Thomas U. Tuttle

One Chilly Minny With Winning Philly

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

They’ve about finished with the Super Bowl preliminaries, shut down most of the free buffets around town, and defrosted a few of Minnesota’s short-term SB guests who have been wandering around town, bundled up, trying to find the music shows and the parties.

While they cope with current temperatures, you can practically hear the West Coasters checking their flights as they prepare to leave our most-hospitable ice box. And they still have to brave the freezing elements to get to the game, and then stand in line (outdoors) while clearing what is sure to be a stiff security check.

The NFL has assured us an expedited yet thorough screening process, which it had better be…

Once the upset is complete – I mean, after the game is over – the Super fans still have to get back to their hotels, or rented mansions, etc… without contracting frostbite. It’s going to be well into the evening and colder than bejeezus, so even finding the limo is going to be tough.

All of this should make you feel better as you sit in front of the big screen, with the giant money you didn’t pay for a ticket still in your pocket and warm food at your disposal.

But of course, I digress Big-Time. The Super Game is upon us, and the moment has arrived to make the important calls. My friend Vito Pastrami has informed me that New England’s Patriots have been installed as 5 point favorites (up from 4 in the last 24 hours) as late professional money is wagered on New England.

The pro’s know that Tom Brady has been The Man, and it doesn’t take a long memory to recognize that fact. Just last year he came back from trailing 28-3 to defeat Atlanta in the fourth quarter, a comeback of such scale never accomplished in the 50-plus-year history of the game.

Yep, he’s amazing…and he’s Going Down this year! Philadelphia’s Eagles have had things lined up well this playoff run and will win Super Bowl LII outright, easily covering the spread and sending Tom Terrific into his 41st birthday with a few new doubts about the future.

Philadelphia, to put it simply, has been tough, durable and resilient in the face of daunting adversity via key injuries. To lose your league-best quarterback (Carson Wentz) at the end of the season and still cruise to playoff victories? Sweet indeed, and not without great skill and performance.

Quarterback Nick Foles is not the only recent starter to step up, just the most obvious. Don’t forget clutch running back Jai Ajayi, who was acquired at just the right time to fill the big shoes of injured star Darren Sproles. And the defense has had to replace star LB Jordan Hicks and rugged lineman Jason Peters, among other moves.

The football mantra at every level is “Next Man Up” which really only carries water when you have the horses to make that cliche work. Nick Foles has been the best QB in these playoffs and Ajayi is, in my mind, one of the keys to knocking out the Champs on Sunday. It is a tribute to Philadelphia’s veterans and coaching staff, as well as the players themselves, that things have worked out exceptionally well.

The Eagles do play better defense than they are given credit for, and their front line – led by the warrior Fletcher Cox – are going to pressure Brady all day and make him pay for everything he gets. Harassing Brady, as noted in a previous column, is the best thing a defense can do against the clutch superstar. In fact, it’s a key to victory

He’s going to show his advancing veteran status this SB as he goes for his 6th ring. If he doesn’t, then New England can pull it off once again. If his offensive line can protect him well, and I mean better than they have all year, Brady can win this game.

After all, the Patriots return over 30 men from last year’s winners. They have done this before, which means a lot. And they win close games, having only outscored their opponents in their seven SB’s 169-157.

And they won five. Pretty amazing.

But Philly has destiny on it’s side and will win it’s first NFL Championship since 1960 in Chilly Downtown Minny. They need this, they deserve this, and they will finally get a TITLE.

Eagles 35, Patriots 21

PS – take the over (48)

(For Recreation Only)

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Patriots Go For Six

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

Tom Brady is going to be 41 years old this August and will be playing in his 8th Super Bowl this Sunday. He’s won five of them, so he already has his “one for the thumb” SB ring and is now working on the other hand.

As has been mentioned many times before, with or without Gisele Bündchen, life is darn good for Tom Brady. And he’s won two of the last three Super Bowls in amazing fashion, including last year’s wild come-from-behind miracle.

I clearly remember his first World Championship, which was back in February of 2002 (SB XXXVI). In that one, Brady collected his first MVP award in a 20-17 victory over the St Louis Rams. Many folks will recall that football game was one of the first major sporting events after 9-11-2001, the day that changed America.

Security was intense at the New Orleans Superdome, as one might expect after our national terrorism nightmare. It was a different experience getting into the game in the Big Easy, a slow process which is now “par for the course” at all big venues and major sporting contests.

