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CraigOlsonSports.com... Your Area Sports Wrap!Otter Express
Saturday, January 29, 2000
Girls Hockey Team Has Come a Long Way
The Fergus Falls girls hockey team has earned the number three seed in Section 8. They are 15-5 and will host a section quarterfinal game on February 11th at the Fairgrounds Ice Arena. Wayne Horgen's team has come a long way since they started varsity hockey. The program is in its fourth year and Fergus Falls is on the verge of challenging for a state tournament berth. In fact, they have beaten the top-seeded Bemidji Lumberjacks once already this year, 1-0. They also lost a 6-0 encounter with Bemidji a week ago. It won't be an easy road to the state, as the Otters will most likely have to beat Brainerd, the St. Cloud Icebreakers and Bemidji to get out of the section. The Otters will need to be healthy as a team and Leah Graff's return is a key. She is bothered by a shoulder injury that is requiring rest. The Otters will get that as they have a long layoff after their final regular season game Thursday in Moorhead. The line of Graff, Genie Fischer and Jodi Hensch is one of the best in the sections and will have to carry the load in the playoffs. Trina Brennan, Rena Stigen, Kate Goepferd and Kelly Hopponen need to continue their consistent defensive play and Anna Permann will be a key player in goal. A hot goalie at playoff time can carry a team and Permann is capable. In the Otters 6-0 win over Park Rapids on Saturday Elissa Rolf and Jenny Nordick each scored their first varsity goals.

Four Fergus Falls junior boxers will participate in the National Silver Gloves Boxing Tournament in Lenexa, Kansas this week. Chuck Elliott has taken boxers to this tournament for nine straight years and has had 35 boxers compete in National tournaments throughout his coaching career. Ryan and Tyler Buseth, Adam Devorak and Eli Ugstad will all be participating. Ugstad is making his first national tournament appearance.

Mandi Boyack played for the Lady Spartans on their weekend trip to Hibbing and International Falls. Mandi had missed the past week and a half with a back injury. Her playing time should gradually increase. Julie Hemker had her foot ex-rayed, but there was no sign of a stress fracture. Coach Ann Williams said they were icing the foot. Jessica Draper suffered a thumb injury in Friday's game at Hibbing. The severity of the injury isn't known at this time.

Sophomore co-captain Jeremy Voeller scored a career-high 29 points, hitting 5 of 8 three pointers against Hibbing.

Beth Gilyard had her career-high 22 points on Friday night and was one of six players in double digits.

Coach Derrick Nelson's Underwood Rockets took Hillcrest to the wire on Friday night, before losing 60-59. The Rockets made 20 of 32 shots from the field and Kyle Johnsen had a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds).

The Fergus Falls boys completed a perfect January, going 6-0, with a ten point win in Thief River Falls. The Otters have six of their next seven games at home.

Did I give you my Super Bowl pick? Tennessee 27 St. Louis 24. It should be a good game. The one week between championship games and Super Bowl can only lead to better play. The two week layoff is just too long. Teams get rusty.

Big games this week, Fergus Falls boys at Alexandria on Friday, Ashby at Battle Lake the same night in the Little 8 Conference. In girls basketball, the Otters host West Central Area on Thursday and in the Little 8, Ashby will host Brandon-Evansville on Tuesday/

See you at a game!
Posted By Craig Olson
Tuesday, January 25, 2000
Its That Time of Year
January. It's the worst time of year for winter sports teams. The time of year when even the best teams find themselves in a slump, going through the motions day after day at what seems to be a slower pace than normal. Thankfully, these dog days of the winter sports season give way to February and the focus turns to playoffs and the seedings. The good teams begin to play like good teams agains, and get even better, more crisp, more intent on sharpening their skills. The playoffs are so close ... they can almost taste it (I know that's been over used, but it works!). We are in that phase of the season right now. But, we're starting to crest the hill, and I'm beginning to catch a glimpse of the promised land! The Playoffs are just a few short weeks away. In fact, the girls hockey playoffs are only two weeks away. That's the first sport to enter post season play. February 8th is the first playoff date. The gymnastics and wrestling tournaments are next, with section competition getting underway on February 19th. The boys hockey sectionals begin on February 22nd and the boys swimming sections get underway on February 25th. Girls and boys basketball is the tail end of February and the first few days of March, depending on what Class your team is in. Don't look now, but we're almost in the midst of the playoffs. Enjoy these final few weeks as teams jockey for higher seeds, and try to make their final adjustments in preparation for the second season.

Having just one week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl is the best way to do it! I think we're going to see one of the more competitive Super Bowls because of the fact that these teams have only one week to prepare. This is what they are used to. The hype won't get old like it does in a two week span. Both teams will be sharp because of a more normal practice routine. If it wasn't for the almighty advertising dollar, they would always do things this way, however, I'm afraid this is just a one time thing. The powers that be (TV) will see to that. As for the game, I like the Titans. They seem to be a team of destiny. 27-24 Tennessee. Kick-off is set for 5:23 (or somewhere in there) on Sunday afternoon. Enjoy the game!

