One man’s fantasy football take

The NFL season kicked off Thursday night with all eyes on Tom Brady in his return to the field and Rob Gronkowski doing Gronk things. But tomorrow, Sunday, that’s when most teams open their seasons.

Sunday is the day fantasy football fans live for. Go to a local bar or restaurant that has NFL Sunday Ticket, and if you’re like me, it’s hard to keep your focus on one game for more than five minutes. I know. My already short attention span faces even more challenges Sunday afternoons.

While I haven’t had as much time to blog anymore at work, I still felt like tossing out a few fantasy football thoughts before the season gets underway, if at the very least just to remind myself how little I really know. Last year I went out on a limb in a very bad way for guys like Jay Cutler, Shane Vereen and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. But I did pretty well with

Aug 29, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Washington Redskins running back Matt Jones (31) runs past Baltimore Ravens defensive back Kyle Arrington (24) during the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Redskins rookie running back Matt Jones has enjoyed an impressive preseason and should carve out a role right away in Week 1. USA Today Sports

my calls on Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate, Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce. 

So even though your drafts and my drafts are down, here are a few guys I like better than their ADPs (average draft positions) this year:


Sam Bradford: I picked up as much Mark Sanchez as I could last year when he took over as the starter. Bradford is probably better than Sanchez, and any QB playing for the Eagles is worth owning if not starting. We’ve never seen what Bradford can do with this many weapons. And a lot of those weapons – Darren Sproles, Nelson Agholar, etc. – are great run-after-the-catch guys. Like Bradford a lot this year.

Carson Palmer: Like Bradford, Palmer has an injury-plagued past. But he’s got a pretty good receiving corps in John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Plus, this team struggled to run the football last year, and the personnel changes in the offseason haven’t convinced me that will change. Palmer threw for multiple TDs in 5 of 6 starts last year, and in the game he didn’t, he got injured.

Running backs

Lamar Miller: I wasn’t able to land Miller in any meaningful leagues, which was disappointing. Last year he had 1,110 rushing yards and averaged over 5 yards per carry, doing all of this despite backing up Knowshon Moreno for a good portion of the season. There isn’t anyone in his way this year, and the coaching staff is talking him up as an every-down back. I like Miller better than LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore and Melvin Gordon (guys who Yahoo had ranked higher than Miller when my league drafted) to name a few.

Ameer Abdullah: The hype train on Abdullah really took off when he had a couple of big runs in the preseason. I had to pay a hefty price in some leagues to make sure I got him. Joique Bell has been practicing recently, but he struggled the last couple of years and missed all of the team’s preseason games after offseason surgery. I really liked Abdullah in college. I think he can be an every-down guy. I’m banking the talent will create the opportunity.

LeGarrette Blount: With Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Jonas Gray gone, Blount seems assured of early-down duty every game. As always with the Patriots, his role will be game-plan dependent. But it’s obvious Bill Belichick likes him and trusts him.

Duke Johnson: The rookie running back has a pretty fun highlight tape on YouTube. The only other meaningful running back on the Browns is Isaiah Crowell, who had some impressive runs last year, but it just doesn’t seem like the coaching staff likes Crowell, who has had ball security issues. I think they will be going to The Duke very soon.

Matt Jones: Only player I own in all of my leagues. The rookie thrived in the preseason for Washington. Yes, Alfred Morris is in his way. But Morris is a free agent at year’s end. Morris has struggled when Robert Griffin III hasn’t started (RG3 was benched a couple weeks ago). Already talk that Jones will get 10 touches in Week 1. It’s only a matter of time before it’s his job, although his violent running style does make you wonder if he can hold up for a whole season.

Wide receivers

Allen Robinson: Look past the Jacksonville Jaguars and you’re missing out on this guy. Robinson had a very strong rookie season before injury cut it short. I really liked this guy coming into last season, and there’s no reason to think he won’t blow up in Year 2.