Other memories also come to mind – a future Vikings head coach rolling down Bourbon Street in, shall we say, exceedingly rare form. One of my favorite ballplayers of all time, wide-receiver Isaac Holt of the “greatest show on turf,” playing well for the losing squad while on the receiving end of QB Kurt Warner’s throws.

And for the first but far from the last time, Tom Brady moving his Patriots team into field goal range (with no timeouts left) to set up Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal game winner.

U2 was the halftime show, certainly one of the best ever, playing a powerful set that featured a passionate “Beautiful Day” with the names of the people who died in the attack appearing in the background. It was the most powerful moment of any halftime show in history.

The 2001 season was Brady’s first Pro Bowl year, which has been followed by 12 more selections, including every year from 2009 through 2017. He’s the best there ever was, as measured by the numbers, the championships, the longevity, the overall excellence – you name it. And I’m a Joe Montana guy.

So how do you beat him? The New York Giants did it twice, behind Eli Manning and a powerful defense. Michael Strahan always felt that it was up to the defense to press him constantly, get Brady out of his comfort zone, even roughing him up as much as possible (and marginally legal) after the throw.

It worked in those two games, and has to be considered a possible key to a Philadelphia victory. The Eagles showed that they can turn up the defensive heat when they beat the Vikings, and they’re going to need to bring a lot of rough stuff to downtown Minneapolis in SB LII. We know that they have a chip on their collective shoulders and are intent on bringing mayhem – like Fletcher Cox.

But the Patriots don’t fluster easily. How about this statistic: the Patriots have won 10 games in 15 consecutive seasons. Think about that! It’s simply amazing, and a testament to how hard it is to beat these guys given the crucial fact that they know how to win and find different ways to do so. It’s a workmanlike thing for them; they know how to win, never consider themselves out of a game, and have the great Gronk – Rob Gronkowski.

The New England defense is a little down this year, as the numbers indicate. They rank near the bottom in yards per play and overall yards allowed. The secondary has been shaky at times, notably in the season opening loss to Kansas City and the setback against Cam Newton and Carolina. They had no All Pro defenders this year and haven’t made a lot of big plays.

The Eagles are coming off back-to-back 7-9 campaigns, so this is very new for them. They rode the Carson Wentz experience for the best start in the league, and then the rising star went down in unlucky game number 13.

The fans (and Las Vegas) thought reality would surely set in with back-up Nick Foles at the helm, but the veteran has proven that he can play. He’s actually been superb, with playoff numbers among the best in history. One more excellent performance will be a requirement to knock off the defending champions.

Philadelphia needs a few explosive plays.  They must control the ball with the run and short pass, and play stout, smart, aggressive defense… with some QB harassment thrown in.

It can be done, just ask Eli Manning and Michael Strahan. But don’t ask the others because there aren’t any.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Dazed and Confused

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

It was a Philadelphia beat-down this past Sunday, and there’s no other way to frame it.
Studying the 38-7 loss at this point really doesn’t serve a lot of purpose; everyone saw with their own eyes the mauling at Lincoln Financial Field. We will nonetheless take a glance back at the debacle in this column, and will do so with an eye to the future.

In looking at the eventual blowout, even the nastiest beer-swilling, egg-throwing Eagles fan would have to acknowledge this fact; the Minnesota Vikings dominated the first 8:20 of the NFC championship game and looked headed for a possible 14-0 lead when Chris Long (son of commentator Howie) put his big maw in the chest of Vikings QB Case Keenum, who was in full throwing motion.

The ball, intended for Adam Thielen who was open at midfield, floated down like a Bud Grant shotgun-riddled duck before settling in the ready hands of cornerback Patrick Robinson.

Florida State product Robinson showed his great athleticism by weaving and cutting like a running back, following his convoy of Eagles blockers in returning the ball 50 yards for the pick-6. Pow, right to the Vikes chops!

Just like that, a 14 point swing and a 7-7 ballgame. And as we all witnessed, a momentum shift of tsunami proportions.
This was immediately going to be a different ballgame and every person watching this contest had to know it.

(Interestingly, both veterans Long and Robinson were off-season acquisitions of the Eagles, now brilliant-looking hires of NFC executive of the year, Howie Roseman. Chris Long would later recover a key fumble forced by Derek Barnett.)

On the following Purple possession the boys went three and out, kicking to Philly who went 70+ yards for a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. The game was still tight, but now the huge crowd was wild and wooly, Philly-style, and the Vikes needed a response.

After a couple of exchanges, the Vikings moved all the way to the Eagles 16 yard line and were looking capable of tying up the ballgame, particularly because Jerick McKinnon really came to play and displayed his pass-catching and running ability on the drive. But then another disaster struck.

