On This Day in Minnesota Sports: January 16

One of the best features of the weekly paper in my hometown, the Ortonville Independent, was a trawl through the paper’s archives. Each week, we’d get a rundown of what the news was in years gone by - usually for quarter-century milestones. (This was, of course, particularly exciting if you happened to have a milestone birthday that week.)

With this in mind, I decided to hit the archives, just to check out the Minnesota sports news for this date.

100 years ago: January 16, 1924


The problems with the Vikings that aren't Kirk Cousins's contract

We already know, two days into the Vikings offseason, that one topic is going to dominate Purple talk until September: is Kirk Cousins coming back? Should Cousins come back? Do the Vikings want him back? If he goes elsewhere, should the Vikings have brought him back?

He says, of course, that he wants to be back (and what athlete ever says anything else?) He even hinted that he might be willing to take less money to make it happen, though his agent probably would have some criticisms of that move.

The Vikings will be stuck in weird NFL-style salary cap jail no matter what; if you want your head to hurt, go look into Cousins’s current contract, which runs through 2027 but also voids on March 15, and somehow costs $28.5 million against the cap anyway in 2024, but $0 thereafter, and also from a pure accounting standpoint, all the money has already been paid. (Does any of that make sense to you? Good. It shouldn’t.)

But apart from the QB circus, there are three bigger problems that the Vikings need to worry about.


My Sports Resolution for 2024

I love watching sports on TV, which I suppose is not surprising to anyone who’s reading this. Returning from holiday vacations on New Year’s Eve meant that I had the opportunity to get plenty of sports viewing in over the weekend - an NFL Sunday, the NHL Winter Classic, the college football playoffs, and so on - and it reminded me just how much I like to have a game on TV, even if it’s entirely random.

I have discovered something about myself, though, and it’s almost certainly not new, but for whatever reason I’m only now getting truly embarrassed about it: I am absolutely awful to watch a game with.


A 2023 Self-Retrospective

It is important to me that my website, jonmarthaler.com, contains no cookies or tracking code or other added junk on the top of what I’m writing. This is for two reasons:

First, I believe that it’s extremely important that the web still retain something of its original character: a method for sharing information, rather than monetizing attention. And so I try to make sure that everything about this site, including the design (intentionally stripped-down and spare, so that the page size stays very small) and the underlying technology (a static site generator, not a database) and the methods of displaying (desktop web, but looks okay-ish on mobile too; a full RSS feed) are completely focused on sharing.

Second, knowing what people like and dislike has an editing effect; it’s way too easy to get caught up in chasing page views and clicks and likes and shares. It’s natural. Here is a number; let’s make that number go up!

But if I’m going to write this site solely to share it with people, then I need to know as little as possible, especially on a day-to-day basis, about whether are people are reading it. This is hard enough, just from posting links on social media, but social media is fragmented enough nowadays that I can convince myself that the numbers are meaningless.

Because of all this, I can’t tell you who reads the site itself; I have no way of tracking it. It’s possible nobody has visited the actual website in many years. It’s possible that no one but me subscribes to the RSS feed (which I do just so I can make sure it’s still working).

That said: you may well be reading this, right now, on Substack. I started publishing my writing on Substack because I couldn’t find a decent automated way to make my website email new posts to people (specifically my family) who wanted to read them, and Substack seemed like an easy way to make that happen.

And so, because of this, I actually have some numbers now. I try not to look at them, especially on a per-post basis, for the reasons mentioned above. But as we begin 2024, I will mention a couple of things.

First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone that has subscribed on Substack - more than 100 people now. Thank you all, for reading. It means a lot to me.

Second, this means that I can write a post like this: here are the top three posts I wrote this year, according to those new stats, since launching the newsletter in mid-June.

November 17: The end of Gopher football

December 8: A visit to Hutton Arena, and to basketball’s past

October 6: Heath Out

Thank you again for reading. I hope you’ll stick around for 2024, no matter how you read this site.

Minnesota Update: Vikings, Wild, Wolves, oh my

It’s not about the Vikings, it’s about a Viking

The Vikings lost 27-24 in overtime to Cincinnati last Saturday, a game that featured enough astonishing mistakes to fill a hundred hours of post-game call-ins. Kevin O’Connell calling an absolutely woebegone quarterback sneak in overtime, one that involved the smallest player on the roster trying to push the quarterback forward behind a famously undersized center, watching it fail, then calling the exact same play again, is probably the one that will live the longest in the memory.