Steve Smith Sr.: Yes, he’s 36 years old. But as a Chicago Bears fan, I know what the Marc Trestman offense can mean for a passing game. Trestman, the former Bears head coach, is now the Ravens offensive coordinator. I’m not sure how other roles will shake out, but I’m convinced Smith is due for a big year. Wish I had him in more leagues.

Nelson Agholor: The rookie for Philadelphia will likely find himself filling the shoes of Jeremy Maclin, who went to Kansas City in the offseason. Again, this is a great offense to have players tied to.

Phillip Dorsett: Another rookie receiver, but remember what rookie receivers did last year. Dorsett is currently stuck behind TY Hilton and Andre Johnson, and that won’t change as long as they’re both healthy. But Hilton has already suffered a concussion in the preseason, and Johnson is 34 years old. If Dorsett, who is the third receiver, lands a starting spot in any week, he’s got plenty of potential with Andrew Luck throwing to him.

Tight end

Richard Rodgers: If you’re looking for a DEEP sleeper at the position, look no further. Jordy Nelson is out for the season, and Aaron Rodgers will be looking for someone to give those targets too. You can pay heavily for Davante Adams, or get this guy, who is largely going undrafted. He’s the starting tight end now in Green Bay, and I kind of feel like he could have a nice year. Maybe not many yards, but eight touchdowns?

Dealing with hunting failure

Strandquist, Minn.

There it was. Just a few dozen yards in front of me. A deer skipping through the woods, its big white tail flopping as it leaped over a fallen branch.

Unfortunately, this scene played out on a walking path in Thief River Falls, Minn., on Sunday and not on hunting land. And as it turned out, that doe within city limits was the only deer I have seen to this point while taking part in the Minnesota firearms deer season.

I didn’t fire a shot on Monday. Didn’t even see a deer. My dad didn’t see anything either. That’s nothing new, of course, for those who know me well.

I’ve had friends this time of year say they could never go deer hunting. They say they can’t imagine shooting an animal.

An awfully quiet morning spent in the moonlight near Strandquist, Minn. Hayden Goethe / The Forum

My response? “Don’t worry. We don’t shoot any either.”

Dad and I ventured out early Monday morning. My alarm was set for 5:30 a.m., which is about four hours earlier than I normally wake up. Even my dog – which is part greyhound, part border collie and all energy in the mornings – remained sprawled out on his dog bed with a look at me that seemed to suggest I must be crazy to be awake that early.

We made the 30-mile drive northwest from Thief River Falls to Strandquist, a city of about 70 residents that’s not too far from where we normally hunt. I don’t spend much time in Strandquist outside of hunting season, but I have to assume that it’s probably the most active week of the year for that small community and many like it littered throughout northwest Minnesota.

As we got out of the pickup just before sunrise, my dad asked if I wanted the harness to make sure I didn’t fall out of the tree stand. And that’s pretty funny when you consider he’s the one who if left unattended to for more than five minutes while sitting down in the living room will fall asleep. “If anyone needs the harness,” I said, “it’s you.”

We made the trek through the woods, stomping along the path surrounded by nothing but some pretty lifeless-looking trees. I stop at the “gray stand,” a two-word name that falls in line with other places we typically hunt from like the “rock pike” and the “wood post.” Not sure why all of our markers are known by two words, but they all are.

Sitting 12 feet in the air on the “gray stand” with total silence interrupted only by the rustling of brush or the occasional rodent scampering on the snow-covered ground, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about family, work and fantasy football. Three of the pillars of my life, really.

The weather wasn’t bad compared to some recent hunts. Temperatures were in the upper teens, and the wind was relatively tame. We’ve had better, and we’ve had a lot worse.

At times while sitting in that tree stand, I thought I heard movement on one side of me or the other. But in the end, nothing emerged. Dad returned from his tree stand after a few hours to call it a day, muttering occasionally about the lack of seeing anything on our way back to the truck. It’s deja vu, an all-too-familiar feeling for us. But there is still plenty of time.