Looks like Jeff George won't be back in a Vikings uniform. Look for him to hook up with Brian Billick in Baltimore. Maybe new offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis can ignite that old fire under Randall Cunningham again. Ray Sherman and Cunningham never did hit it off. I have a hard time believing that Cunningham went from MVP caliber to useless in the course of one season. The jury's out, but I think we'll see a resurgence by Cunningham. Let's hope so! Now that the Vikes have revamped their coaching ranks, how about getting some players (especially on the defensive side of the ball)! Denny Green is overdue for a good draft. He can't live on the Randy Moss pick forever. If the Vikes had drafted differently they could have Warren Sapp and Jevon Kearse side-by-side on the defensive line. Can you say Super Bowl?

Spartan post player Mandi Boyack is suffering from an inflamed disc in her lower back. She was hurt in the NDSCS game a week ago and has been undergoing physical therapy treatments ever since. She hasn't praciticed since that game on January 19th, but may be able to go by this weekend when the Lady Spartans play at Hibbing and Rainy River. Freshman post Sarah Sanford from West Central Area will receive increased playing time in Boyack's abscence. She responded with 8 points and several rebounds in the win over Northland on Monday night.

Hillcrest stand-out Nick Hansen will see his doctor this week. Nick told me that his coming back for the playoffs isn't beyond the realm of possibility. He's hoping for good news after his appointment. Nick has been troubled by severe back injuries the last couple of seasons. He played through a lot of pain as a freshman and through his sophomore football season, but the pain became to intense to continue playing basketball. The treatments and rest he's been getting will hopefully allow him to be able to get up and about on a regular basis. Playing basketball would be a huge bonus! He also told me that his football future is very doubtful.

Got any information on former area athletes? Let me know. Also, any interesting news involving teams, coaches or athletes in our area. E-mail us at [email protected]
Posted By Craig Olson
Saturday, January 22, 2000
Some Updates
It's always great to get information on former are high school athletes who are still competing. A few columns ago I was able to update you on some former Spartans and how they were progressing at their new schools and I've got more to report this time around.

Dan Harris, a former Otter, scored 21 points for Valley City State in their conference opener at Dickinson and then led them in scoring again in a loss to Jamestown. Dan always played some pretty good defense, too, so he is getting the opportunity to guard the oppositions best guard. Valley City State is struggling, having lost a number of close games, but Dan is certainly doing his part to help turn it around.

Former Spartan and Rothsay Tiger Anita Follingstad re-fractured her wrist in a game this past Monday night. She first fractured the wrist with the Lady Spartans at tourney time last year and played through it. Anita informs me that the doctors wanted to cast it but she refused to allow them to do it so she can finish out the season. Since losing to Jamestown, the conference favorites, by four points in Jamestown, Mayville has been doing well. They beat Minot by 11 and U of Mary by 7. Anita is leading the team in scoring and is fourth in the conference with 14.5 points per game. She is also fourth in the conference in three's hitting 42.6% and fifth in free throws at 79%.

Tyson Bjorklund, a sophomore at Mounds View, and son of former Otter coach Bob (and Carol) Bjorklund, is contributing to his team's success. Tyson is playing some minutes off the bench in each half of varsity games and is scoring around four points per contest.

The last second shot by Titus Christianson that lifted the Otters past Detroit Lakes made it 28 straight wins for the Otters in the series with the Lakers dating back to 1988. Coach Schuler told me it was one of the top two comebacks by teams he has coached. His Warren Ponies had a comeback from a 21 point halftime deficit in 1987. The Otters were 21 points down (31-10) when they started their comeback, outscoring DL 29-8 to catch them late in the third quarter. The lead changed hands four times and there were seven ties. The Lakers took a 59-57 lead with 10 seconds to go but the Otters brought it right at the Lakers. Coach Schuler had three time outs remaining but elected to let his kids play. Tim Erickson spotted Christianson on the wing, behind the 3-point line, got him the ball and Titus did the rest. Otters 60 Lakers 59. This win ranks right up there as far as exciting finishes in Otter boys basketball history. The 46-44 win over St. Cloud Tech in the Region Championship game has to be number one. It was 1984 and senior Tim Swenson hit a shot from the right baseline at the buzzer to send the Otters to state for the first time in 27 years.

