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Zulgad: Worst blunders in Minnesota sports? There are plenty from which to pick

By Judd Zulgad

J.R. Smith’s failure to realize his Cleveland Cavaliers were tied with Golden State when he got the rebound of George Hill’s missed free throw late in regulation of Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday became the latest massive blunder by an athlete.

Smith, who later claimed he knew the score was tied but clearly thought the Cavs were ahead, inexplicably dribbled back toward half court instead of shooting or getting the ball to LeBron James. That cost Cleveland a chance to get a last-second shot. The Warriors then cruised to a 124-114 victory in overtime.

This got us thinking about the biggest errors in Minnesota sports. The question was put out on Twitter on Friday during “The Mackey & Judd” show. We weren’t looking for things like missed kicks — so no Gary Anderson or Blair Walsh — but rather mental miscues from a coach or player.

We picked five. Here are the stories:

Vikings: Twelve men in the huddle, Jan. 24, 2010

The Vikings and New Orleans were tied at 28 in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game with 19 seconds remaining and Minnesota driving at the Saints’ 33-yard line. That’s when something went terribly wrong.

The Vikings, coming out of a timeout, jogged back on the Superdome turf. It was at that point the officials realized there were 12 helmets in the Minnesota huddle and threw a flag. Fullback Naufahu Tahi was blamed for being the extra man, but it soon became clear that chaos on the Brad Childress-led Vikings sideline was the primary issue.

The penalty moved the Vikings to the Saints’ 38-yard line and on third-and-15 another of the great blunders in Minnesota sports — Brett Favre’s decision to try to force a ball to Sidney Rice in the middle of the field — resulted in an interception that ended the Vikings drive and likely cost them an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. The Saints ended up winning, 31-28, on an overtime field goal.

Better options for Favre would have included throwing the ball to an open Bernard Berrian on the sideline or even hobbling ahead for a few yards to set up a Ryan Longwell field-goal attempt. (Favre was extremely limited after being beat up by the Saints in what turned into Bounty Gate.)

Of course, if the Vikings had avoided having an extra-man in the huddle, they could have run one more play on third-and-10 from the Saints’ 33 and then had the reliable Longwell attempt a 50-yard field goal.

Vikings: Taking a knee, Jan. 17, 1999

Anderson’s first miss of that season on a 38-yard attempt always will be remembered as the moment that cost the Vikings the 1998 NFC title game. While that kick, which would have put the Vikings up 30-20 with 2 minutes, 18 seconds left in regulation, still hurts Minnesota fans to this day, there were other critical mistakes and misguided decisions made that afternoon.

One of those was coach Dennis Green’s decision to have quarterback Randall Cunningham take a knee with the score tied at 28 — the Falcons drove 71 yards in eight plays for a touchdown after Anderson’s miss — on the last play of regulation.

On first down, with 49 seconds left, Cunningham had run up the middle for 7 yards to the Minnesota 27. On second-and-3, Cunningham failed to connect on a pass with rookie sensation Randy Moss. Then the leader of an offense that had scored the since-broken NFL record of 556 points was told to take a knee on third down with 27 seconds left. That ran out the clock and forced overtime.

The Vikings did not want to have to give the ball back to Atlanta, but what if a down-the-field shot had worked and given Anderson another chance to make a field goal and pull out a last-second victory?

Green wasn’t willing to take that chance and the late coach’s decision is discussed to this day.

The Vikings won the coin toss in overtime but failed to score on two possessions. The Falcons ended it with Morten Andersen’s 38-yard field goal as the Metrodome went silent and Minnesota went home with a 16-2 record.

Gophers football: The clock is running, Oct. 31, 2015

Tracy Claeys’ first game as Gophers’ interim coach following Jerry Kill’s resignation looked like it was going to have a fairy tale ending. But Claeys’ clock management, or lack of it, made it a nightmare and his quarterback, Mitch Leidner, didn’t help matters.

Minnesota trailed 15th-ranked Michigan, 29-26, on Halloween night at TCF Bank Stadium, when Leidner directed a drive late in the fourth quarter that looked like it ended with a 23-yard pass to Drew Wolitarsky with 19 seconds left that initially was ruled a touchdown.

A review showed Wolitarsky’s knee hit the turf just before the ball crossed the goal line, meaning the Gophers had first-and-goal from a half-yard out with one timeout. The Gophers would have to work hard to lose this game. That’s exactly what they did.

The clock started after the review was complete, but Leidner clearly did not realize this and he wasn’t given any help when offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover sent in a play that included plenty of motion and shifts and ate up 17 seconds. Leidner then threw an incomplete pass, meaning the Gophers could either attempt a tying field goal or go for the win on fourth down.

Claeys did the latter and Leidner was stuffed on a sneak attempt as time expired. The fans in TCF Bank Stadium were stunned as Michigan sprinted to grab the Little Brown Jug. The Gophers, as they have done too many times, had turned what appeared to be sure victory into an agonizing defeat.

Twins: The day Punto went too far, Oct. 11, 2009

Nick Punto doubled off the Yankees’ Phil Hughes to open the eighth inning in Game 3 of the American League Division series with the Twins trailing 2-1 in what would prove to be the final baseball game in the Metrodome.

When Denard Span hit an infield single, Punto came around third and, hearing the crowd, thought the ball had gotten through.

When Punto realized that wasn’t the case, and after going through third base coach Scott Ullger’s stop sign, he tried to scramble back to third. It was too late. Shortstop Derek Jeter had fielded Span’s bouncer behind second base and threw home. Catcher Jorge Posada’s throw back to third baseman Alex Rodriguez easily beat Punto, who had slid on the turf about halfway down the third-base line and then got up and tried to get back with a headfirst dive.

If memory serves, even Twins radio voice John Gordon was amazed by Punto’s mistake and shortly thereafter the Yankees had a 4-1 victory and a series sweep of the Twins. “It’s a huge play and I can’t let that happen,” Punto told reporters. “It’s one of those things. I’m kicking myself.”

The Yankees have an easy enough time beating up on the Twins, they don’t need the Twins help. In this case, Punto gave the Bronx Bombers plenty of assistance.
Vikings: You’re going the wrong way, Oct. 25, 1964

One of the most famous mistakes in NFL history actually did not result in defeat.

It came at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco when Vikings legendary defensive end Jim Marshall picked up a fumble by 49ers running back Billy Kilmer, who later became a quarterback, and started running toward the wrong end zone.

Marshall didn’t realize it until he had gone 66 yards and tossed the ball into the stands. It turned out to be a safety and two points for the 49ers. That cut the Vikings lead to 27-19 in a game Minnesota ended up winning, 27-22.

Marshall, who had joined the Vikings in their inaugural season in 1961, played in 282 consecutive games before retiring after the 1979 season. His wrong-way run has lived on for years, thanks in large part to NFL Films, but it’s more humorous than anything. It’s too bad we can’t say the same for the rest of this list.

The post Zulgad: Worst blunders in Minnesota sports? There are plenty from which to pick appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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