So if anyone asks how Monday went, here’s another two-word phrase we use a lot when hunting: “Saw nothing.”

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The time was right to part ways with Gardy

For just the second time since 1986, the Minnesota Twins are looking for a new manager. And after four straight 90-plus loss seasons, who can blame them?

Is Ron Gardenhire to blame for the lack of talent? No. When given pitching staffs in recent years with Carl Pavano, Scott Diamond and Ricky Nolasco as aces, should success be expected? Definitely not.

But it’s time to get a new voice in the Twins’ dugout.

While the Twins were busy winning six AL Central titles in a nine-year span in the early part of this century, they were lauded for playing “The Twins Way.” That term was squashed by general manager Terry Ryan on Monday as having never existed, but still, Minnesota at the very least played the right way. Throwing strikes and playing defense was the name of the game.

And while the talent hasn’t been there, that style of play also hasn’t either. And to some degree, that does fall on the manager.

In 2002, the Twins went to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. Looking back on that team, there were a few stars (and also David Ortiz, who of course would reach stardom elsewhere). But it was a staff led by Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Joe Mays. Not exactly Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, but they were effective.

And if you looked around the diamond, there were plus defenders everywhere. Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman, Doug Mientkiewicz, Torii Hunter, etc., all made it a little easier to get by with a pitch-to-contact type of staff.

But now, that pitch-to-contact staff has a defense behind it that doesn’t rank well in most metrics, including defensive efficiency. The team ranked last in that one in 2011 and 2014, and was third from the bottom in 2013.

It’s certainly up to Ryan to find the right players for the team, and enough hasn’t been done in that area. Some of that continues to fall on former GM Bill Smith. This column by ESPN 1500’s Phil Mackey points out in great detail the issues with the team, including how poorly it drafted during the Smith era.

All too often, though, players who were mired in mediocrity or struggled with the Twins found success with other teams. A few that come to mind are David Ortiz, Carlos Gomez, Francisco Liriano and, of course, Vance Worley. To say in the case or Liriano that a move to the NL was the cause just isn’t enough. Switching leagues isn’t enough to explain how his ERA dropped from 5.23 in 2011-12 to 3.20 from 2013-14.

Justin Morneau failed to hit even .270 in any of his final three seasons with the Twins, yet won the NL batting title this year. Was it just bad luck that he got it going after leaving the Twins when they showed patience in him? Maybe. But maybe not.

It has been an organizational wide breakdown that’s the reason for the recent run of losses. The Twins axed their GM a couple of years ago. They had no choice but to do the same with Gardenhire on Monday.

Yet another man’s fantasy football picks

I know. I know. They are everywhere. No matter what sports site you frequent this time of year – ESPN, CBS Sports,, etc. – fantasy football columns are everywhere.

And if you are like me, you read EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.

Yeah, most people who spend any amount of time with me know I’m a bit of a psycho when it comes to this stuff. Fantasy sports appeals to my competitive nature, and hey, let’s face it, I prefer responsibility with fantasy consequences to responsibility with real consequences.

Everyone has an opinion. And here is mine.

But before I get rolling on players I like, a little history. My picks stunk in 2012 (Looking at you, Josh Freeman and Ben Tate). In 2013, I did pretty well. I named six sleepers in The Forum, with Knowshon Moreno, Giovani Bernard and Jordan Cameron all enjoying great success.

And that’s the great thing about writing these columns. It’s like weather forecasting – you aren’t going to be right every time, and it’s accepted.

So without further ado, my value picks as we approach a big fantasy football draft weekend.