Some more response to the Moss column ... Jim Koenig enjoyed 'my musings' on Moss but didn't necessarily agree with me. He's willing to give him another year to mature. If he doesn't, then trade him. Jim has his doubts about Dennis Green, though. His sitting on the ball at the half against St. Louis didn't sit well with Mr. Koenig. I agree. As long as I'm calling for changes, let's make the change at the top, too! Green is the senior coach in the NFL. No other coach has spent as many years with the same team as Green has. How about this one? Anybody have some feelings to express on whether or not Denny Green should still be the coach of the Vikings? Again, you know the e-mail address [email protected]

Daryn Toso said he thinks Moss should be traded if the Vikes get a good deal. Daryn said his high school coaches wouldn't put up with antics like his so why should the pros? Good question. Thanks again for your comments.

A couple of big conference games were played this past week in girls basktball. Pelican Rapids looked great as they dismantled the Hawley Nuggets in Hawley in a Heart O' Lakes Conference game and Ashby came from behind to beat Rothsay in the Little 8, remaining unbeaten in the conference and handing Rothsay their second conference loss. The big games this week are Ashby and Hillcrest on Tuesday at FFCC in boys basketball. Both teams are unbeaten in the Little 8 and the Perham girls at Breckenridge in the H-O-L on Tuesday.

A final note ... tickets for the Twins Winter Caravan are available from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Lakes Radio on Western Avenue in Fergus Falls. The event is a fundraiser for Community Youth Partners and the tickets are just five dollars per person. The event will be held at the Fergus Falls Middle School beginning at six p.m. and going to 8:30. Many prizes will be given away and hot dogs, apple pie, chips, pop and milk will be served.
Hope to see you there! Last year it was a great time. This year, former Twin Tony Oliva, present Twins Chad Allen and Joe Mays, and TV broadcaster Dick Bremer will be representing the Twins.
Posted By Craig Olson
Thursday, January 20, 2000
Responses Favorable
The response to my "Trade Moss Now" column have been very favorable. It sees that several Vikings fans agree that Moss is a very valuable commodity on the market right now, and they too are concerned about the potential for future problems. I would like to thank those of you who responded by e-mail and also those of you who shared your comments in person. As I promised here are a few of the responses (condensed).

Joe Stachowski said: "If you ask me, I think Moss should go, and we should also get rid of Randle Cunningham. In my opinion he is way out of his prime. Also, get rid of Robert Smith, who is not a power running back. We should get a running back that can be a power back and a speed back. Keep an eye on Barry Sanders." (Thanks Joe, although I think we should keep Smith.)

From Michael Smith: "I agree with your comments on Moss. It wasn't just his actions on Sunday, but throughout the whole season. Early in the season when he wasn't getting catches we saw his pouting; his stepping on the back of a defender out of bounds when the play was over; his ego really showed through in his comments about his ability to be an NFL level quarterback if he had only two years training and his ability to be a professional basketball player; his lack of effort on some punt returns or after some catches (running out of bounds); and his turning away from the play after an interception. I believe he is not good for team chemistry. He is so much an individual player. Get rid of him while the price is right for the Vikes." (Smithy and I agree on this ... that's scary.)

Paul Tiffany wrote: "You are out of your mind! Moss made Cunningham and George look good. You take him out of the lineup and teams will put 8 players in the box, with no deep threat the uninventive offensive unit of the Vikings would be doomed." (No question Moss has made the Vikes a better team, but how much better can he make them by being traded ... how many holes can be filled?)

Larry Enderle shared these thoughts: "I agree 100%. In Moss I see a time bomb waiting to go off. Get something for him while you can. The lack of class he displayed on Sunday pretty much says it all. He should have been thrown out of the game immediately. I can just see him demanding a trade in a couple of years because he doesn't like the cold weather in Minnesota." (Right on, Larry!)

Fred Evenson has been known to express an opinion or two: "Yes, Moss is a powderkeg, but it is pretty tough to trade the game's most explosive (no pun intended) player. If you could get the house for him, do it, but don't settle for any less. Sign George, cut Cunningham. Lots of holes to fill." (You're right Fred, it is tough to trade an explosive player like Moss, but I think it's necessary!)

Thanks for the response. Stan Como, my fellow morning Sports Geek on Z 103.3, like Paul Tiffany, thinks I have lost my mind on this one! If you have any comments concerning the subject, I'm just an e-mail away. Enjoy the playoffs this weekend, without the Vikes. It won't be as much fun now. Does Tampa Bay have any chance?
Posted By Craig Olson
Monday, January 17, 2000
Trade Moss NOW!
I think the Vikings need to trade Randy Moss, Now! Before you e-mail me with the "Are you out of your mind" question, give me a moment to explain my thinking. Moss is the quintessential big play receiver in the game today. No question about it. He is also a ticking timebomb! How good will Moss be for team morale when the Vikings fail to make the playoffs or struggle? When Cris Carter retires? Who's going to keep him in line then? We saw signs of his immaturity throughout the season, including yesterday's squirting of the official with the water bottle after he didn't get a call. His value is high right now and the Vikings have some holes to fill, especially on the defensive side of the ball, plus, they are struggling with salary cap issues. How about a Herschel Walker trade in reverse? If Walker was worth 7 draft picks how many might we get for Moss? You deal from strength and the Vikes are strong at wide receiver. Sure, Moss would be missed, but how many holes could we fill if we trade him? The Vikings will need to address the QB issue, too. Can they afford to keep George? Not with the contract they gave Cunningham last year. How are they going to work that out? Getting rid of Moss now alleviates some future 'cap issues and frees up some money for front-line defenders. Anybody out there agree with me on this ... or are we all still so enamored with the superstar receiver? You know the e-mail address ... use it! [email protected] I'll print some of the better responses in a future column.

