We continue with the Michele Tafoya interview. If you missed part I, you can get caught up right here. Today's topics are the Vikings, and Minnesota sports in general.
DM: Curious what your thoughts are on the Vikings for the upcoming season. Obviously they’ve made a lot of changes in the off season.
MT: I think they’ve made some excellent moves. Everything I’ve heard about (Mike) Zimmer from people who know in Cincinnati, think very highly of him. And he’s a big change in the tone of coach and by that I mean personalities of coaches are as diverse as you’ll find anywhere. Of course there are similarities in the way they talk, etc. Zimmer is a defensive coach. I think that’s important and will serve this team well. He sees himself as a teacher. He has always talked about that. Which will also serve this team well. He’s a really significant change from the kinds of coaches that have been here for the past several years. And then he brings in Norv Turner who has had one of the most successful careers on offense, of anyone you can look at. Particularly with quarterbacks. With Troy (Aikman) in Dallas and Philip Rivers in San Diego and he’s done wonderful things. The amount of knowledge and the experience he has is vast and he brings his son in here, too, as the quarterbacks coach so there’s a good relationship there.
And the quarterback position in this offense really needs attention. Whether it’s (Matt) Cassel or (Teddy) Bridgewater, it needs attention. You’ve got two offensive gurus who know quarterbacks as well as anyone ever did in Norv and his son (QB coach Scott Turner). That’s huge. And I know Norv is really high on AP still and he’s really high on Cordarrelle Patterson. Really excited about him. And they drafted really well. So there’s been significant change and I think all of it upgrades. I mean no disrespect to anyone who was there previously. Leslie Frazier is one of the most wonderful people I’ve met in the NFL. This team just needed different things. I think they’ve gotten them and I think we’ll see improvements. Just how much, I don’t know. But I do think they’ve had an extraordinarily good offseason.
DM: You had mentioned Bridgewater and Cassel. If they are basically neck and neck at camp… if Bridgewater is doing the things that have been leaking out that they are seeing from him that they were not necessarily expecting at this point, do you start the rookie? What is your instinct?
MT: My instinct at this point in the NFL is to put in the guy who gives you the best chance to win. If they are that close in talent, then I say you put in the guy you drafted. If you think he’s ready, put him in. Have there been disasters? Yes. But there have also been amazing successes, too. You can look at them all over the league. I’m not trying to put Bridgewater on the same level as a Peyton Manning or an Andrew Luck or an RGIII. I will say, yeah, they are thrilled with what they are seeing from him so far and Norv has told me what happened at his Pro Day, which was highly publicized, and did not go well. He said he went back and looked at his Pro Day and he made about 72 throws and only 6 of them were ill-advised. That’s pretty good. I think they really would like to play this kid. If they think he’s got it between the ears and is mentally tough enough, I think they will.
DM: And it sounds like he’s here in Minnesota, nose to the grindstone, doing the things he’s supposed to be doing as opposed to all of the news stories and reports about Johnny Manziel. You see two young players and how differently they are approaching things. There were a lot of Vikings fans who were not happy when they passed on Manziel to take Bridgewater. I don’t ever want to see someone fail, and I hope Manziel lights it up, but I do think the Vikings took the right guy for what this team needed.
MT: Manziel is a huge risk/reward quarterback. You’re either going to get great things, or it’s going to be a massive disappointment. Because everyone is expecting great things. If he doesn’t deliver on that, even if he’s just kind of good, I think people will be hugely disappointed. I don’t think the Vikings were in a position to do that. They needed to find someone that was steadier. The hype factor around Manziel, you have to be willing to take on all of that stuff that goes along with him. Dallas passed on him, too, and I think it was for that reason. They didn't want a circus and they didn't want that guy behind Tony Romo.
Now, we don’t have Tony Romo here, but I also think the risk was high enough and the reward could have been great, but you have to think of the down side, too, and I think they just believed they had stronger needs in other areas and they could wait to draft a different quarterback when they did. And I think that’s why they did it. As Norv said to me, they knew they had to take him in the first round. If he was still there at the end of the day, someone was going to take him right away in the second round. They believe in him enough and I would say with Norv Turner’s experience with quarterbacks, the guy knows what he’s talking about.
DM: As a fan, I’m really excited to watch the kid. As you well know, we’ve had a bit of a dry spell here. You’d also mentioned Cordarrelle Patterson. He’s so exciting to watch.