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears: Is he a huge injury risk? Absolutely. He has missed 12 regular-season games during the last three years. But the cost isn’t high. And the ceiling is huge. Think about it. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and Matt Forte are all going among the top 25 overall picks in your fantasy drafts. How can Cutler not score? Combine the numbers of Cutler and then-backup Josh McCown last year, and you’d get the No. 3 QB in fantasy in 2013. If he can stay upright, he can be a top-five QB at a fraction of the cost.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers: Kaepernick definitely took a step back from a fantasy perspective in 2013. But I’m willing to give him a bit of a pass. His passing game weapons were practically anonymous due to the loss of Michael Crabtree for most of the season. But Crabtree is back, and I think in his second full year as a starter, Kaepernick will have a lot more freedom to make some plays. Plus, San Fran can’t lean on the aging Frank Gore forever. Ranked 13th among QBs in Yahoo, but I like him more than a few of the QBs ahead of him.

Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals: It kind of bothers me that I didn’t get this guy in any drafts. I look at his numbers from last year, and I can’t help but think this is Jamaal Charles circa 2010, just waiting to explode onto the fantasy scene (high YPC, big-play potential, concerns about durability). His head coach said he will be the team’s workhorse, which is much different than Charles in 2010. He had to fend off Thomas Jones for work. The cost is high (No. 17 overall in Yahoo), but I wish just once I would have gotten him. Feel like he’ll be a top-10 pick in 2015.

Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots: Own him in every league I am in. Why? Would have had 1,300 yards from scrimmage and 8 TDs last year at his pace for a full year. Comes cheap. Main threats for playing time last year were the since-departed LeGarrette Blount and the fumble-tastic Stevan Ridley (who ESPN projects won’t make 53-man roster). I just don’t see how Vereen doesn’t play at least as much if not more than he did a year ago. Even in non-PPR leagues, I am on board.

Wide receivers ranked outside top 25: I’m throwing all sorts of names out here because, if there is one thing I noticed during drafts, I like a lot of receivers who rank just outside the top 25 at their position in Yahoo. Among them: Jeremy Maclin, Golden Tate, Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders, Justin Hunter. In my “league of record,” I had Cutler as a keeper but I was surprised to see Aaron Rodgers available with my second-round pick in the 14-team league. I took Rodgers and traded Cutler for a fifth-rounder (I love Cutler, but let’s face it, Rodgers is a heck of a lot safer and throws a lot fewer interceptions), allowing me to take Maclin (top WR on best fantasy offense in football) and Tate (highly efficient WR getting huge offensive system upgrade from SEA to DET) in a three-pick span in the fifth. I nabbed Hunter – who is having a big preseason – much later. I like Decker (he put up stats with Tebow for crying out loud) and Sanders (Welker injury certainly helps him) too, but no dice in that league.

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs: Might be the buzziest player in preseason, yet still has one of those rankings in Yahoo in the 1000s overall. So the cost is practically nothing as long as your friends are all sticking with the rankings. Kelce was a third-round pick in the NFL draft last year, but a knee injury forced him to miss the entire season. He has made quite a few big plays in exhibition play (here’s one). Only Anthony Fasano stands between him and the starting job, and the Chiefs need playmakers, especially with Dwayne Bowe suspended for Week 1.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I’ll admit that you have to be in a deep league like I am to make a pick like this. But I keep reading about how much of a freak athlete this guy is and how much head coach Lovie Smith loves him. And then earlier this week the Bucs traded last year’s starting tight end Tim Wright to New England (I kinda like Wright a little more now too). The path has been cleared for Seferian-Jenkins, although Brandon Myers was also brought in and could be a bit of a roadblock for playing time. Sounds like Tampa does plans to do a lot of two-TE sets this year. Some – not me, but some – are comparing Seferian-Jenkins’ skills to Rob Gronkowski. As mentioned, my main league is a keeper one, so I plan to hold onto him for awhile and see what happens.

Have any thoughts? Leave a comment for me. Or find me on Twitter at

Hicks, Arcia are keys to respectability for Twins

After three straight seasons with 90-plus losses, the uphill climb that the Minnesota Twins face entering today’s season opener has become very steep.