Some thoughts from the Vikings game:

I agree with my good friend and counselor R. Kristian Svingen, who said the Vikings lost on April 30th, when they failed to draft Jevon Kearse. What a difference he would have made on that defensive line all season long. He was the difference in the Titans win over the Colts yesterday and will be an all-pro for years to come. Hopefully Dante Culpepper pans out as an NFL quarterback to make losing Kearse less painful.

When is a catch not a catch? When the instant replay rules don't allow you to review a play that is called a bobbled catch. Does anybody really know the rules on using instant replay? Why, can't you use it in that situation? Isn't the rule there to get the final result of the play correct? But only some plays? Explain this to me.

What is with taking the knee, again? Plenty of time left in the half, Vikes have scored 14 straight points, they have the Rams back on their heels, the crowd has been quieted, we have Randy Moss to throw the bomb to, pass interference is a real possibility, and we take a knee and go quietly into the locker room. But, hey, we're ahead! Let's not try to put more distance between us and the fired up Rams! I don't get it. Am I whining? Sorry, just frustrated by a few things as I'm sure most of you are, too.

Can we tackle anyone in the open field? The first touchdown was terrible coverage and no tackling. The kick-off return to start the second half ... incredible ... nobody touched him ... no one. Not even close. That play brought the crowd back to life, inspired the whole Rams team, and put the Vikings back on their heels. It sparked a 35 point run and took Minnesota out of the game.

I eat my words. The Rams are an excellent football team. They proved that yesterday. They are the quickest team we have seen all year and they play with great confidence and leadership on and off the field. Dick Vermeil is the coach of the year and the Rams will win the Super Bowl. I like the Rams over the Bucs and the Jags over the Titans next week. Of course, I was 1-3 this past weekend, so don't listen to me! I still like the Colts, I'm just a year early with them!

Wait till next year! More NFL stuff later this week.
Posted By Craig Olson
Saturday, January 15, 2000
Conference Races Starting to Take Shape
Everyone is back at it in high school basketball, following the holiday break, and conference matchups will start to take on added importance as February approaches. There will be some interesting races in conferences around our area. The two conferences that involve most of our area teams are the Little 8 and the Heart O' Lakes.

In the H-O-L girls race, after an 8-0 start the Perham Yellowjackets have suffered a pair of defeats which have dropped them to number four in the conference. The first loss came to the Pelican Rapids Vikings who are 5-1 in the H-O-L (their only loss came at the hands of the Breckenridge Cowgirls - currently 5-2 in the H-O-L and in third place behind Pelican). The other Perham defeat was to the unbeaten Hawley Nuggets. Hawley's 6-0 conference mark gives them a one game lead over the Vikings, a game and a half lead over the Cowgirls and a 2 game lead on the 'Jackets. Any one of these teams has a chance to win this conference. I like the Pelican Rapids Vikings with their inside-outside threats and some developing depth that will be able to make an impact at playoff time. Rachel Longfors is the leading scorer in the conference (18.4 ppg) and point guard Tina Kunkel (13.6 ppg) makes a lot of good things happen on the floor. Perham features good balance and defensive intensity, but lacks size and will be hurt by teams like Pelican and Hawley, who both have good inside games. Frances Rise (15 ppg) and Breanna Richter (13 ppg) are consistent. Allison Kluck (15.7 ppg) of the Nuggets is a double-double threat every night. Breckenridge has a solid team led by Steph Mayclin, an excellent floor leader. This may be the most interesting of the four races we're going to be following so closely over the next month and a half. The game of the week this week in the H-O-L takes place Thursday in Hawley when the Nuggets host Pelican Rapids.

The boys race in the H-O-L appears to be a three team race with Breckenridge perhaps playing a spoiler role. Hawley is an athletic team, led by D.J. Beutler (16.2 ppg). Beutler is one of eight seniors returning this season for the Nuggets. They have the experience and the athletes to win the conference and although they haven't lost in the H-O-L they are 6-3 overall. Andrew Passanante, the quarterback on the succesful Hawley football team is a mainstay of this team and junior center Andy Cox is a key inside. D-G-F is another team that is very athletic. They are led by Andy Olson (14.6 ppg) and two quick, talented underclassmen at the guard spots, sophomore Cody Griffith (11.4 ppg) and junior Adam Sullivan (10.4 ppg). The Rebels only loss came to the Nuggets by 5 points. No one else has been close. The third team to watch in this race is the Perham Yellowjackets. Perham has two of the top three scorers in the Heart O' Lakes, Chris Grismer (#1, 16.8 ppg, 42% on 3's) and Cory Hepola (#3, 15.9 ppg, 42% on 3's). The 'Jackets have lost only to D-G-F and Long Prairie-Grey Eagle. Hawley is 4-0, D-G-F 4-1 and Perham 3-1 in conference play. Perham will play in Hawley on Tuesday night and that will be a good measuring stick to see if the Yellowjackets are a contender or a pretender.