Keenum was sacked and stripped at the 25, with Long pouncing on the pigskin at the 24.
After a series of plays moved the ball to the Philadelphia 47 with 1:20 left, QB Nick Foles (who played solid all day) hit Alshon Jeffery for a 53 yard touchdown that was a huge blow.

But while 21-7 was a big hurt to the Vikings cause, it was what happened right before the half, and immediately after the half, that finished the Purple. The Vikes tried to get in position for a pre-halftime score, but failed and were forced to punt. The Eagles used their momentum to get into field position themselves, moving the deficit to 24-7 with just four seconds left in the half. This game started to feel over…

…and if it wasn’t, Philly took the second half kickoff and drove convincingly for another seven points to make it 31-7. At this point, the fat lady was entering Lincoln Financial Field to sing her song of defeat to Minnesota.

There would be no coming back.

The score would have looked better, and perhaps slightly less embarrassing, if Adam Thielen had made his tough catch for the touchdown late, but even that was not to be.

Speaking of Thielen, 2017 was a revelation and a mild surprise to me. It is the belief here that his talent is no mirage. But this was one solid year and he’ll have things to prove next season. Like a pitcher who cruises through his first starts in the Big Leagues, D-backs in the NFL now are well acquainted with AT and there will be new pressure on the ’17 Pro Bowler.

I’m not sure what the situation is with coaches and the front office regarding receiver Laquon Treadwell, the 23rd pick of the entire 2016 draft, but his uninspiring first two seasons are beginning to look like a blown first round selection. And a miss like Treadwell will definitely hurt a football team.
He had no catches and no targets in Philadelphia. Nada. Big Ouch!

Minnesota will count on Dalvin Cook to return strong following his injury early in the season. He appears to be a special back, with even more upside than he showed. Look for good competition at running back next year given the performance of the current backs, who may want to test the market.

The offensive line will get healthy and return as a Vikings strength, which they were not on Sunday. Keenum was under a lot of pressure all afternoon, which was expected but not at the level Philadelphia delivered.

It is tough not to love the Purple defense, despite a sub-par performance by a banged up unit.
Xavier Rhodes being out was huge, and DB Trey Wayne’s was exposed on a couple of important plays. We now realize safety Andrew Sendejo is a good player to have on the field.

But the big one, the current elephant in the room, is the quarterback situation. Each of the three QB’s has great strengths and some areas that can be improved upon. We will look at this more closely next week, but for my money you have to stick with Case Keenum.

All in all, he played very well indeed, essentially coming out if nowhere to lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship game and a personal Pro Bowl berth. There may be serious competition or there may not, but I think Mike Zimmer now trusts Keenum to lead this team.

And trust is a giant thing for Zim. They could make him the franchise player or not, but despite a lousy finish to the season, it says here Case Keenum should be the Minnesota Vikings quarterback next year.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

PHILLY, AGAIN…

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

My trip to Philadelphia in 2005 didn’t end well, and it didn’t finish on a positive note for coach Mike Tice or the Minnesota Vikings. On a cold January 16th, after the Purple had defeated the Green Bay Packers in a Wild Card game 31-17 on January 9th, the Vikings were humbled 27-14 by Donovan McNabb and company in chilly Philly.

After the game – and the news conference and player interviews – I headed down to a restaurant not far from the stadium to meet a college buddy who was at the game. It was packed with green and white jerseys and the libations were flowing.

Philly might have an actual jail in their home park, and the fans might boo a cure for cancer, but when they win it’s a Big Time Party like few others. I made very sure not to let any of the rowdies in the place know I was in from Minnesota, especially after seeing the verbal pummeling a guy in a Daunte Culpepper jersey was taking.

Minnesota’s victory the previous week over Green Bay was on the road and expectations were high for another road win to put the Vikes in the NFC championship game against Atlanta. But the game felt like it was over at halftime, with the Eagles up 21-7 and in control. Philadelphia moved on to defeat Atlanta and make Super Bowl XXXIX, where they were bested by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 24-21.

The Vikings under Brad Childress were favored to beat Philly at home in the Wild Card game following the 2008 season, but again it was too much Donovan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook as Minnesota fell 26-14. They had their chances and were only down 16-14 in the fourth quarter, but no dice, as they say. The Purple defense couldn’t make key stops, and the Eagles pulled away.

I distinctly remember the quiet of the Vikings locker room following the game. You could have heard a pin drop if not for the carpeting. Adrian Peterson, who had given his all and played a fine game, had his head down and was unable to speak for some time. These kind of things hurt even grown men. “Toughest loss of my life,” he told me later. “We had them.”

