonmor to Herb Brooks. As a senior, in Herbie’s second year as coach, he led the Gophers to their first NCAA championship. After his stalwart college career, Shelstad became a coach, and among his stops he was the first coach when New Prague started a hockey program, and later became the first coach at Wadena-Deer Creek, where he coached for 13 years.

When he retired, he and his wife, Sandy, moved to Duluth and they live on the side of the hill out near Congdon. If you can find him, you will enjoy the conversation.