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I’ve occasionally taken time from writing about politics on LFR to write about great athletes in Minnesota sports. This is another of those times. I won’t write about Adrian Peterson, the best running back in the NFL, though he’s certainly deserving of all the praise he gets.

I’m not writing this post about Kevin Love or Ricky Rubio, either. Once Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio get back into game shape, the T’Wolves will be a formidable NBA team. It’s quite possible they’ll make the NBA playoffs with that dynamic duo.

I can’t wait to see newly acquired Alex Meyer, a flamethrowing righthander that the Twins acquired from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Denard Span. That isn’t likely to happen this season but it’s likely he’ll be part of the Twins rotation in 2014.

The player I’m focusing on tonight is possibly Minnesota’s best kept secret. It’s time T’Wolves fans got to know more about Alexey Shved. Quite a few years ago, then-T’Wolves Kevin McHale passed on Manu Ginobli late in the 2nd round. T’Wolves never let McHale live that down.

This past summer, T’Wolves VP of Basketball Operations David Kahn signed undrafted free agent Alexey Shved prior to the Olympics. He’s been quietly turning heads in Rubio’s absence with his shooting, his ability to play the point and his lights out performances in the fourth quarter.

Friday night was a perfect example of a ‘typical’ Shved game. Shortly after entering the game, Shved hit a pair of 3-pointers. Then he went silent the rest of the half and the entire third quarter, at least in terms of scoring. He still played smart defense, limiting Monta Ellis’ offensive production after he’d gotten off to a fast start.

Then came the fourth quarter and what a performance Alexey put on. He played the entire quarter, ran the point, distributing the ball to the open player while hitting shot after shot. Granted, he didn’t turn into a Kevin Durant- or LeBron James-like scoring machine. Still, he hit some key shots like his 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left on the shot clock.

Columnists have given him the nickname of the ‘Russian Rubio’ because his court vision and instincts are extraordinary. He’s great at pushing tempo. He’s what fantasy hoops players talk about as a stat sheet stocking stuffer. In a year or two, it won’t be surprising when he scores 18, grabs 5-8 rebounds, dishes off 7-8 assists with 2 steals and a block.

What I haven’t talked about yet is what’s most important. What’s most impressive is the fact that he isn’t overwhelmed by the situation. He’s played in the Olympics. He’s hit big shots at crucial moments. Like Rubio, the game doesn’t get too big for them.

Minnesota T’Wolves fans, I hope you take the time to get to know Alexey. He’ll be putting smiles on T’Wolves fans for the next decade.

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly said that putting Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, Frankie Viola, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris made him a smarter manager. It won’t be long before Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved will be making T’Wolves coach Rick Adelman a smarter coach, too.

The more I study the electronic pulltabs issue for funding a Vikings stadium, I’m left with more questions than answers. Considering the seriousness of these questions, it’s puzzling why Gov. Dayton and Sen. Bakk support electronic pull tabs as a funding source for a Vikings stadium.
This article lays out some of the concerns about the electronic pull tabs option:

More than 1,200 nonprofit groups around the state offer paper pull-tab games in bars and restaurants as fundraisers for local school and civic causes. The groups have long argued they’re taxed too heavily. Of roughly $80 million in net profits in 2009, they paid about $37 million in taxes and had $43 million left to contribute to community programs.

A substantial portion of the proceeds from these fundraisers go to high school sports programs. Another substantial portion of the proceeds go to charities and community organizations.

That information alone should tell politicians that this is treacherous ground to tread on. Apparently, Gov. Dayton doesn’t think so. This article says that Gov. Dayton supports electronic pulltabs, aka e-tabs:

Dayton touts allowing electronic pull tabs as his favored form of stadium financing.

Gov. Dayton isn’t alone in supporting e-tabs as the primary source of financing the Vikings stadium:

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, first pitched the idea of linking it to a Vikings stadium two weeks ago in Dayton’s office. Bakk said he won’t support a broader gambling expansion, but he supports the pull tab idea to help pay for a stadium and provide some relief for charities.