Except they didn’t, and neither did the New Orleans Saints have the Vikes last Sunday after the “Minnesota Miracle” took place. Getting tired of that expression? Me too. It was a phenomenal play and one of the greatest sports moments I’ve witnessed in my life, but it was simply a wonderful football play that went terrifically right for the Vikes and terrifically wrong for the Saints.

As Aretha Franklin and Harry Carey used to say, “it’s an evil wind that blows no good for someone.”

High quality safety Marcus Williams blew the play, the New Orleans defense really wasn’t set up right for those final moments, and Case Keenum threw a great pass. Stefon Diggs made an excellent grab – and then escaped for the touchdown that now sends the boys back to…

….Philadelphia, for the NFC championship game and the rare opportunity for a home Super Bowl.

The admittedly wondrous play has given the Purple gang another shot at a team that has had their number over the years. But this is an Eagles team that is banged up and playing a second string quarterback due to injury – though a second-stringer (Nick Foles) who used to be a first team QB, and a pretty fair one at that!

The Vikings can do this, and they don’t need a miracle. They need to create some offense via the run, which means the offensive line needs to play a strong game. And the pass protection has to be improved from the second half of the Saints game. Remember, Philadelphia’s defense is their strength, too.

The  Vikings defense seemed shaky in that second half. Remember, Drew Brees surgically eliminated the 17-0 lead the home team enjoyed at the half, giving New Orleans the lead and the potential win. “Bend but not break” defense needs to be stronger all the way around. It’s just a fact – the Vikings were going down without a miracle on the final play of the game!

Okay, maybe it was something special from Heaven. Or at least a gift from the football Gods…

“TUTS CALL”

MINNESOTA 27
PHILADELPHIA 17

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Vikings Playoffs: New Orleans Saints Loom

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

The Minnesota Vikings play a Big One Sunday, against the New Orleans Saints, a formidable opponent that just won a Big One last week over Can Newton’s Carolina Panthers. It’s playoff football time, and every contest is potentially one and done, now or never, etc…

The Saints are led by Drew Brees, and the old Purdue Boilermaker (class of 2000, winner of Super Bowl XLIV) seems better than ever, leading a confident, improved team that believes it’s ready to avenge an early season 29-19 loss in Minneapolis.

Remember Sam Bradford setting the completion percentage record a year ago, breaking the mark held by Drew Brees? Brees broke that one again this year to reclaim the top spot in the category.

New Orleans is supremely confident after the workmanlike victory over the Panthers, and why not? They are firing on all cylinders with a developed running game featuring Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, both of whom have good hands and know how to carry the ball after the catch.

The Saints beat the Panthers for the third time last weekend, a feat said to be difficult to accomplish in one season. The Vikings need to win a second consecutive battle with New Orleans, a manageable proposition if that vaunted, league-leading Purple defense comes out firing and pressures Brees from the get-go.

I’m not the only person who wonders how the tough and tenacious 5 – 10 QB almost always gets the ball off despite a ferocious rush by large defenders, averaging 6-4 in height, closing in with their arms extended.

Much taller men in his position seem to take more of a beating and have more balls batted down than he does, and Brees tends to consistently put the ball on the spot while moving.

It’s not usually one play, or one moment that decides a football game, or so they say. For many in the coaching profession such a cliche is a mantra, designed to deflect criticism, or scrutiny, or something…

Nah, don’t believe it. Just last week Georgia, leading by two touchdowns, was going in for a score to put the National Championship game away against Alabama. Alas, the young Bulldog QB Jake Fromm bounced a pass off the helmet of a Georgia offensive lineman into Alabama’s hands – a huge interception in the red zone!

The next sound you heard in Atlanta was the groan of despair. They knew what was coming soon… defeat, and another Alabama national title. It was just a matter of time.

I’ve been blessed to have seen many sporting events, of a wide variety. From Olympic Games to World Series to Super Bowls. Okay, maybe not as many SB’s as my running mate Eric Nelson (25 SB’s) and certainly not as many as Mr Super Bowl (over 35 and counting, including one with his son participating) Larry Fitzgerald, Sr.

But one game stands out as the toughest defeat of all time. The 1999 overtime loss to Atlanta, in the 1998-99 NFC Championship game. You remember that one, the game where the Vikings snatched defeat from the jaws of victory? Man, that was brutal.

Many people forget that Atlanta and QB Chris Chandler came out of the gate fast on that cold January day, scoring a touchdown on their first possession in a mere five plays. But then Randall Cunningham and Randy Moss, along with Robert Smith and the gang, turned up the heat on the Falcons and were trying to put the game away at the end of the first half.

