Archive for January, 2016

Can Sanders Win?

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As Bernie Sanders catches up with Hillary in Iowa and leads in New Hampshire, it’s beginning to look like 2008 wasn’t an anomaly.   Although Hillary Clinton is a formidable force within the Democratic party, scaring would be candidates from challenging her, she is in actuality not a strong candidate.

She remains more the competent policy wonk and lawyer than political campaigner.    Her intelligence, policy knowledge, and experience don’t translate to her being a good candidate.  She is outside her element.

That doesn’t mean she won’t prevail – Bernie Sanders is no Barack Obama, and 2016 has a much different political landscape than 2008 – but it’s quite possible that she’ll stumble.  Barring a surge from Martin O’Malley, that could mean that we’ll all be feeling the Bern come summer.   But does Sanders have a realistic chance to win the general election?

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 Hillary probably would have been a better President than Bill, but it’s becoming clear she’s a rather weak campaigner.

Some say Sanders can’t win because he’s a “socialist.”   That seems damning to some older white males who remember the Cold War and equate socialism with the Soviet Union, but most of those people aren’t voting Democratic anyway.  To the extent his views have popular appeal, especially with the youth, he’s actually making socialism “cool.”  His model is Sweden, not Stalin.  He’s catching on more with young people than is Rand Paul’s brand of libertarianism.

On the left many say Cruz or Trump can’t win.  Cruz is an extremist with some bizarre views, and Trump is a carnival barker, a con man who changes positions based on what the people want to hear.   The reality:  We might have President Cruz.  President Trump.  Or President Sanders – all could win, and if it’s Cruz or Trump vs. Sanders, one almost certainly will.

Sanders best scenario is if he faces Cruz or Trump.   In each case the antipathy of a good chunk of the electorate for the Republican means they’d vote for Elmer Fudd if he were the Democrat.   Add that to the ability to energize the base and appeal to youth, and a Sanders victory is possible, especially if many Republicans stay home (something more likely if Trump is the nominee).

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Many Democrats fear Cruz more than Trump.  Trump is a pragmatic ego-maniacal opportunist; Cruz is a fervent ideological extremist

A more interesting question is whether Sanders, win or lose (to Hillary or in the fall) is able to shift the political discourse towards a populism on the left.   Obama, like Clinton and Gore, succeeded by stressing moderate policies and gaining the support of Wall Street and the financial sector.  Clinton’s administration set the ground work for the financial melt down by preventing regulation of the big banks, a process Bush continued.

If so, then just as the GOP has shifted from the pragmatic moderation of Reagan and the Bushes to a more extreme conservatism, it’s possible the Democrats could move the other way.   How would the establishment –  which is moderate and works well with both parties – respond if suddenly both parties took a decidedly anti-establishment turn!  If Sanders were to win, would he use the bully pulpit to move the country more his direction, like Reagan did in the 1980s?

Right now I’d say the odds are against Sanders, just as they are against Cruz and Trump.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up with Kasich vs. Clinton.   The politics of a pre-election year often don’t foretell how the campaigns will wind up.   But Sanders – both the man and his ideas – have a following and a voice that has been absent for some time.   Over the next year we’ll find out if this is just a momentary surge or if it resonates and profoundly impacts America’s political culture.  Stranger things have happened.

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A Thankless Job

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It had all the makings of a story book ending.  After falling behind 10-9 and enduring a painful Adrian Peterson fumble, Teddy Bridgewater led the Vikings into chip shot field goal range for a potential game winner against the heavily favored Seattle Seahawks.

It all fell on the shoulders of Blair Walsh, one of the top field goal kickers in the league, who had already been perfect in three attempts to give the Vikings all their points.   The 27 yard attempt — six yards shorter than an extra point — was smacked to the left.  The Vikings lost and Blair Walsh went from hero to goat in a blink of an eye.