In the Little 8 boys race both Hillcrest and Ashby are unbeaten in 3 conference games. Brandon-Evansville is 3-2 and everyone else is .500 or lower. This shapes up to be a two-team race. The Comets have probably the best player in the conference, John Kilde, but they are also missing Sophomore post player Nick Hansen who is out for the season with a back injury. He was a huge factor to their success last year. Hillcrest has some talent though and will be battling Ashby for the conference crown. The Arrows have a very athletic team and will be a factor. The Arrows have 4 returning starters and are very balanced. Seniors Tony Ohren, Aric Risbrudt and Justin Ohren are joined by junior Ryan Risbrudt as the veteran players on this club. The Comets and Arrows will match up for the first time this season on January 25th at FFCC.

The Little 8 girls race will see Ashby, Brandon-Evansville and Rothsay fight it out again. Last year the three teams shared the conference crown with 7-3 records. Ashby is off to a 4-0 start and they boast the second leading scorer in the conference, Annie Balgaard (15.4 ppg). Starting point guard Ericka Evavold also returns. Ashby's height and overall team speed, along with their depth, will give them an edge. Rothsay has eight seniors returning including Brenna Rollie who is currently leading the conference in scoring at 18.6 points per game. Jesse Toso and Kristen Moen are also returning starters for the Tigers, who made it to the section finals before bowing to Brandon-Evansville. The Chargers lost Rachel Shea but they have strength inside with Debbie Slack (14.3 ppg) and Stacy Roers (12.8 ppg). This week Ashby will play at Rothsay on Friday night. Rothsay and Brandon-Evansville are both 3-1 in conference play.

We should have some fun watching these races develop. It's going to be tough to call a winner and the titles will most likely be decided in the final week of the season.
Posted By Craig Olson
Wednesday, January 12, 2000
Bert Blyleven ... Will the Hall Ever Call?
What am I missing here? Bert Blyleven wasn't even in the top ten vote-getters this year for election to Baseball's Hall of Fame. What are these voters thinking? Blyleven ranks among the top pitchers in the history of the game in a number of statistical categories. Here's the evidence of why I feel he should be a Hall of Famer ... you be the judge: 287 career wins - baseball has had 20-300 game winners, Blyleven is 22nd all-time in wins. 3,701 strikeouts - third all-time behind Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton ... more than many every other Hall of Fame pitcher. 60 career shutouts - 9th all-time ... only one behind Ryan and Tom Seaver. 685 career starts - 9th all-time ... More than Hall of Famers like Walter Johnson, Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Early Wynn, Fergie Jenkins and many more. 4,970 innings pitched - 13th on the list ... agains more than Seaver, Wynn, Jenkins, Robin Roberts and several other Hall of Fame pitchers. Oh, by the way, Blyleven also pitched for two world champions (including the '87 Twins). He never did win a Cy Young Award but several Hall of Famers join him in that category. Plus, Blyleven had the best curveball I've ever seen from a big league pitcher. To me, Bert should have been elected this year, and to see him finish out of the top ten is inconceivable to me. If Bert had played for the Yankees or Dodgers would he be in already? I would hope that wouldn't come in to play in the voting. That he was able to put those numbers together on teams like the Twins and the Pirates and the Rangers and the Angels makes his election an even easier sell. How can Phil Niekro be in the Hall and Bert Blyleven be ignored? What do you think? Got any answers for me? If so, e-mail me ... PLEASE!

Next year, Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly will all be on the ballot for the first time. I don't see Mattingly as a Hall of Famer (much to Chris Wasberg's dismay), but Puckett and Winfield should be first timers. www.craigolsonsports.com is in the process of setting up a trip to Cooperstown, New York in late July of 2001 for the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, assuming Puckett and Winfield (a Minnesota native) will both be elected. It could be the trip of a lifetime for you baseball fans. If you want more information e-mail me at [email protected]

We are also planning an overnight trip to the cities this July 15th and 16th. On Saturday, July 15th at 6:05 p.m. the Twins face Sammy Sosa and the Cubs. On Sunday, July 16th at 1:05 p.m. the Twins tangle with Mark McGwire and the Cardinals. What a great baseball weekend! We will spend the night at a Twin Cities area hotel. If you'd like more information on this trip e-mail me!

http://treets.wcco.com/svc/lnk.cfm?l=150509&t=1 That is the website address for John Gordon's Twins column. He updates it several times a week and has the latest on what's happening with the Twins. Check it out if you're a baseball fan. You'll love it!

