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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: A New England Super Bowl win could mean an awkward trophy presentation

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By Eric Nelson

January 24, 2017

GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Minneapple…

•Robert’s Revenge: The matchup for Super Bowl LI is now set. Atlanta and New England will play for all the marbles at NRG Stadium in Houston on February 5. If the Patriots win, millions of viewers around the globe will be treated to a potentially awkward moment when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell presents the Lombardi Trophy to New England owner Robert Kraft. Because of Deflategate, there once was a Grand Canyon-like rift between Goodell and Kraft. Apparently they have patched things up, but this could be interesting…

•Famous Feuds: Kraft was not happy when star QB Tom Brady received a four-game Deflategate suspension at the start of the season. If circumstances force Goodell and Kraft to share the post-game stage, it could create the most Super tension since Super Bowl XV, when former  Commissioner Pete Rozelle gave the Lombardi Trophy to Oakland owner Al Davis. Rozelle and Davis were in the middle of a bitter battle, as Davis was trying to move the Raiders to Los Angeles against Rozelle and the NFL’s wishes…

•Moot Point: Of course, this could be much ado about nothing. Goodell and Kraft have been chummy before and might be again. If the Falcons win this is a complete non-story, because Goodell will be handing the trophy to Arthur Blank

•Icy Forecast: The Super Bowl weather conditions in Houston include plenty of ice. The moniker for Atlanta QB Matt Ryan is Matty Ice and the public demeanor of New England HC Bill Belichick is downright icy. If Belichick can come up with a defensive scheme to melt Matty Ice, then the Patriots have a good chance to win their fifth Super Bowl…

•Return Trip: This will be New England’s ninth trip to the Super Bowl (an NFL record) and the second time the Patriots have played in Houston. New England won Super Bowl XXXVIII against Carolina 32-29, on a 41-yard field goal field goal by Adam Vinatieri with four seconds to play. That was the infamous Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction game…

•Breakout Performance: A perfect headline for the AFC title game is, Hogan’s a hero in Patriot’s convincing win. WR Chris Hogan had nine receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns as New England pummeled Pittsburgh 36-17 in Foxboro, MA. Hogan is in his fourth season and played at Monmouth college in NJ…

•Typical Game: Atlanta WR Julio Jones had the exact same receiving stats as Hogan (nine catches, 180 yards, two TD’s) in the Falcons 44-21 crushing of Green Bay in the NFC Championship game. Hogan is an obscure talent who is just starting to blossom, while Jones is one of the top wideouts in the NFL who puts up cartoon-like numbers on a weekly basis…

•January Tradition: Twinsfest is this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Target Field. The annual winter event features, behind-the-scene activities, interactive games, memorabilia and appearances by 60 current, former or future Minnesota players…

•Playoffs?: It may seem preposterous to even mention the word playoffs when a team is 16-28, but that’s the current reality for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves have won five of their last seven and are just 2 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Minnesota is part of an eight-team scrum battling for the final post-season spot. Even the LA Lakers (16-32 and last in the West) are only 4 1/2 games back of the Nuggets…

•Weekly Honors: UM-Duluth freshman F Riley Tufte is the NCHC offensive player of the week, while fellow Bulldog Willie Raskob is the defenseman of the week, Western Michigan freshman G Ben Blacker is the goaltender of the week…

•Crane Count: According to the Seattle Times, Seattle is the crane capital of the US. The Emerald City skyline had 62 visible cranes at the end of 2016, the most in the country. Chicago is second with 56 cranes and Los Angeles is third with 29. Ironically the old television sitcom Fraiser, starring Kelsey Grammar as Frasier Crane; took place in Seattle…

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Larry Fitzgerald, Sr.

NFL Final Four: Follow the rings!

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By Larry Fitzgerald
January 19, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

In many ways the NFL playoffs, better known as the Super Bowl LI tournament, is like an Easter egg hunt. When the playoffs begin, just take the Super Bowl Championship rings off the head coaches and quarterbacks, hide them, and let the search begin.

When the Super Bowl rings are found, they will lead you to the survivors. Those survivors are Tom Brady-Bill Belichick, Ben Roethlisberger-Mike Tomlin, Aaron Rodgers-Mike McCarthy, and Matt Ryan-Dan Quinn, better known as the NFL Final Four: 15-2 New England, 13-5 Pittsburgh, 12-5 Atlanta and 12-6 Green Bay. They were the best teams in the league back in July, when the 2016-17 season started with 32.