Trying too hard, it turned out, with an interception just before halftime leading to an unexpected touchdown for Atlanta that seemed to shift momentum in favor of Chris Chandler and his crew.

Still, when Gary Anderson came on to kick a 38-yard field goal and put the Vikes up by 10 points with two minutes and change left in the game, the door on the Dirty Birds season would officially close. Anderson had not missed a field goal all season. The first man in NFL history to accomplish such a feat, and this was a mere chip shot for the veteran.

The snap looked good, the kicking motion smooth, the ball rotated nicely and…wide left…WIDE LEFT? It couldn’t be! The Purple faithful in the Metrodome let out a sound that I can remember hearing in the press box to this day.

A soft, lingering gasp – with a touch of forboding. AAHHHhhhhhhh…….with a little OOOHHhhhhhh….

Atlanta took the ball and scorched a suspect Vikings secondary for a touchdown pass from Chandler to Terrance Mathis with just under a minute left, then stopped the take-a-knee Purple to close out regulation time.

They stuffed the vaunted but shaken Vikings offense again in overtime, and marched to solid field position for the game ending, Morten Anderson field goal. 30 to 27, Dirty Birds on top.

Toughest. Loss. Ever.

Let’s hope this is the year a Minnesota Vikings team gives the hurt rather than receives it. And I’m not going to touch the four lost Super Bowls, because I’m not old enough to remember…right?

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Wintry Blasts Present And Past

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

Moving south from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul the temperatures moderated, moving from 10° below zero to 2° above in Chicago. Good to see family and friends in Chi-town before swinging down to sunny and warm Nashville for the Bowl game between Northwestern and Kentucky.

Well, it was sunny…warm, not so much…

In fact, near record cold was enveloping the Grand Old Opry town as NU’s Wildcats prevailed over an athletic UK Wildcats squad 24-23 in a minor thriller to finish the season 10-3 and ranked in the top 20. When the Tennessee Titans played (and won) a big football game with playoff ramifications against the Jacksonville Jaguars two days later, the temperature at kickoff in Nissan Stadium was a stadium-record cold 22°.

My compadre at GDG Eric Nelson loves cold weather football, believing it to be the real deal Holyfield in determining what team is the toughest and best in true football elements. I always found this attitude contradictory for the man from southern California, but it’s truly in his DNA. Hey, he was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Ice Bowl in Green Bay when the Packers defeated Dallas 21-17 back in 1967.

I guess I shouldn’t complain about a little discomfort in Nashville when temperatures at the Lambeau Field Ice Bowl game kickoff hovered around 15° below zero, with a wind chill of  -35°. Even back in that era, Lambeau had heating coils that warmed the turf in extreme cold, but they malfunctioned around game time and instead created moisture that refroze and made the field a grassy skating rink.

The heating system was made by General Electric and was provided, interestingly enough, by a relative of Chicago Bears leader George Halas. Did noted hard-butt coach Vince Lombardi purposely disconnect parts of the equipment that would render the heating coils useless? To this day there are Dallas players who believe the crusty genius did just that.

Either way, it was darned cold – so cold that when QB Bart Starr and his father went to church before the game, they never spoke of the weather. “Nobody wanted to bring it up,” Starr said later. A few players couldn’t get their cars to start and they ended up scrambling to get to Lambeau, including linebacker Dave Robinson who ended up flagging down a passing driver for a ride to the big game.

The band scheduled for the day were the Wisconsin Lacrosse Marching Chiefs, but wooden instruments would freeze up and be rendered useless, the brass instruments’ mouthpieces tended to stick to the players lips, and several musicians were taken to local hospitals to be treated for hypothermia.

Numerous fans ended up at hospitals as well, and one elderly man died at the stadium. After the game whistle froze to the head ref’s mouth, whistles were abandoned to be replaced by loud voices and hand signals. By the 4th quarter, temperatures had dipped further to -20° as Green Bay trailed 17-14.

Somehow the Packers put together a drive featuring a couple of key short passes to halfback Donny Anderson that moved them close to the Dallas end zone. From the one yard line, on third down and with the traction awful, Starr decided to keep the ball and “run” behind Jerry Kramer and forgotten center Ken Bowman. They managed to move the formidable Cowboys lineman Jethro Pugh just enough to allow Bart to penetrate the goal line and bring a 3rd consecutive NFC championship to Titletown. And big-time National League Football history was made…

Ed and Steve Sabol captured the block on a frozen, non-swivelling camera-5 that just happened to be lined up perfectly – helping to immortalize the famous touchdown via early NFL Films. The book “Instant Replay,” written by Kramer with the immortal Dick Schaap, was a best-seller and among the first sports books this future scribe would read (it was bathroom reading for my dad, having come with a razor – the book disappeared to my bedroom and helped shape my future).