I would like to thank my friend, Chris Wasberg, for the kind words he wrote about me in the 'Blast from the Past'. I had no idea he was going to run something like that and didn't even know it was there until Mike Smith commented on my picture while I was in his office. I should have destroyed that one when I had the chance! I have been very fortunate to be able to spend these 18-plus years covering the athletes and teams from Fergus Falls and the surrounding area. There are so many good people in these communities and it has been great getting to know so many of you. I have always enjoyed visiting with people I come in contact with, whether it be in the aisle at Service Food, at a ballgame, a banquet, church, or anywhere else! The coaches and athletes have been exceptional and have provided me and I'm sure many of you, with some great memories. I have been privileged to be able to bring the games to you on radio and now to expand the coverage to the world wide net! I'm really looking forward to what the next 18 years hold!

See you at a game!
Posted By Craig Olson
Sunday, January 9, 2000
Playoffs and More
The Vikings are looking good! They've put together four solid games in a row and their defense has been improving with every week. Sunday they scored 24 straight points and shutdown the Cowboys in their 27-10 win. Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard are both playing some impressive football and Jeff George was sharp. The special teams play has been superb. I predicted it several weeks ago and I'm standing by it ... Vikings and Colts in the Super Bowl on January 30th. Next week they get to play in St. Louis where the Rams have been invincible. Look for the Vikings to win 31-27. St. Louis will score some points, but they won't be able to contain Moss, Carter, Smith and company. The other NFC playoff game will feature Washington at Tampa Bay. As I said last week, Tampa Bay is the only team that really scares me. Perhaps the 'Skins can take them. It wouldn't surprise me, and if that happens, the Vikes would face Brad Johnson in the Finals. The fun is just beginning.

Miami pulled off the only upset of the opening round, beating the Seahawks in Seatlle 20-17. Dan Marino engineered a fourth quarter scoring drive and the Dolphin defense played the way they did early in the season. Next week they face Jacksonville it what should be a very interesting game with the Jaguars banged up. How about that fantastic finish in Tennessee on Saturday. The "Miracle in Music City" as they are calling it, ranks right up there with the "Immaculate Reception" involving the Pittsburgh Steelers and Franco Harris beating the Oakland Raiders in the 70's. Tennesse has to go to Indianapolis to play the Colts and my bet is the Colts will be able to handle them. Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison will be too much for the Titans.

Former Spartans Jason Retzlaff, Jonny Reese and Matt Davis are off to great starts for their college basketball teams. Jason is the leading scorer for the Bison of North Dakota State, averaging over 14 points per game. He is also hitting an impressive 47.4% of his 3 point field goal attempts (27 of 57), 86.4% from the foul line (19 of 22), and 51.2% of his total field goal attempts. Jonny is the leading scorer for St. Cloud State at 14.4 points per game, hitting 38% of his 3's and 73% of his free throws playing the shooting guard spot. Matt is among the leading rebounders in the MIAC with 7.3 boards per game and is averaging 6 points per game for Augsburg. All three teams are doing very well, NDSU is 9-3 overall and 2-1 in the NCC, St. Cloud State is 10-2 overall and 2-1 in the NCC, Augsburg is 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the MIAC.

The Rainy River Community College Men's basketball team has folded for this season. A combination of injuries and ineligibilities left Coach Tim Grove with only 4 players after the holiday break. Grove didn't get the job at Rainy River until August, making it very difficult to do any recruiting except on campus. The Spartans are scheduled to host Rainy on Friday night at FFCC, but the men are trying to lineup an alternate game. The Ladies game against the Lady Voyageurs will go on as scheduled at six p.m.

Remember the name Michael Nurse? He was the outstanding guard for Monroe Community College out of the Bronx, the team the Spartans beat for the NJCAA Division III title in '98. Now, he's a senior guard for Iowa State University. The Cyclones were on the tube Saturday night late and it was fun top watch him play. He was very effective for them, scoring in double figures and was more under control on the court than he was two years ago. He can shoot the 3, but the Spartans broke his heart in Delhi.

When the Otter girls gymnastics team beat Moorhead earlier this week, they handed Coach Kathleen Rittenour her 97th career victory, leaving her just 3 shy of 100. Rittenour is in her third stint as coach of the Otter gymnasts. Victories are counted only for regular season duals. No tournaments or post season competition are included in the total number.