MT: Yes, he’s really exciting to watch and he’s also done some really good things community-wise that can go a long way to making him a fan favorite. I heard a story about him showing up at a kid’s school. He was at an awards dinner that I was recently at and you know, Adrian Peterson was receiving an award but chose to not come and I get it. But Cordarrelle came and said a bunch of really great things in his acceptance speech and also signed autographs. Things like that can go a long, long way. And I really believe that when a player feels embraced by his community, it can do nothing but help him play better and more confidently.
DM: Well that makes an interesting transition because I know you’ve covered the NBA and we’ve got a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves who is definitely not feeling loved by his community right now. As a professional, what do you think about that situation? As someone on the outside and as a fan, I didn’t want to blame the guy for wanting to win, but I think as fans, it really rubbed us the wrong way.
MT: You’re talking about Kevin Love?
DM: Yes, Kevin Love.
MT: We don’t know everything that goes on in an organization. We listen to the sports talk on the radio, we read the newspapers, and we think we know a lot more than we do. We don’t know how every sit down meeting has gone between Kevin Love and Glen Taylor or Kevin Love and Flip Saunders. When you are an extraordinary talent like that, you do want to win. Of course you do. Even if you’re not an extraordinary talent you want to win. When you have options and you want to win that ring before you’re done, I have a hard time blaming guys. Because quite honestly, you can say the team has been so loyal to him and that’s fine, but the team is always going to put the team’s interests first.
So why can’t the player put the player’s interests first? I know that doesn’t sound like a very ‘rah-rah’ hometown team kind of thing, but they are professional athletes. And when you’ve made enough money, at a certain point, you’re like ‘why am I doing this, because I want to win a championship’. It was like the same thing when Kevin Garnett left and won a championship, we were happy for him. He had done so much here in Minnesota and had played so hard and he never had taken a night off. Why should we treat Kevin Love much differently than that? I haven’t heard an argument for that yet.
DM: Right. I think it goes back to the whole point that these are human beings. Yes, they are making boatloads of money playing a game, but they are human. We all want to do our best. We all want to be recognized for that. So why should we hold that against these athletes? Because as fans, we do.
MT: We do. Because we think they should be so loyal to us and yet, you know what? A guy has a bad game or has an off night or makes a bad stupidly advised remark, boy can fans turn on them in a heartbeat. Yet, they still want them for their own. I think some people tend to think that these athletes are some sort of automatons who have no emotions and that they need to be perfect in everything that they do. We’re all imperfect. So if you know you are great, and he [Kevin Love] clearly is, you want to find the best situation. If you’re hearing from other teams ‘look what we’re building’ and you have a legitimate shot at a championship here, of course he’s going to listen. I just don’t think you can blame a person for that.
DM: Another local athlete that comes to mind is Joe Mauer. He has been absolutely crucified by fans and writers. I really think that’s something we don’t take into account is how that must weigh on a person. I know I’ve been very guilty about it. These athletes read the papers and hear the comments from fans, of course it’s going to bother you on some level.
MT: That’s the other thing. People say ‘it’s your job, so go do your job’. Have you ever had a bad day at work? The expectations set for these professional athletes are sometimes way too high. In the case of Mauer, he gets paid ridiculously and that’s when things seemed to turn. Is it disappointing? Sure it is for fans who pay to go see him. He got into this slump and he’s asking himself ‘why?, how?’. But they are human beings. And they’re human beings in a gigantic fish bowl. You’ve got to be really mentally able to handle that. And I would say the majority of pro athletes are. Because they’ve got their teammates helping them and their coaches. That’s where that "us against them" mentality comes from. They hear the boos from fans and figure they have to insulate themselves from it. They make it just about themselves. Winning for themselves. ‘Forget about the fans. They’re booing us?’ Let’s do this for us. And so I think this is where players, yes, this is what they signed up for, the good and the bad, the cheers and the boos, the money and the criticism. You know that when you sign up for it. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be perfect.
Shortly after I had the pleasure of conducting this interview with Ms. Tafoya, Fox Sports announced that they were replacing veteran sideline reporter Pam Oliver with Erin Andrews, who they lured away from ESPN in 2012. To say I was outraged would be an understatement. Oliver has been a sideline reporter for 19 years and is knowledgeable, intelligent, and knows how to conduct an interview (and is 53). Erin Andrews is blonde and perky (and 36). This only serves to prove my point about the "blonde effect" that has been happening on sports stations across the country for years now. I don’t understand how some can think this move was made because Andrews is better at this job. Of course, I also don’t understand why women like Michele Tafoya are relegated to sideline duty instead of being in the broadcast booth, either. I’m hopeful by the time my daughter is my age that this will have changed.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure it will.