There is hope for the future, which I touched on in our season preview in today’s paper. The Twins farm system is highly ranked by a number of sources, including Baseball America.

But in terms of 2014, two young players who will play significant roles in Minnesota’s fortunes are outfielders Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia.

Hicks and Arcia – who were among those top-ranked prospects entering last season – debuted in 2013, with Hicks struggling mightily and Arcia providing mixed results.

Hicks forced his way onto the opening day roster last season with a big spring, but hit only .192 in 81 games. The same spring scenario played out again this year, with Hicks once again the starting – and, like last year, lone – center fielder.

Arcia came up midseason and provided some pop with 14 homers in 97 games. But he also struck out 117 times in just 351 at-bats.

John Manuel, who is the editor in chief of Baseball America, spoke at length about the team’s prospects in today’s Forum story. But he also touched on Hicks and Arcia, saying he’s much more bullish on Arcia’s potential moving forward.

“I’m pretty excited about Arcia,” Manuel said earlier this month. “… I believe he will hit at the big league level. He impacts the baseball with consistency. I’m fairly bullish on him.”

As for Hicks, Manuel said: “Aaron Hicks is a much tougher guy to read. Didn’t read some good things about him when he got sent to Triple-A. The buzz around Hicks and how he was handling his struggles and his demotion was not great. … He had about as bad of year as you can have last year. He had to deal with a lot of failure. And indications were he didn’t handle it well. Generally the track record for guys who have a year that bad is not good.”

When looking at this team, I think the Twins – thanks to Glen Perkins, Casey Fien, Jared Burton and company – should have a solid, dependable bullpen. And while Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes probably won’t produce like the Nos. 1 and 3 starters that they are on the Twins, this is a veteran staff. And I think it’s a predictable staff. Not a great staff, but I think we know what to expect.

The hope is that Nolasco, Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey can at the very least pitch deep enough into games to keep the top bullpen arms fresh and productive.

The lineup has the greatest amount of question marks. How much will Josmil Pinto play? Can Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham return to their 2012 forms? Who is the leadoff hitter? Who is the No. 2 hitter, for that matter?

But Hicks and Arcia are the keys. Right now, this feels like a team that will go 68-94. Pitching has been elusive for the Twins in recent years, and now the lineup looks like, even with a good start, that it might struggle to consistently produce enough runs each game to win.

Twins Caravan leftovers

Nothing really beats talking baseball on a cold January night like we endured in Fargo-Moorhead last night. The Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan stop at The Hub couldn’t have come at a better time.

Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, reliever Anthony Swarzak, Twins broadcaster and Baseball Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, bench coach Terry Steinbach and Twins President Dave St. Peter were in attendance Monday.

I wrote a couple of stories that ran in today’s Forum, with one focusing on the team’s pitching upgrades and the other a notebook that touched on the team’s prospects, payroll and Metrodome memories.

I had plenty more that just didn’t make the print edition. A few more notes for you diehard baseball fans out there:

Swarzak’s emergence

I mentioned in the main story that Swarzak led MLB relievers last season with 96 innings out of the bullpen. In fact, his relief innings total last season was the most for any major league pitcher since Scott Proctor tossed 102 1/3 innings out of the New York Yankees bullpen in 2006.

On a team that won only 66 games and had the worst starting pitching in baseball, Swarzak was a true unsung hero last season, posting a 2.91 ERA.

If you’re a sabermetric type, his bWAR (Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement) of 1.7 was second on the team’s entire staff behind closer Glen Perkins’ 2.1.

But Swarzak – as good as he was in the bullpen – said he still “wants to be a starter one day again” and hoped that he would get that opportunity again someday.

Next in line behind Gardy

Steinbach talked at length with me about last night regarding last season, which was his first as a major league coach of any kind.

One thing to keep in mind with the role of bench coach is that Steinbach is the quote-unquote manager when manager Ron Gardenhire gets ejected from games. And we all know Gardy doesn’t shy away from that.