Famed linebacker Ray Nitschke was one of five Packers who suffered frostbite in the game, losing a few toenails while contributing to the victory. I think my man Nelson would have contributed the same for a chance at a Vikings Super Bowl win, but we will never know. When the Purple play in this years SB, they will be comfortably ensconced at fixed-roof US Bank Stadium, not his favorite.

Everything is relative, and 20 degrees in chilly, shady Nissan Stadium Nashville is 40° warmer than the Ice Bowl. My suffering was not so bad…not compared to the freezing misery that is ongoing in the Cities, and this is probably a bad time to complain about the sub-par weather I’m currently experiencing in Sarasota, Florida – just down Tuttle avenue from Ed Smith Stadium, spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles.

There are a few Major League pitchers already here doing some early throwing, but I don’t feel like going over there to freeze my fanny off on a windy and brisk 55 degree day.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Talking football in Paraíso del Béisbol

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

It was Minnesota Twins pitcher Ervin Santana’s birthday on the day I arrived in La Romana, Dominican Republic this past December 12th. I know this because my taxi driver, Ernesto, let me know the fact when I told him I was from Minnesota.

“Ah, the Twins,” he said. “Today is the birthday of the best pitcher on your team.” He then revealed that his amigo Santana was turning 35 years old this very day, while also indicating his broader knowledge of US sports when he added that the Vikings were his “favorite US football team.”

Yep, the Purple are big even in the Carribean, where baseball is the far-and-away king of sport, with a four-team winter league underway while I was there. I thoroughly enjoyed the contest between San Pedro de Macoris – hometown of Miguel Sano – and Santo Domingo, home of numerous Big Leaguers.

Dominican’s makeup over 12% of the Major Leagues, and the influence of the US national pastime on their island is deep and profound – and fodder for another story, soon to come.

The Vikings, meanwhile, are becoming inescapable anywhere one travels, given the enormous popularity of the National Football League combined with the quality of this year’s winning squad.

When I asked Ernesto if he knew the name of the team’s quarterback, he drew a blank, but he said that he could show me Sammy Sosa’s house at Casa de Campo resort complex… Maybe next time, señor!

Hey, Case Keenum has been flying under the radar for a lot of people, even solid fans around the USA! The man with the excellent passer rating and exceptional quarterback skills has been winning football games and converts at about the same pace over the last several weeks

Keenum has improved over the course of the season, stepping in and stepping up. This week he’ll lead the 11-3 Vikings to Green Bay, where the Purple Gang will continue their effort to secure home field advantage for the NFL Playoffs.

It’s going to be about 70 degrees cooler on Sunday than it was in the DR last week, roughly 85° versus 15° farenheit.

Not baseball weather, eh Ernesto? The Big E (as I called him, a true gentleman for putting up with my bad Spanish) thinks that the Twins might make it to the World Series behind Sano and Santana, but doesn’t necessarily have a pick for the Super Bowl. “Maybe Minnesota, eh?”

Yes, maybe the Vikings. And while that might cost the league a bit of revenue, with numerous fans rolling into town all the way from the south metro, it could happen. The Philadelphia Eagles loom as a team to beat, if things were to play out a certain way, and I’m still hurting from being hammered out in Philly a few years ago – both on the field and in the restaurant following the game.

It might have been the last year of the jail in the bowels of Lincoln Financial stadium, I’m not sure. But there were a few thugs being held near the base of the press elevator. Philly is tough, the fans are rough, and my belief is that Minnesota’s road to a home Super Bowl game is going to run through Philadelphia.

It is a shame about their QB Carson Wentz going out for the season, but look for Nick Foles to play the Case Keenum role for a solid Eagles team with another tough defense.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Taking The Hits – Concussions, CTE, and the Game

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

In my previous writing, we discussed the punishment my old college friend Robby had taken playing Big Ten football. He feels that his memory has been noticably impacted, and Rob’s been having other physical and mental challenges in his life.

It was this past summer that the American Medical Association published its study of the donated brains of 202 deceased, advanced level football players. Among National Football League players studied, 110 out of 111 showed signs of CTE. That number was well beyond NFL expectations and must be considered beyond-striking in its unanimity.