Fan boards lit up with people trashing Walsh, saying he couldn’t be trusted for the “big kick” and blaming him for the loss.  Walsh himself took the blame, saying he didn’t do the job his team counted on him to do.  However, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer got it right: “We win as a team, we lose as a team.”

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17 years ago Gary Anderson – who was 94 for 94 on extra points and field goals all year – missed a 35 yarder in the NFC Championship, that cost the Vikings a trip to the Super Bowl.

Blair Walsh missed.   Adrian Peterson fumbled.   Teddy Bridgewater didn’t see a wide open Stephan Diggs.  Blocks and tackles were missed.  In the course of the game points were won or lost on the basis of the small errors or extraordinary plays that make up a game.   Yet nobody faces the pressure a field goal kicker does, especially on a kick like this he’s expected to make.

If he makes it, well, that’s his job.  If he misses it, he gets blamed.  And though Walsh has won many games in the closing seconds, one failure gets etched in the fans’ collective memory more firmly than all the successes.

Savvy spectators might say holder Jeff Locke bears part of the blame for not spinning the laces away (Walsh would have none of that, saying he should have been able to kick a watermelon through at that distance), but the bottom line is that even the best kicker is human.  Humans make mistakes.   When a kicker makes a mistake at the end of a playoff game it is magnified to epic proportions.

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Last year Russel Wilson made an error that cost Seattle the Super Bowl – throwing a goal line interception on a play that started at the one.

People seem to have a harder time forgiving kickers.  Last year when Wilson threw his interception that lost the Seahawks the Super Bowl, more criticism was placed on Coach Carroll for not calling a running play.  But Wilson had to know that any result except an interception was acceptable.   Yet he had played the whole game, his failure seemed easier to forgive.

None of that is fair.  Blair Walsh is a superb kicker and I hope he stays with the Vikings for years.  I would have no trouble trusting him to kick in a similar situation in the future.   I’m sure no Viking is taking the loss as hard as Walsh is; he knows that forever he’ll be associated with his kick – just like Gary Anderson is for his only miss in the 1998 season.  It’s not fair, but it is what it is.

As a Vikings fan, I am at peace with the result.  Many games are lost in a heartbreaking manner.  A blown play on an onside kick lost the Packers a trip to the Super Bowl last year.  I mentioned Wilson’s interception.  It’s part of the game.   Overall, the Vikings had a superb season, as Mike Zimmer, my choice for coach of the year, builds a powerful young defense.  Teddy Bridgewater is learning and improving.  I have no doubt that next year the Vikings will be back and I would like nothing better than to see Blair Walsh called to win a game in the closing seconds.

But for now he has to suffer the slings and arrows of know it all fans who want to put him down – most of whom probably couldn’t kick a ball as high as the uprights, let alone through them – and his own effort to come to terms with the fact that this miss is forever a part of him.

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Vikings fans should follow the lead of the team and coach – rally around Walsh, and recognize you win as a team and lose as a team.

I’m confident Walsh will succeed and become stronger because of this – failures have a way of building a person up, even if they seem devastating at the time.  And no kicker has the success Walsh has had over the years without mental toughness.

There is a larger lesson in all this.   Each of us faces failure more often then we wish.  Often we are devastated by it, or can get mired in guilt or shame.   But failure is human, it’s how we grow.   Walsh would destroy his career if he couldn’t accept this and remain confident and willing to take risks.  That’s how we all need to face failure in life – we just don’t have the spotlight shining as bright as it does on a kicker at the end of the game.  And as humans who err, we also need to forgive and recognize that even the best people can fail.  It’s what comes afterward that matters most.

 

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Cold is a State of Mind

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Bud Grant, Vikings Head Coach 1967-83, 1985

My son turned ten on December 27th and we flew to Minnesota to watch the Vikings take on the Giants, a game they would win 49-17.  My son’s memories of that game will include Harrison Smith’s pick six, some good runs by Adrian Peterson and a Bridgewater to Rudolf touchdown pass.  But what will stand out is the cold.  At game time it was 10 degrees.