Yes, 32 dreamers and believers have been reduced to the best, those that have stood up to take the NFL week-by-week survival test. The pretenders are gone: New York, Miami, Detroit, Houston, Oakland, Seattle, Kansas City and Dallas. Of the eight pretenders, only Houston and Seattle won at least one home playoff game.

Seattle, with Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll, have Super Bowl rings also. Houston kept alive their dream of playing a home game Super Bowl until the Patriots showed them reality. If we look closely at the finalists, we see four teams that have traveled different roads on the journey to Super Bowl LI, which will be in Houston, home of NASA,

Last week the powerful film Hidden Figures premiered detailing the story of the space program and how several courageous Black women survived racism, sexism and bigotry in the 1950s and ’60s to support their families and advance this country. I’m convinced that had the film been released a month ago, Donald Trump would not be president-elect.

I am so looking forward to covering my 36th Super Bowl in three weeks. The two teams that win this weekend will be battle-tested. New England at home, the favorite, will play Pittsburgh in their sixth-straight AFC Championship game coached by the great Bill Belichick, who’s 24-10 in the playoffs, the best in NFL history.

The Patriots have won eight straight games. Pittsburgh has won nine in a row coached masterfully by ex-Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin. The Steelers have won six Super Bowls, more than any other team.

Tomlin is 8-5 in the playoffs. Despite what Terry Bradshaw said, he’s an outstanding head coach. The quarterbacks are Tom Brady vs. Ben Roethlisberger, Brady with four Super Bowl wins and Roethlisberger with two.

The NFC Championship game will be the final game ever at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The Falcons are the highest scoring team in the NFL. Led by MVP favorite quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons scored 540 points and have won five in row. Of the four teams left, Ryan is the only QB who has not won or been to a Super Bowl.

The Green Bay Packers, the NFC North Champions, are led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who’s thrown an NFL-high 42 touchdown passes. The Packers have won eight in a row. They have won 13 NFL Championships, more than any other franchise.

These teams are the cream, they are the best, and they played each other in the regular season. New England beat Pittsburgh 27-16 without Roethlisberger at Pittsburgh. Atlanta beat Green Bay 33-32 in a classic at the Georgia Dome.

I have seen them all play. It’s too close to call. However, I’ll do it anyway: Patriots vs. Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

 

Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger

NFL Final Four!

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: On championship Sunday, Atlanta is an NFL oddball

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By Eric Nelson

January 17, 2017

GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of Chex Mix

•Fab Four: The quartet of teams playing on championship weekend is an interesting mix. Green Bay, New England and Pittsburgh have NFL pedigree, tradition and plenty of Super Bowl success. Atlanta, meanwhile, is the oddball of the group. The Falcons have never taken a confetti shower, a champagne bath or hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. They have zero titles…

 

•Trophy Count: The Packers (4), Patriots (4) and Steelers (6) have combined to win 14 Super Bowls. Green Bay (5), New England (8) and Pittsburgh (8) have played on the Super stage a grand total of 21 times. When it comes to stability and tradition, this troika of NFL greatness is the gold standard…

 

•Title-Tested: The Patriots dominance in the so-called “parity era” has been remarkable. New England will be playing in the AFC Championship game for the 11th time since 2001. The Patriots have spoiled their fan base with an incredible run of consistency…

 

•Falcon Futility: As for Atlanta, the closest that franchise came to winning a ring was 1999 when the Falcon’s lost Super Bowl XXXIII to Denver. That remains the pinnacle moment in Atlanta history. The Falcons will be playing in just their fourth NFC title game since joining the NFL in 1966…

 

•Moving Day: Sunday’s Green Bay-Atlanta NFC Championship game is the final event ever at the Georgiadome. Next season the Falcons begin play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium – a $1.5 billion retractable roof venue being built next to the dome…

 

•Mt. Rushmore: The NFL really is a gunslinger league. The four remaining QB’s left are Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. Hard to top that foursome…

 

•Ball Hawks: Two of the NFL’s top wideouts will also be on display when Julio Jones runs pass routes for Atlanta against Green Bay and Antonio Brown does the same for Pittsburgh against New England…

 

•Redemption Time: Brown better have a monster game against the Patriots. Steelers HC Mike Tomlin is not happy with Brown posting Tomlin’s post-game speech on Facebook Live after Pittsburgh defeated Kansas City…