Steinbach was very quick to point out that while he might be manager under that scenario, he relies more on the rest of the coaching staff than someone in that position normally would. He pointed out the extensive coaching experience of guys like Scott Ullger and Rick Anderson.

Steinbach added that he is looking forward to Year 2 on the bench and hopes last season’s time proves invaluable to him.

Offense needs plenty of help too

It slips through the cracks because of the immense ineptitude of the starting rotation, but the Twins lineup has really struggled each of the last couple of seasons. And having an entire year without a guy like Justin Morneau puts this group in a bigger hole of other players don’t emerge.

Minnesota has ranked in the bottom five in the AL in runs scored each of the last three seasons.

“Last year we had a lot of guys come up and get that experience,” Plouffe said. “It’s not easy to come up and have success right away.”

Joe Mauer is moving to first base, which fills the void left by Morneau last season. But that also opens up the catcher position, which – no offense to Kurt Suzuki, Josmil Pinto, etc. – has no chance of getting anywhere near the production that Mauer provided from that position.

But Plouffe said he thinks having Mauer at first base is a good thing.

“We want his bat in the lineup as much as possible,” Plouffe said. “If that’s what it takes to get his bat in the lineup, then we are all for it.”

Looking for outfield help

Touched on it in the notebook briefly, but St. Peter did say he would like to see the team add a little more offense still. He pointed out that players become available in spring training, which left me thinking that any upgrades there would probably just be platoon-type or bench players and likely won’t come until March when rosters start getting squeezed.

When pressed regarding what type of position he’d like to see improved, he mentioned the outfield.

The Twins have outfield options, but it’s anyone’s guess how that group will sort itself out. Josh Willingham – in the final year of his contract – is locked in at left.

No doubt the Twins would love to see Aaron Hicks emerge in center field after a dreadful rookie campaign. Alex Presley, who came over from Pittsburgh in the Morneau deal, should get a good look as well.

I thought Oswaldo Arcia, 22, had an encouraging rookie season, belting 14 homers in 351 at-bats. He was at times overmatched, as his 117 strikeouts will attest to. He should get plenty of at-bats in either right field or as the designated hitter. Jason Kubel is also on the team with a minor league deal.

Metrodome at least built memories that last

The Metrodome on its final MLB opening day in 2009.

There probably is no shortage of Minnesota Vikings fans lamenting Sunday’s victory against the Detroit Lions in the team’s regular-season finale. The Vikings were not in playoff contention, meaning the win only worsened the team’s draft position.

But I was glad to see the Vikings win in what marked the final major sporting event in the history of the Metrodome. The stadium deserved to go out with one last win.

The Metrodome was the stadium of my childhood. Often ripped by visiting players and coaches – and a lot of home fans too – during my youth for its appearance and its many shortcomings, there was no other place I’d rather be.

The eye-popping inflatable roof masked what was a pretty plain-looking stadium on the inside. The sightlines were terrible for baseball, which was more often than not the reason I was at the Metrodome. The turf – especially in its early days – looked like anything but grass.

But I sure loved being there. I first stepped into the Metrodome in the summer of 1987. My parents took my younger brother and I to our first Twins game. This was the summer that saw the Twins surprisingly in a fight for the AL West title. The season would end with Minnesota winning its first World Series.

But on that summer day, my mind was not at all focused on the standings. I was too in awe of the seemingly endless white roof over our heads or the big blue baggie in right field. There was Kirby Puckett in center field, the idol of my childhood. And, of course, who could forget the feeling of being pushed out of the stadium’s doors by air pressure when it was all over. Man, that was a rush, especially when you’re a first-grader going there for the first time.

My best memory was attending Game 163 in the 2009 season. MLB Network placed that game in its top 20 list that it broadcast a couple years back. It was a wild back-and-forth game that saw the Twins outlast the Detroit Tigers in a playoff tiebreaker, sending the Twins to the ALDS thanks to Alexi Casilla driving home Carlos Gomez for the winning run.