King Wilson, the executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota, isn’t sold on the idea. Here’s a major reason why:

Wilson didn’t specify what share the charities need to make the plan work, but he said if it turns out the state takes roughly half the $72 million for a stadium and devotes the other half to tax relief, “I think we can have some meaningful discussions, and I think something is workable.” The problem, he said, is “there’s other people bandying about much smaller numbers.

“It’s simple: The higher the number the state needs for the stadium, the less money that’s available to do reform and relief, which is our priority,” Wilson said.

There’s more reason for concern than those mentioned by Wilson. This House Research report offers a stunning opinion. The title speaks for itself:

2006-2010: Industry under Stress

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. This information is troubling:

  • Since fiscal year 2004, gross receipts from lawful gambling have declined by over 20 percent
  • For fiscal year 2008, the industry reported its biggest drop in state gambling taxes paid—a 12.8 percent decrease from the previous year due to the drop in gross receipts
  • Total receipts have gone from $1.500 billion in 2000 to $1.032 billion in 2009, a decrease of about 31 percent

Let’s remember that Sen. Bakk, then the chairman of the Senate Tax Committee, knew this information when he proposed this ‘solution’ to the Vikings stadium situation. This information raises important questions, more than I can address in a single post. The biggest questions go to politicians like Gov. Dayton and Sen. Bakk.

The first question I’d want answered is this: why would Gov. Dayton and Sen. Bakk propose using revenues from an “industry under stress” the last 5 years? The next question I’d have for Gov. Dayton and Sen. Bakk is equally simple: Why would they put funding for charities and school sports programs at risk?

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It’s sad that one of the great college football coaches, Joe Paterno, died this morning of cancer. He was 85:

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Joe Paterno, the longtime Penn State coach who won more games than anyone in major college football but was fired amid a child sex abuse scandal that scarred his reputation for winning with integrity, died Sunday. He was 85.

His family released a statement Sunday morning to announce his death: “His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled.”

“He died as he lived,” the statement said. “He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community.”

It’s true that the last months of his life were filled with scandal. Unfortunately, that’s part of Joe Pa’s legacy. Still, it’d be wrong to not balance that lapse of judgment against the students’ lives he strengthened.

For years, Joe Pa’s graduation rate far outdistanced other elite college coaches of all sports, with the exception of Coach K and John Wooden. It’d be a shame to lose sight of that.

Following Saturday’s game against Purdue, I was left wondering where this Gophers team was hiding all season. It seems like the Gophers are finally finding their stride.

Saturday’s game was one of the most dominant performances I’ve watched. Devoe Joseph, forced into the starting lineup when Al Nolen was declared academically ineligible, ran the offense smoothly while contributing 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III dominated inside, with Sampson leading the Gophers with 13 points, followed by Iverson contributing 11 points.

Most importantly, the Gophers’ defense was stifling. Damian Johnson and Paul Carter took turns terrorizing Purdue with their athleticism on defense. Iverson and Sampson altered shots all day while usally limiting Purdue to one shot. Most of Purdue’s shots chipped paint off the rim. Purdue finished the day with a 27.6 percent shooting percentage.

So dominant was their defense that, with 4 minutes left in the first half, CBS announcers Clark Kellogg and Jim Nantz were still wondering if Purdue would break Northwestern’s record for fewest points in the first half. That’s because the Gophers forced Purdue into an 11 minute scoring drought in the first half. For the record, Northwestern still holds the record with 6 points in the first half. A late Purdue ‘burst’ helped them finish the half with 11 points.

Another piece of proof that the Gophers’ defense was dominant came from the fact that, with 4 minutes left in the game, the Gophers first half total was more than Purdue had for the entire game.

Simply put, there was so much proof of Minnesota’s defensive dominance that I’m not even close to citing all the different pieces of proof. In fact, I haven’t said nearly enough about Damian Johnson’s and Paul Carter’s defense. Suffice it to say that their defense all but eliminated Purdue’s E`Twaun Moore’s drives. Moore finished the game with 1 field goal in 14 attempts.