But. The more I let this game settle, the more I realized that talking about the Minnesota Vikings this year - and, I’m starting to realize, every year - is not really a monologue about a team. In today’s NFL, talking about the team really means just talking about the quarterback.


Minnesota 3, Opponent 0

When I was a kid, the Vikings played a Christmas-week game against the Pittsburgh Steelers that was the most hilarious bad game I can remember. The boxscore says that it was 42 degrees and windy, but that’s not what it seemed like at the time: what I remember is that it was about forty below, with howling winds, though I concede that this has more to do with my memory than anything. (I found the highlights, which show at least that everyone involved was wearing long sleeves.)

It was truly a disastrous game. Sean Salisbury fumbled two snaps, Mike Tice (!) blocked a Steelers field goal, and Minnesota’s game highlight might have been an 84-yard punt by Harry Newsome. But the Vikings got two field goals in the fourth quarter from Fuad Reveiz, which was enough to beat an entirely hapless Steelers offense*, which was being led by the immortal Bubby Brister; Minnesota won that game, 6-3.

*Unbelievably, both of those teams won division titles in 1992, though both also got creamed in their first playoff game.

I never thought I’d see another game that bad, in the NFL, where both teams were so entirely lost that neither one could find the end zone. But Sunday… Sunday, the Vikings played in what might have been the worst NFL game of the decade.


A visit to Hutton Arena, and to basketball's past

A picture of Hamline's Hutton Arena
Image credit: I took this photo

If you get on Snelling Avenue up by the state fairgrounds, and you drive south, you cross the broad expanse of railyards that slices the middle of the Twin Cities in two. Over in this part of town, it divides the fairgrounds from Midway, and the bridge across the vast train-dotted wasteland has a speed limit of 45mph. If you’re headed south, you have to be on guard; at the end of the bridge, the speed limit suddenly drops to 30, and you go from what looks like an interstate highway to what looks like any other St. Paul neighborhood, in the space of one short downhill stretch. And so at all hours, the key feature of the area is scores of cars, trying to slow from about 55mph to something near 30.

Should you glance to your left, though, what’s tucked off to your left is Hamline University. You can’t see much of the campus from Snelling Avenue; you pass a few stately-looking buildings, back in the trees, and one glassed-in newish building that’s right on a Snelling corner, but mostly the university itself is a bit removed from the traffic, certainly for those who are focusing on the flashing sign that informs southbound drivers that while the speed limit is 30, they are currently going 51.

There’s one exception, one that looms up on your left, as you jam on your brakes going south, a stately brick edifice with a barrel-vaulted roof, looking for all the world - as you try to stop for the sudden red light that’s appeared in front of you, look out! - like a miniature Williams Arena.

This is Hutton Arena. And after driving by it three thousand times, on the way to Loons games or the airport or just somewhere generally in St. Paul, I finally had the good sense to go visit it.


Everything's fine in St. Paul

The Minnesota Wild have now won four games in a row, all regulation wins, by a combined score of 18-5. This came on the heels of a seven-game losing streak, at the end of which the team fired Dean Evason and hired John Hynes as coach.

Now, perhaps the tweaks that Hynes has made - which seem to include slightly more aggressive power-play coverage, and more offensive involvement from the defensemen - have really been game-changers. But the simpler explanation is this: man, the Wild must have HATED Evason.

This is not exactly a unique situation. This happens approximately three times a year in every hockey and soccer league on the planet; there seems to be something about “put the ball/puck in the net” sports that sometimes requires a change in the manager’s office to unlock the team. (I would love to know whether, say, handball teams have this same trouble.)

But the truth of the resurgence is probably summed up in this quote from winger Marcus Foligno, on what the difference is: “Guys away from the puck working twice as hard.”


A semi-reasonable guess at MLS's 2024 format

There are, I think, two immutable rules of expanded sports playoffs; I can think of no exceptions.

  1. When any league announces expanded playoffs, there will be bellyaching. Too many teams make the playoffs! The regular season is worthless now!
  2. When the actual expanded playoffs roll around, they will draw record viewership.