If you play in the NFL, you are going to have brain damage. That is the message, pure and simple. And there is evidence of high rates of CTE in college football players, as well as some damage at the high school level.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) can only be diagnosed after death, so it is hard to link the degenerative disease to living former ballplayers such as Robby. And while he didn’t play in the NFL (he did attend camp with Green Bay) his three years in the Big Ten may well have made their mark.

The movie “Concussion” came out in 2015 and Robby forced himself to watch it. “I didn’t really want to see it, given what message I thought would be delivered. But I did, and of course the news was not good. But knowledge is power and I’m working with what I think is going on.”

There are likely different levels of CTE damage, given the evidence and even the actions of some of those diagnosed with it.

“I think there’s going to be damage along a spectrum,” Rob says. “Not everyone is going to be along the lines of Aaron Hernandez.”

Let’s hope not. Hernandez’s case of CTE was unlike anything the doctor’s in Boston had ever seen in a man his age – 27. The deceased convicted murderer, Boston Patriots tight end and one-time NFL All-Pro had levels of degeneration never seen before in a human being younger than 46 years of age.

(It has been suggested by researchers at Boston University that such a case of “level 3” CTE could significantly have affected his decision making and judgement – information that may have impacted his criminal cases down the road.)

Men make a great deal of money playing football in the NFL and there is also the prestige. But is the cost of playing the violent game ultimately worth it? A lot of people today are struggling with the violence that expressed itself recently in the Monday night brawl between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

Of course, that ridiculousness was not the death sentence that a successful career in pro football seems to be. Out of the 110 NFL’ers who had CTE, well over a third died of brain-related causes, as well as suicide and other unnatural deaths.

As for Robby, he has steered his kids into other sports besides football. Of his three kids, one played college soccer and another focused on golf. Ironically, his soccer-playing son was concussed by a head-to-head contact during a collegiate practice.

“Sports most always carries a bit of risk,” said Robby. “But there’s nothing like the pounding you can take playing football at the high levels. I think my worst hit to the head came in the second half against Michigan. I was flat knocked cold for a few seconds. Can’t remember that second half, but not sure if I ever did.”

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Thomas U. Tuttle

On Football Streaks and Concussions

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

I went down to Chicago to watch my alma mater Northwestern Wildcats play a football game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers and ran into my old buddy “Robby” at the N-Club event following the Wildcats 39-0 victory.

He was feeling no pain after a long day that began with tailgating and was culminating over a final beverage or two following the contest. Robby might have been particularly enjoying himself given the fact his old squad had a new six-game winning streak, which stood in stark contrast to the long, losing run that he was a part of some 35+ years ago.

The streak that Robby and his teammates were involved with included 34 straight defeats over the course of several years. Coach Rick Venturi was at the helm when things started in 1979, to be followed in futility by Dennis Green.

Yes, the future Vikings coach was a part of the streak, but he was also part of the solution in 1982 – by first winning a football game (Northern Illinois) and then a Big Ten game (Minnesota). We beat Michigan State later that season, as well, for a total of three wins. Party down!

Denny did fairly well at NU, all things considered, and was not only the first black coach in the Big Ten, but also the youngest ever at the age of 31. He was an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers for a couple of seasons following his stint at Northwestern, before coaching Stanford from 1989-1991. Green took over the Purple in 1992.

For Robby, one of the best players on a fairly decent (but extremely thin) Wildcat defense, the memories are still a bit painful, although easing with the passage of time. He had been an all-state high school star who rarely lost a game, so the transition to constant losing was tough.

Robby was big, strong and fast – one of the better football players in the conference and a young man who could have contributed, if not started, on any team, including Ohio State and Michigan.

NU might have had a dozen players, total, that were of that caliber – but that was it.

There are a number of factors that contribute to a losing streak of that length, but lack of depth was a big one. OSU and Michigan reload every year, while the Wildcats were always an injury or two away from being unable to compete. In 1979, they nearly upset Purdue. The following season, after losing close at #2 Michigan, the defeats continued…for a long time…

On a personal note, yours truly was running the sprints for NU track back in the day (also a baseball shortstop). To make a long story short, the fast white guy showed up for spring football practice ready to contribute – and, in truth, didn’t look that good.

I decided to travel to France for a couple of months to study and pass out of a foreign language requirement needed to graduate.

Those Northwestern teams had little offense, and to this day I wish that my effort had been more determined and sustained. Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda…

Robby remembers some of these moments, but not all. He got his “bell rung” a lot, part of the price for being the best athlete on the defensive line and making a lot of plays. Concussions we’re a serious fact of his time in college football.