Tim Erickson made a great choice when he decided on NDSU and the Bison are getting an exceptional football player and a very nice young man. He will represent the Bison well on the field and off the field. It's going to be exciting for area football fans to be able to watch Tim perform at the Division II level over the next several years.
Posted By Craig Olson
Wednesday, January 5, 2000
On My Mind
What NFC team is most likely to beat the Vikings? The team that I fear the most is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have already beaten the Vikings once this year and they handed them their only loss of the regular season last year. The Bucs have a highly praised defensive unit, which is extremely tough at home. They also have a runningback (I refuse to call him a fullback), Mike Alstott, who is very effective between the tackles, and difficult to tackle (especially for the Vikes). He has had some outstanding games against Minnesota in his career. Plus, Warrick Dunn is a breakaway threat who compliments Alstott well. The achilles heel for the Bucs, inexperience at quarterback, which I believe is huge in the playoffs. Tony Dungy will have them ready to play against anyone ... I only hope someone knocks them off before the Vikes would have to match up with them. I think the Vikes can beat any other team, although St. Louis with MVP Kurt Warner and runner-up in the MVP balloting, Marshall Faulk, certainly make them a scary offensive unit. I still like the Vikings chances. They finished 10-6 and won their last three games. If not for the 15-1 record last year, we would be very excited about a 10-6 season. The NFC is wide open and with Robert Smith healthy and Jeff George playing well, and the special teams doing some great things (field position is crucial), I'm looking for the Vikes to do a lot of damage. They have also played much better defense the last three weeks. Vikings 35 Cowboys 24.

Okay, I'll pick the rest of the games this weekend, too. Washington has too much for Detroit. The Lions have NO running game. Do they miss Barry now? 'Skins 31 Lions 17. In the AFC, Seattle will take the Dolphins 21-13. Miami really struggles to get the ball in the endzone and Marino's days are numbered. Buffalo might be able to win their game if they were at Rich Stadium, but I give them no chance at Tennessee. Titans 34 Bills 17. Playoffs are fun!

The Fergus Falls girls basketball alumni tournament was fun for all the participants and those in attendance. I have heard many people comment on how much fun it was to see so many of the former Otters again. I had the chance to visit briefly with several of them and it's always interesting to see what they're doing now. Heather Crowser is coaching 9th grade girls basketball in Cloquet and Amy Swanson is coaching 8th grade girls in Edina. Laurie Rueckert just completed her fourth year as a coach at Richland 44 in North Dakota. The high school is in Colfax and the elementary school in Abercrombie. Laurie coached the 'B' and 'C' teams and also served as varsity assistant. The girls basketball season in North Dakota takes place in the fall. Laurie is teaching first grade this year and has taught both second and third grade students in her time at Richland 44. She is also playing basketball in the Fargo Sunday league with former Spartan teammates Erika King and Renae Levang. Renae and Erika are both enrolled at Moorhead State this semester.

Brendan Giese, former Otter, is playing a lot of basketball at Northwestern College in Roseville. Giese is a starting guard for the junior varsity and has seen some limited action on the varsity in his freshman season. Brendan is averaging about 10 points and 5 assists per game and is enjoying it! He's always played the game with a lot of energy and can make things happen in a hurry.

Mark Levang reported to me that Tyson Bjorklund, son of former Otter coach and current Bethel College coach Bob Bjorklund and his wife Carol, is looking good for Mounds View. Mark saw Tyson play last week and said he came off the bench and nailed two of three 3's and played very well. Hopefully Bob and Carol are reading this and will get me some more info! E-mail me at [email protected] !

Mark was in the cities with the Hillcrest boys basketball team. Coach Gregg Preston had his team involved in scrimmages at Bethany Academy on Monday of last week and at Northwestern College against Eleva-Strom high school from Wisconsin. A number of Hillcrest players attend the Wisconsin-Green Bay basketball clinic every summer at Eleva-Strom. Between the two scrimmages the Comets spent a day doing inner-city work with a Somalian student group attending Minneapolis Roosevelt High School. Part of the day included a demonstration on how they run a practice at Hillcrest. Matt Erickson, a former Comet, and his wife are involved in a ministry with the Somalian youth. Mark said it was a great three days for the team.

I hope you enjoy reading things like this as much as I enjoy hearing them! Please let me know of anything of interest that crosses your path so we can share it with our visitors to www.craigolsonsports.com and let people you know from around our area who are transplanted somewhere else right now, know about this site so they can follow our area teams and athletes!
Posted By Craig Olson
Sunday, January 2, 2000
My Athletes of the Century
The criteria for my athletes of the century is pretty basic. These are my favorite athletes from my youth, my sports heroes, dare I say it ... my role models.