Right now, the Gophers are playing with an incredible amount of poise offensively and defensively. They’re also playing with alot of energy. The great thing about Saturday’s game was that the Gophers’ starters only played an average of 22 minutes a game, with Iverson and Carter playing another 40 minutes combined. In other words, Tubby was able to give his starters alot of rest Saturday so they’ll be fresh for Sunday’s Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State.

It’s too much to ask for the Gophers to play as good of defense as they played Saturday but they should cause Ohio State fits. The other intriguing thing about Ohio State is that they play essentially with 4 wings and a low post person whereas the Gophers play a physical type of game.

Expect Carter and Damian Johnson to have the job of stopping Ohio State supersoph Evan Turner. Turner is talented enough to cause Carter and Johnson fits but the Gophers present their own matchup problems, too. Ohio State doesn’t have an answer for Devoe Joseph, nor do they have the answer for the Gopher Twin Towers of Iverson and Sampson.

It’s just nice to be able to enjoy a dominant Gopher victory over a team that entered the tournament as the 6th ranked team in the nation.

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Anyone who’s read LFR before knows that I’ve been critical of some of the Strib’s columnists in the past. While I’ve been critical of some of their columnists, I’ve been a huge fan of their beat writers for the sports teams. Most of their beat writers also have blogs.

Now they’ve introduced a new sports blog, this one covering the Gophers men’s hoops team. Myron Medcalf’s first post is certainly must reading to any hoops junkie. Here’s the part that’s got me excited:

Some may look at this scenario and recall Tubby’s substitution pattern that he employed during the nonconference portion of the team’s schedule last season. It didn’t work as well in the Big Ten because teams were too deep and talented. He had to keep his best guys on the floor. This season, however, the Gophers are deep. But they have two juco players who didn’t come here to sit. Two second-year players in Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber who proved their worth last season. Two freshmen, Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III, who may have the energy and drive to become the squads starting post players. Two returning juniors (Damian Johnson, Lawrence Westbrook) who will probably start. Add in Jon Williams and you have a team that needs good chemistry to make sure every player is content with their role.

This is a year of resurgence for Gophers sports, especially with the Gopher football team already bowl eligible. If Tubby’s team is as good as the experts have predicted, this should be an exciting year, finishing with an NCAA tournament berth.

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Rumor has it that Mayor Banaian was dancing in front of his TV set for most of the evening. If such rumors are to be believed, it’s likely that Hizzoner was dancing because his beloved Celtics were waltzing their way into the NBA history books with a 131-92 shellacking of the LA Lakers.

Shortly after the buzzer sounded, the camera was on KG because KG was hugging Bill Russell. Because the mic was set loud enough, you could hear a portion of their conversation. KG first said “Man, I hope we made you proud” to which Mr. Russell said “You bet you did.”

To be perfectly honest, I was cheering for the Celtics, too, and not just because of the bet between King and Tony Garcia either. It’s because, at least in the best of times, the Celtics have always carried themselves with a dignity unrivaled in professional baskeetball.

Tuesday night belonged to the Celts’ Big Three of KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Early in the game, KG led the way with his offense, toying at times with Pau Gasol. Frankly, that’s a mismatch that can’t be allowed to happen all night long. KG abused Gasol to the tune of 26 points and 14 rebounds.

The Celts put the game away in the second quarter by outscoring the Lakers 34-15. That gave the Celts a 23 point halftime lead. It’s a lead they never relinquished, mostly thanks to their defensive intensity. Rajon Rondo’s intensity was highlighted all night, though he was just the most visible defensive star.

The Celts’ defense shut down everyone on the Lakers. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom scored 11 points and 12 points respectively. Kobe led the Lakers with 22 points but 9 of those were in the first quarter on long three pointers. The guys that quietly took the Lakers out were KG, P.J. Brown and James Posey. That’s verified by the fact that the Lakers got 2 offensive rebounds the entire game.

This has been an exception sports year for King, especially considering his Red Sox swept the Rockies in the World Series, his Giants ruined the Patriots’ perfect season and now is culminated with his beloved Celts thumping the hated LaLa Lakers in the NBA Finals.

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According to this ESPN article, Brett Favre has decided to retire. Quite literally, I’m stunned by the news. This is quite literally the end of one of the Packers’ greatest eras, right up there with Lombardi’s retirement.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that according to Favre’s agent, Buss Cook, Favre informed Packers coach Mike McCarthy of his decision Monday night.