I remember after that game sitting at a Minneapolis bar with my co-worker Tom Mix and one of his friends. We had gone to the game just for fun, not to cover it. We were all just speechless afterwards at that bar, knowing we’d never go to a game quite as crazy as that one, especially considering what was on the line. I attended the ALDS Game 3 against the Yankees, which ultimately proved to be the final MLB game at the Metrodome, as the Twins got swept in the series.

The Metrodome was a lot of things. A baseball stadium should never have been one of them.

But it’s the big events that ultimately matter when you reflect on a stadium’s life. Whether it was watching the 1987 and 1991 World Series on TV or attending game’s like the 2009 AL Central tiebreaker, the Metrodome did have a lot to offer over the decades. And I’ll miss it. Target Field, TCF Bank Stadium and the new Vikings stadium have big shoes to fill.

The Bison in the spotlight again, our ESPN moment and more

I have had Aug. 30, 2013 circled on my metaphorical calendar for a pretty long time. I suppose that’s like many North Dakota State fans when the road game at Kansas State first appeared on the schedule, but for me, it had nothing to do with any plans to go to Manhattan, Kan.

The surest sign of the end of summer – and vacation season for me – is the start of high school football season. While there are a handful of Tuesday and Thursday games on opening week, the first big night is that last Friday in August, when most of the teams in our area take the field for the first time.

That’s when our training of new sports clerks gets accelerated. That’s when between 9 and 10:30 p.m. the phones ring off the hook and you literally lose 90 minutes of time, like in those “X-Files” abduction episode (If you’re under the age of 30 or not a nerd, I don’t expect you to get that reference.).

And you’re telling me that to go along with the high school football opener, NDSU is opening its season on that Friday night? And against the reigning Big 12 champs and a BCS bowl team from a year ago? I’ve been thinking for months, “Aug. 30 could be the craziest night of work we’ve ever had.”

Fun to reflect on now. The moment when NDSU QB Brock Jensen plunged into the end zone for the winning score and I knew that, yes, we will again be going nuts with our section. Or when my colleague Andrew Gottenborg blurted out “Manhattan Magic” and I knew we had our headline. Or when part-timer Madalyn Laske – in the middle of a barrage of football box score calls – picked up the phone, then turned to me and said she had a call from Connecticut for me and page designer Michael Smith asked, “Is it ESPN?,” which I laughed off.

Turned out it was ESPN, and they wanted our sports cover, which at the time was completely blank. Seeing the completed cover on “SportsCenter” at 1:30 a.m. was a great capper to the night and one of the coolest moments of my career (I included a photo of it below if you didn’t catch it).

Looking back on the game, I think the ESPN moment sums up these upsets pretty well. I feel like NDSU knocking off Kansas State was a huge upset, but the term “Shocker” in the sports headline almost feels sarcastic. After all, the Bison have won four straight games against FBS teams and have a 7-3 mark versus that level. Are we really shocked anymore?

That isn’t to take anything away from the win. And without a doubt, the Wildcats were the strongest of those 10 opponents. They’ve had some roster turnover just like any team has, but they’re still the defending Big 12 champs, and they still went to a BCS bowl game last season.

It’s a monumental win for NDSU. But from my standpoint, it’s not the win that is surprising. It’s always the national attention that comes with the win.

It’s seeing NDSU lead off “SportsCenter” and having the Bison be the top story on a number of national sports websites. That’s always the real shocker. Because even though I picked the Wildcats to win, I certainly wasn’t stunned that the Bison pulled it off. It’s hard to be stunned by any win they pull off anymore.

It was a wild night to be a part of. Thanks to Gottenborg, Smith, Laske, Glenn Pursley, Colton Pool and Tom Mix for pulling it off on our end. Don’t forget to check out Heidi Roepke‘s outstanding A1. And thanks to Carrie Snyder for the amazing photo, and to Kevin Schnepf, Jeff Kolpack and Eric Peterson for great reporting in a very small window of time to do it.