 

•Trending Up: The Minnesota Wild are on an amazing roll. The Wild have won four straight games, eight of their last 10 and have 61 points – most in the NHL’s Western Conference. Minnesota just completed an impressive road trip by winning in Dallas on Saturday and at Chicago on Sunday…

 

•Team Building: At the MLS SuperDraft last week, Minnesota United selected UCLA forward Abu Danladi with it’s top pick. Minn U then chose Wake Forest goalkeeper Alec Ferrell in the second round before trading the twenty-fifth pick to the Philadelphia Union for $50k in 2018 General Allocation Money and the 20th pick in the second round of the SuperDraft. With that choice, the Loons took defender Thomas De Villardi from Delaware. Minnesota United will be an MLS expansion team this year…

 

•Teaming Up: The Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies are sharing a new baseball academy in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. The $18 million, 85,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility has a 45-acre footprint. Twins and Phillies prospects will reside and train at the academy, participate in an education program, and take part in a cultural development program…

 

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Green Bay and Pittsburgh thrive in the January elements

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By Eric Nelson

January 10, 2017

GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of Wheaties…

•Pedigree Teams: Playoff football in Green Bay and Pittsburgh is special. The Packers and Steelers have great tradition and embrace playing in frigid January weather. That was the case on Wild Card weekend as Green Bay crushed the NY Giants 38-13 and Pittsburgh pummeled Miami 30-12. These 4-wheel drive teams thrive in any conditions and can adapt to the NFLements. It is always fun to see Green Bay and Pittsburgh play in the post-season…

•Ratings Bonanza: Next up for Green Bay is top NFC seed Dallas in Arlington, TX on Sunday. FOX has the broadcast and the network has to be drooling about the match up. The Packers and Cowboys have a playoff history and are both global brands. This game will garner huge television ratings…

•Home Run Heave: Aaron Rodgers has a knack for throwing Hail Mary passes – just ask Detroit and Arizona who were victimized by him last season. Apparently the Giants forgot about that because Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb on the final play of the second quarter on a 42-yard miracle touchdown. Somehow, inexplicably, Cobb got behind four New York DB’s and caught the arching pass nine yards deep in the end zone. Rodgers had 362 yards passing and  four TD’s against the Giants, and has 44 touchdown tosses this season. Cobb caught three of the touchdowns and had 116 yards receiving…

•Peaking and Streaking: The Steelers and Packers are scorching hot at just the right time. Pittsburgh has won eight straight games and Green Bay seven. The Steelers play the Chiefs on Sunday in Kansas City and Arrowhead will be rocking…

•Revved Up: New U of M football coach PJ Fleck has more slogans than Ben Franklin and enough energy to light up Dinkytown. Fleck led Western Michigan to a 13-1 record this season, with the only loss coming against Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. Fleck has lofty goals for Minnesota and is taking over a 9-4 team that won the Holiday Bowl. The cupboard is not empty, so there is no reason for the Gophers to not keep winning…

•Trophy Tests: To elevate Minnesota to the next level, Fleck’s Gophers need to defeat Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin on a consistent basis. Trophy games count and Minnesota has had little success against their rivals in the last three decades. Fleck has hit the ground running and has energized Gopher Nation. But, unless he wins, the catchy slogans and fast talk will seem hollow…

•Moving Up:Give the Gopher men’s basketball team credit. Minnesota (15-2/3-1) is ranked 24th in the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll  – the first time since February of 2013 that Minnesota has been ranked. The Gophers are tied for first in the Big Ten with Michigan State, Purdue and Nebraska. The Gophers and Spartans play Wednesday night in East Lansing…

•Playoff Vibe: Should be a lot of fun at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday night when Montreal plays Minnesota. The Canadiens (56 points) and the Wild (55 points) are two of the NHL’s top teams, led by star goalies Carey Price (2.12 goals against average) and Devan Dubnyk (1.80 GAA). Price is fifth in the league in save percentage and Dubnyk is first in save percentage and GAA…

•Quick Turnaround: Minnesota United FC’s first-ever MLS game is March 3 at Portland and the home opener is March 12 against Atlanta FC at TCF Bank Stadium. Minn U has had the shortest ramp up period of any expansion team in MLS history – just seven months. That is a quick turnaround, especially considering that the soccer club has also launched a stadium construction project…

•Weather-Ball: Like the Packers and Steelers, the Loons embrace the elements. The MLS season runs from March to November. They will try and turn Minnesota’s theater of seasons into an outdoor advantage when playing at TCF Bank Stadium and eventually their new soccer specific home in St. Paul….