We were prepared, though my son had been poo-pooing my warnings.  He’s lived his life in Maine, he’s used to winter.  After the game he said “I never could have imagined this!”   Maine is warm compared to Minnesota! On Sunday – tomorrow as I write this – they’ll host Seattle in an even colder playoff game, with temperatures likely near zero.   Alas, for the Vikings this is just a brief return to the legacy of their early years, when the “frozen tundra” described not just Green Bay’s home field, but also Minnesota’s.

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A December 1969 photo shows Coach Bud Grant, right, and Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp watching the action during the first quarter of a game against the San Fransico Forty Niners at Met Stadium. (Pioneer Press archive)

In the sixties and seventies the Minnesota Vikings were known for hosting cold games in December or January.   Grant refused to allow heaters on the sidelines, and even had his players come out in short sleeves when they battled the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs. When challenged by reporters on whether such tactics were necessary, he replied “Cold is a state of mind.”

Now he admits it was a bit of “show biz,” playing mind games, but growing up as a Vikings fan in South Dakota, I remember loving it when they played in the elements.  I only saw one game at the old Met stadium – a Viking victory over the Lions in November 1973 – and we enjoyed nice weather.  So I was sort of in seventh heaven when I got to go to TCF Stadium and enjoy watching the Vikings beat the Giants in the brutal cold!

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The Metrodome – Vikings home 1982-2013

In 1982 the Vikings moved in doors to the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome, where they played through the 2013 season.  I lived in Minnesota from 1985 to 1995 and saw many games there.   The first was Tommy Kramer falling short of a comeback against the Eagles, as they lost 37-35 in December 1985.   My dad got season tickets in 1987, driving up from Sioux Falls for every home game.  He took me to three or four a season, the last one being an exciting 38-35 victory over Miami in 1994 – I recall being amazed by Dan Marino (though John Elway was the most impressive player I saw live).  My dad was diagnosed with pancreas cancer after that game and he died in March 1995 never having seen the Vikings win a Super Bowl.

Then I moved to Maine.   While I still followed the Vikings, deep in Patriots territory I learned to appreciate the tremendous string of seasons Bill Belichick and Pats have put together.  But last year I got Directv’s NFL package and along with my now 10 year old son, have enjoyed following the Vikings closely.   So when his tenth birthday coincided with a Vikings home game, it seemed that flying out there with him was the right thing to do.

The Vikings now play at TCF Stadium, the home stadium of the University of Minnesota Gophers.   The Metrodome was torn down in 2014 and a new stadium is being constructed, which will be ready for the Vikes next year.

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From our seats at TCF Stadium, December 27, 2015 before the game against the Giants

The new stadium will be delightful.  It will, however, be an indoor stadium, meaning that this is the last year that Minnesota will be home to the frozen tundra and have the elements in its favor.   The game we saw was to be the last at TCF stadium, but now that they’ve made the playoffs they play tomorrow.

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My son, bundled up for the game!

I’m so glad my son could experience this cold weather game, even though he says he enjoyed the warmer Timberwolves basketball game against the Pacers the night before at Target Center.   I’m also glad I saw a game at TCF Stadium, meaning I’ve seen a Vikings game at every one of their home stadiums.  Next year they open their new digs – officially called US Bank Stadium.  All reports say it will be state of the art, perhaps the best facility in the league.

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The $220 million facility will change the texture of downtown Minneapolis

Maybe.  But I hope that the Vikes can take advantage of the cold and beat the Seahawks tomorrow.  Then, if the Vikes can keep winning, and Washington or Green Bay advance, it’s possible that in late January the NFC Championship game could be back in Minneapolis, giving the frozen tundra one last chance.   One can hope!

So now, under coach Mike Zimmer, cold is again a state of mind in Minnesota.  Go Vikings!

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Mike Zimmer seems as comfortable in the cold as Bud Grant did

 

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