North Dakota State’s upset football win against Kansas State grabbed national headlines. And ESPN even grabbed our headline early Saturday morning.

Hayden Goethe is the Assistant Sports Editor at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. You can follow him on Twitter @hgoethe

Not every NFL game tonight should be ignored

It’s Week 4 of the NFL preseason, with all 32 teams playing tonight. But there’s an empty feel to it. Many of the teams will not even suit up their first-stringers, opting instead to give them one last week off before the NFL’s regular season kicks off next week.

The Minnesota Vikings, who have struggled offensively throughout the preseason, are not expected to use starting quarterback Christian Ponder tonight against the Tennessee Titans.

But there are a few NFL games worth keeping an eye on if you’re a hardcore football fan watching NFL Network nonstop this time of year.

Here are a few matchups I’ll be tracking:

  • Detroit at Buffalo: The Buffalo Bills have endured a few injuries at the quarterback position. Rookie first-round pick E.J. Manuel is out for tonight and may not be ready for Week 1 of the regular season. Backup QB Kevin Kolb sustained another concussion last week. That leaves undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and recently signed veteran QB – and acclaimed ballroom dancer – Matt Leinart battling for the starting job for Week 1. Both will play tonight.
  • Cleveland at Chicago: The Vikings’ NFC North rival Chicago Bears were apparently so distressed by backup Josh McCown’s play in the preseason that they signed Trent Edwards and Jordan Palmer in back-to-back days two weeks ago. Considering how poor the Bears’ line is, Jay Cutler’s chances of playing all 16 regular-season games are never good. Edwards and Palmer could be battling tonight for first in line to replace him.
  • Oakland at Seattle: The Matt Flynn Bowl gets underway in Seattle tonight. Flynn, who was expected to be the starter in Oakland this season, will watch injured from the sidelines as Terrelle Pryor has the chance to lock up the starting QB job for the Raiders. This was very similar to a year ago in Seattle, when Flynn – then with the Seahawks – lost his job to Russell Wilson. Pryor will play tonight, albeit against the backup Seahawks.

Remembering Marv Bossart

It’s been nice reading all of the great tributes to longtime WDAY anchor Marv Bossart, who passed away last week at age 79.

I’m too young to have known Bossart as a co-worker within Forum Communications. My experience with him came at Minnesota State Moorhead, where Bossart taught broadcast journalism courses.

I never had any interest in a career spent in front of the camera. Broadcast courses were required at MSUM for online journalism majors, so I took what I had to in that area.

And going into my first class with him, to be honest, I really didn’t know that much about him. I grew up in northwest Minnesota, which is WDAZ territory rather than WDAY.

Bossart’s classes were difficult, but they were fair. The students in those courses were a mix of broadcast kids and print/online kids like myself, but I never felt he was any less interested in my progress than anyone else’s just because I was a print/online student. That may not sound like a big deal, but I can’t say that about every professor I ran into.

And wow, did I learn a lot from him. Everything you’re reading this week is true. He was really a nice guy and had a great way of establishing professor-student relationships, encouraging on the one hand while also stressing the importance of improving. He’s often applauded for his on-camera presence, which is deserved as well.

One thing that I feel hasn’t been mentioned are his writing skills. That’s the one area that I learned so much from him. He always stressed the importance of writing tight, with the mindset of “it’s a 30-minute newscast, and every second counts.” Your TV script takes too long to get to the point, and maybe another story is left out of the newscast because of it.

That’s the type of thing that journalism students of any emphasis need help with. It’s not just for TV. When you only have a 15-inch spot for a story in the newspaper, you’d better make the most of every word too.

Anyone who took classes from Bossart is a better journalist because of it, and I’m proud to say I was someone who had the opportunity to learn from him.