•Mogul Man: According to the Seattle times, Danny Miller of Carnation, WA has skied at least once for 277 straight months, which is a span of 23 years. Each month – winter through summer and no matter the snow conditions –  Miller hits the slopes. Most of his skiing is in Washington, but he has also skied in Oregon and Canada. Miller says October is the hardest month to find good snow…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Green Bay stuffs some coal into Minnesota’s Christmas stocking

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By Eric Nelson
December 24, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

GREEN BAY – Sports Nuggets from Titletown…

• Heat Wave: It was downright balmy in Green Bay on Saturday as the temperature reached 37 degrees. The not-so-frozen-tundra was partially sunlit and there were probably a few fans wishing they brought sun screen. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings were probably wishing they didn’t make the trip. A convincing 38-25 Packers win and a jet mishap was simply coal in the Purple’s stocking. No happy holidays for the Vikings this year, as they have now lost games on Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve…

•Still Slinging: Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers – who was buried by critics earlier this season after some sub-par performances – proved he still has game. Rodgers gave out some early Christmas gifts to the Lambeau Field crowd of 77,856 by throwing for 347 yards, four touchdowns and running for another, as the Packers (9-6) won their fifth straight game to set up a winner take all NFC North showdown next week in Detroit…

•In Synch: Jordy Nelson caught two of Rodgers touchdown tosses and finished with nine catches for 154 yards. After a sluggish start this year, the Rodgers-Nelson tandem is clearly clicking, which is bad news for opposing defenses…

•Cal Connection: Rodgers last TD toss was a 13-yard-yard laser to Richard Rodgers in the fourth quarter. A Rodgers to Rodgers hookup always makes California fans happy, because both guys played college football for the Golden Bears…

•Purple Punch: As for the Vikings (7-8), they are officially toast and out of the NFC playoff picture. It’s never a good sign when the team jet slides off a snowy Wisconsin runway the night before they play the Packers, and it’s never a good sign when a team barely shows up for a game they have to win. But that has been the case for two consecutive weeks…

•Carved Up: Last week it was Indianapolis rolling to a 34-6 win in Minneapolis, this week it was Green Bay goring the Vikings once vaunted defense. Minnesota has allowed a whopping 72 points in two critical games. Defensive breakdowns in crunch time are a major reason why the Vikings are out of the playoff picture…

•Free Fall: Minnesota’s final game is on January 1 against Chicago at US Bank Stadium as they try to avoid a New Year’s day loss and an 0-4 holiday record. The Vikings need a win just to finish 8-8 – which is hard to believe considering that they started 5-0 and were the NFL’s last undefeated team this year…

•Cartoon-Like Numbers: The bright spot for the Vikings was WR Adam Thielen who had 12 receptions for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately for Minnesota, Thielen’s day was purely cosmetic as Green Bay controlled the game for most of the day…

•Rare Event: The Saturday match up was only the third time Minnesota and Green Bay have played on a Saturday in the regular season. The previous two were 1973 and 1991…

•License to Win: I spotted a Wisconsin license plate on the drive to Green Bay that said, NFL13X – which of course is a reference to the Packers 13 world championships…

•Middle Town: I also discovered on the trip that Cadott, WI is equidistant between the equator and the North Pole. If Santa touches down in Cadott hopefully his sleigh won’t slide off the runway…

 

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Podcast

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Gameday Gold Radio – December 29, 2016 – s.5

From ‘Far Out’ To Just…Out: Vikings Players React to No Postseason

Segment 5: The Vikings went from the last undefeated team to home for the playoffs in 2016.  Last Saturday was the death knell, losing to the Packers in Green Bay.  Eric caught up with CBs Captain Munnerlyn and Xavier Rhodes, along with RB Jerick McKinnon, for reaction on how this season went so wrong.

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Gameday Gold Radio – December 22, 2016 – s.4

Border Battle Implications & College Bowl Prognostications

Segment 4: The Vikings are limping into the second half of their 2016 Border Battle with the Packers.  Meanwhile, are the Pack rekindling memories of a recent Super Bowl run?  And the College Bowl season is underway.  Our hosts make some predictions for the big New Years’ Six bowl games.