My favorite sport has always been baseball and the first baseball heroes I remember having are Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Not a bad threesome. Maris and Mantle became my first heroes when they had their remarkable 1961 season with 61 and 54 homers respectively. They made a movie after that, "Safe at Home." The movie was about a little kid who loved Maris and Mantle and wanted to play for the Yankees. He wound up going to spring training and meeting them. Talk about a dream come true for a kid! At the first showing of the movie at the Brainerd Theater, they gave away two autographed Maris and Mantle baseballs. My brother, Jim, a year younger than me, was one of the winners. We had no clue at that time, that these items would someday be worth a whole lot of money, so we of course, played baseball with it! Seems to me we lost it in the ditch at my grandparents house on Big Floyd Lake in Detroit Lakes. '61 is the first year I can recall any baseball memories. My first big league game was the Twins against the Yankees in 1963. Imagine my disappointment when Maris didn't play because of injuries and Mantle was out with the flu. Mantle did pinch hit in the game but he struck out on three pitches.

As I learned more about the great game of baseball and saw more games on NBC's Game of the Week, I grew to love to watch Willie Mays play ball. By 1965 he was my #1 baseball hero. I remember his lead-off homer for the National League in the '65 All-Star game at Met Stadium. I also remember attending an exhibition baseball game between the Twins and the Giants in 1966 at the old Met, arriving early, and finding a seat as close to center field as possible (in the front row). Willie waved and smiled a the crowd many times that evening. He and Harmon Killebrew had a homerun hitting contest with Paul Giel pitching. To my recollection Mays hit six and the Killer 4. Mays remained my favorite and one of my two favorite baseball players until his retirement, but #29, Rod Carew came on the scene in 1967 and by '68 he was #1. He was smooth ... the game seemed to be effortless for him, and what a sweet swing! Watching him win 7 straight batting titles was amazing ... a magician with a bat. Someone said, "a bat in the hands of Carew became a magic wand." His 7 steals of home in '69 is something we may never see again. The first time I saw Carew was that summer at the old 'Camera Day' at the Met. I had my picture taken with him. That winter he came to Brainerd during the Twins Caravan, along with Doc Lentz, the Twins trainer, Herb Carneal and another player, I can't recall. Doc Lentz shared the story of a steal of home by Carew, on his own, with Harmon Killebrew at the plate. Harmon started his stride but happened to see Rod out of the corner of his eye and held up on his swing. Carew stole the base succesfully but Harmon was pretty shook up. Lentz made a mock tombstone and hung it from the wall in left field the next day ... it said "Here lies Rod Carew, lined to left by Killebrew."

In football, my hero was Johnny Unitas. The great quarterback for the Baltimore Colts. He became famous when he led the Colts past the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship game. They still call it the greatest game ever played. Unitas was in command on the field. He was truly a field general. He threw at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games, a record that may never be broken. John Mackey, his all-pro tight end said of Johnny 'U', "being in the huddle with Unitas is like being in the huddle with God." Unitas earned the respect of his teammates with his ability to lead, and of his opponents with his gritty, competitive style of play. I'll never forget his gutty performance in Super Bowl III against the New York Jets. Unitas missed most of the season with an injury and Earl Morrall had an MVP season. Morrall started the Super Bowl but was unimpressive, in fact he was bad! Unitas was inserted into the Colts lineup in the fourth quarter and led them to their only touchdown, even though he was not fully healthy. If I needed a touchdown drive to win a game, I'd want Unitas engineering that drive.

Bobby Orr could play hockey with more flare than anyone. Number 4 became the first offensive-minded defenseman in the NHL. He changed the way the game was played at the blue line. He was the first defenseman to surpass 100 points in a season and was almost unstoppable when the Bruins were on the power play. He was also incredible when his team was shorthanded, as he had the ability to kill time with his puckhandling skills and his extraordinary skating ability. His overtime goal in the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals beat the St. Louis Blues, and the picture of him in mid-air, arms outstretched after scoring the goal and tripping over defenseman Noel Picard's stick, is forever etched in my memory. His length of the ice rushes were something to behold. I only saw him play in person once, against the North Stars in 1975. He was dominant.

My favorite in basketball was John Havlicek. He played on eight championship teams and was an 11 time NBA all-star. At the time he retired 'Hondo' had played more games than anyone else in the history of the league and was one of the top five scorers, all time. He played with some of the greats in Celtic history and against some of the greats in NBA history, and he was one of both. In fact, he may well have been the finest all-around player in the history of professional basketball at the time he played. I was able to see Havlicek play the first game of his final season in the NBA, 1978, at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah against the Jazz. A commemorative poster was given to all in attendance, but I don't have a clue where that wound up! Late in his career Havlicek was a sixth-man for the Celtics and he was always an immediate spark when he hit the floor. He loved the game and always made something good happen for his team.

Well, there you have it, my favorites. My athletes of the century in the four 'major' sports. The sports I grew up watching and listening to. Hope these memories spurred some of your own. It's good to have heroes.

Drop us a line at [email protected] , share some of your favorites with us. Please, if you have some story suggestions, especially for the 'Blast from the Past', contact us! Looking forward to more memories in this next millenium! Happy New Year everyone!
Posted By Craig Olson
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