Recent memory challenges, which he believes are a result of concussions he suffered and actually played through, have him thinking of some of the health ramifications that resulted from playing high level football.

“TUT, your lucky you didn’t play, man. You would have been hurting every day from practice and never winning,” he said. “It wasn’t like the baseball team, trust me.”

No, it wasn’t. Hey, we beat Ohio State in baseball and won a bunch of games! But college baseball is not college football, not by a long shot. The revenue sports rule, and the Big Ten is Big Business.

And I never was concussed. Robby’s memory issues got me thinking, and I’ll have more on the subject of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and the new concussion data that has emerged.

It’s very interesting, important – and sad – information that is threatening the health of the NFL and college football. More to come…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Arizona Fall League

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

Scottsdale, Arizona

The sun has been shining daily out here in Phoenix, Arizona as yours truly enjoys high quality fall baseball courtesy of the remarkable Arizona Fall League, where Major League Baseball’s top prospects gather every year – since 1992.

Yes, that’s the year that legendary baseball man and long-term top executive Roland Hemond was able to convince baseball front-offices across the land that a developmental “short-season” from October into November would be of exceptional value to every franchise in MLB.

And boy was he right!

Out of the roughly 4,000 players who have played for one of the six PHX area squads (located in Mesa, Scottsdale, Peoria, Surprise, Glendale and “Salt River”) over 2,000 have seen time in the Major Leagues. That’s more than 50% of some of the best prospects in the game!

A number of the players baseball fans are given the opportunity to watch are going to be outstanding MLB’ers, too. How about Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, who I watched crush one out of the park at the All-Star game in 2015? Or LA Dodger rookie sensation Cody Bellinger, who was tending first base for Glendale in the fall of 2016? The scouts (who attend games by the dozen and occasionally outnumber the fans) were in hog-heaven watching the former can’t-miss prospect.

Hey, 39 homers in his first Dodger season? Not too bad. In an interview after a Scottsdale game, the soft-spoken, powerful slugger revealed that he was originally from the area and had watched a lot of games in his youth out in Glendale – where he was part of a team that went to the Little League World Series in 2007. (He grew up watching and admiring Larry Fitzgerald Jr, wide-receiver son of GDG top-shelfer Larry Sr.)

A few other luminaries?

How about Mike Piazza (the first AFL’er in the Hall-of-Fame) or future HOF’ers Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols? The list goes on and on…
Max Scherzer, Kris Bryant, Mike Trout, Corey Seager and Aaron Judge, just to name a few of the young guys.

And all players you could watch for six bucks, in the AZ sunshine, munching popcorn, down at the local ballpark. Best deal in sports for my money – or my press pass!

How does it work? Well, without getting into TOO much detail, the AFL is a showcase league, kind of a “graduate school” for top prospects. So the players know what they are getting into, their performance becomes meaningful, with 50 or 60 (or more) MLB scouts watching their every move – and sharing evaluations with each other.

Think about it – you gather 200 high quality players in one negotiable city (Phoenix) and just about every day there are three games going on around town with top-notch ballplayers who are wise to show good energy and hustle. That adds up to quality observation, the very essence of scouting.

For the weathered baseball scout, there is no driving all over creation to file a report on Suspect A or Prospect B. Just drive around beautiful central Arizona in the fall, hanging out with other baseball men (General Managers, top brass and coaches, too) – not a bad gig if you can get it!

It’s efficient and provides consistent insight – as one MLB scout told me; “Once I’ve seen a guy six or seven times, it’s up to me to really know that player. That’s the advantage of seeing them on a regular schedule.”

And as former Phillies great Del Unser (head of their scouting system for years, World Series champ in 1980) told me, “you can’t scout a player when he’s riding on the bus. I’ve done a lot of runs from Little Rock to Midland (Texas League) and this really is efficient.”

Unser, by the way, one of the true gentlemen in the game, retired this week.

So, hats off to future Hall-of-Famer Roland Hemond, one of the greatest people to ever help run the Grand Old Game. The Arizona Fall League was a genius call, and not his only one. As GM of the White Sox, I saw his handiwork in person as a boy. Fellow GDG’er and Chicagoan Larry Fitzgerald (whose son is absolutely the #1 hero out here) remembers when Roland went and picked up Dick (don’t call me Richie) Allen after his run in Philadelphia. What a player and what an entertainer! The Go-Go Sox were awesome, and should have won it all!

Well, at least that’s the view from Scottsdale, in the warm and bright sunshine, where maybe the sun is getting to me…

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