Foxsports.com first reported Favre’s decision.

A sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer, Favre, acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons, led the Packers back to the NFL’s elite. He retires with 5,377 carrer completions in 8,758 attempts for 61,655 yards, 442 touchdowns and 288 interceptions.

A few years ago, the Packers picked Aaron Rodgers. Favre’s retirement likely means the start of the Aaron Rodgers era. It’ll be interesting to see what this does to the Pack. You don’t just replace a living legend, especially one that had Favre’s talent, combativeness and attitude.

There aren’t enough superlatives to describe No. 4. He had Joe Namath’s gunslinger mentality with a lineman’s style. What made him great was that he didn’t have a conscience or a memory. It didn’t matter if he’d thrown 3 interceptions that half. All he knew was that he was going to try and make the play even if his throw had to fit in between 3 defenders. He had absolute confidence in his abilities and with good reason.

As a Vikings fan, I hated him. As a football fan, I’m sad. There’ll never be another Brett Favre.

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While the Barry Bonds travesty played out, people kept saying that there wasn’t proof of him using steroids. That lame defense just came to a crashing halt. Here’s the details:

SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Bonds tested positive for steroids in November 2001, just a month after hitting his record 73rd home run of the season, U.S. prosecutors said on Thursday.

The allegation came in a legal filing in his steroid perjury case that referred to Bonds’ long-time trainer, Greg Anderson.

“At trial, the government’s evidence will show that Bonds received steroids from Anderson in the period before the November 2001 positive drug test, and that evidence raises the inference that Anderson gave Bonds the steroids that caused him to test positive in November 2001,” U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello wrote.

The U.S. government made the assertion in a document that asked a federal court to reject Bonds’ motion last month to dismiss the charges that he lied about past steroid use.

This isn’t a shocking revelation. Anyone who had watched him go from being a skinny youngster to where he is now knew that he’d been taking steroids. In fact, people have been saying for years that Bonds’ single season homerun record was the direct result of steroids. Just look at his stats. If you eliminate his record-setting season, the best he did was 49 home runs in 2000. In 21 full major league seasons, he hit 40 or more home runs 8 times: in 93, 96-97 and 2000-2004. It wasn’t a stretch to think that he was using steroids during his record-breaking season.

I’m a baseball purist. That’s why Bonds’ single-season record should come off the books. Once you eliminate the 73 home runs he hit in 2001, he falls short of the 700 mark, putting him well behind Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth, which is where he should be.

Baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned Shoeless Joe Jackson after the 1920 season for his part in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, in which the Sox fixed the outcome of the World Series. I don’t see a major difference between the Black Sox Scandal and what Bonds did.

That isn’t the only trouble he’s in:

In December, the record seven-time National League Most Valuable Player pleaded not guilty to lying to a federal grand jury in 2003 when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs.

I’m not a lawyer but I’ve gotta think that that’s a big problem for Mr. Bonds. I don’t see how he can test positive for steroids in 2001, then tell a federal grand jury in 2003 that he’d never used performance-enhancing drugs.

It would be appropriate to have him spend some time in a federal prison for lying to a grand jury. It would be a disgrace if he didn’t get convicted and if he didn’t spend time in prison.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

I’ve watched the vast majority of Super Bowls, including the Steelers’ 35-31 win over the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII. Until tonight, that was the best Super Bowl in history.

This game surpassed that game by far. What made the Giants’ win so incredible was that the Giants’ defense shut the Patriots’ offense down most of the game. During the Patriots’ fourth quarter touchdown drive, Fox put up a graphic saying that the Patriots scored on 53 percent of their drives in the regular season but that the Giants had held them without points on 6 of their 7 drives.

It’a also fitting that Plaxico Burress caught the game-winning TD pass. The big story early in the week was Plaxico’s prediction that they’d win 23-17. Tom Brady’s reaction immediately after that was one of indignation. To their credit, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora came to their teammate’s defense, saying that it’d be foolish for a player to say that they thought they’d lose.

The game also marked Eli Manning’s coming out party. He looked pedestrian in their home loss against the Vikings. He looked poised tonight against a veteran team that’s used to winning in the game’s final moments.

To their credit, the Patriots rallied to retake the lead with 2:42 left. That set the stage for Eli Manning’s historic drive & Plaxico Burress’ game-winning TD reception.

It’d be a mistake, though, to not give the Giants’ offensive & defensive lines a huge amount of credit. Frankly, they outplayed the Patriots’ linemen all game long. Jason Tuck led the Giants’ pressure against Tom Brady, harrassing him all night. In fact, the Giants sacked Tom Brady more tonight than any other game this season. Prior to tonight, the Patriots had given up 21 sacks in 16 regular season games.

Steve Spagnolo’s defense kept Brady flustered & off-balance all night. Don’t be surprised if this was the last game that Spagnolo coached for the Giants, either.

Better luck next time, Patriots.

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With most of the Twins’ offseason attention focused on trading Johan Santana, it’s understandable that Twins fans were apprehensive. Today, the Twins gave their fans reason for optimism by signing Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to longterm contracts. According to the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal, Justin Morneau signed a 6 year, $80 million contract while Michael Cuddyer signed a 3 year, $24 million contract with a team option for a 4th year at $10.5 million.

The best news of the weekend is that Twins GM Bill Smith says that today’s deals won’t stand in the way of them negotiating with Johan Santana in the hopes of keeping him with the Twins. While I think keeping Johan is improbable at best, the thought of keeping him here the next 4+ years excites me.

Signing Johan would give the Twins a rotation of Santana, Lirano, Baker, Perkins & either Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn or Boof Bonser. Their bullpen would be solid, too, with Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek, Jesse Crain and Dennis Reyes setting up Joe Nathan.

The biggest news this offseason that nobody’s talking about is that the Twins lineup is much improved. If the Twins don’t trade Johan for a starting centerfielder, they’ll sign either Corey Patterson or Kenny Lofton. Personally, I hope it’s Lofton because (a) he isn’t aging, (b) he’s still productive & (c) he’s got a great veteran presence in the lineup.

Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that the Twins keep Johan & sign Lofton. Here’s what their batting order would look like:
Leadoff- K. Lofton, CF
2nd- J. Kubel, DH
3rd- J. Mauer, C
4th- M. Cuddyer, RF
5th- J. Morneau, 1B
6th- D. Young, LF
7th- M. Lamb, 3B
8th- A. Everett, SS
9th- B. Harris, 2B

They’ll likely be a bit weak at the bottom of the lineup but they’ll more than make up for it with the top & middle of the lineup. When the Twins traded for Delmon Young, I loved the move because he has the potential of being a superstar. He’s got one of the strongest, most accurate arms in baseball. He’s a power hitter. He’s got pretty good range defensively, too. He’s got the tools to become the Twins best hitter by 2009.

Having a middle of the lineup inhabited by Mauer, Cuddy, Justin & Young would be imposing at minimum.

Something that people haven’t thought much about is how good the Twins will be defensively. On any other team, losing Torii would be devastating defensively. If they sign Lofton, he’ll be solid defensively in terms of range, though he doesn’t have Torii’s throwing arm. Whatever they lack in center, they’ll more than make up for on the corners. Teams won’t take extra bases on Cuddyer & Young because they’ve got the two best throwing arms of all the corner outfielders in baseball. PERIOD.

The infield defense should be pretty solid, too, especially with the addition of Adam Everett at shortstop. While Everett’s bat isn’t a plus, everything I’ve read said his defense will be a positive. The reports I’ve read say that he’s got above average range, a strong arm & picks everything hit in his direction. Justin Morneau hasn’t made people forget about Doug Mientkiewicz or Kent Hrbek defensively but he’s improved defensively each year. The scouting reports on Brendan Harris & Mike Lamb are solid, too.

I’m not convinced that this is going to be a major rebuilding year. It might turn out that way but I won’t think that until I know Johan’s status. Until that’s settled, I’ll just be thankful that they’ve locked up 2 important players like Cuddy & Morneau for the foreseeable future.

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