NFL team on the verge of a new stadium

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NFL team on the verge of a new stadium

From Comcast SportsNet
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- The Minnesota Vikings' hopes of a new stadium are one affirmative vote away from becoming reality. Only a state Senate vote stands between the franchise and the 975 million stadium the Vikings would move into ahead of the 2016 season. The House passed the stadium plan early Thursday by a 71-60 vote. The stadium would lock down a treasured team no longer bound by a stadium lease, but also would go down as the one of the largest subsidized projects in state history at a time of tight government budgets. The reworked bill has the Vikings paying 477 million, a significant cut above the figure team officials had once described as "set in stone." Though the package was tougher, it was clearly the team's only chance to replace the Metrodome, a 30-year-old facility the Vikings say has outlived its usefulness. Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the team's billionaire owners, New Jersey developers Zygi and Mark Wilf, decided to lock in the deal rather than hold out for better terms, knowing the Legislature had only two days left to act. "It is a heavy lift but it is the right thing to do for Minnesota," Bagley said. The Vikings intend to take advantage of an NFL loan program, sell naming rights and possibly impose seat license fees to help cover the team's end of construction costs. As revised, the fixed-roof stadium would draw on 348 million in state money, plus 150 million from an existing city of Minneapolis hospitality tax. Under the bill, the Vikings would sign a 30-year lease on a stadium to be built on the site of the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The team would pay about 13 million annually in operating fees, though a public authority gets the power to rent out the building on non-game days for concerts, conventions and special events. The Wilfs would get exclusive rights to recruit a professional soccer team to Minnesota. The bill gives the Vikings the option to upgrade to a retractable roof, but at their expense. Bagley said the Vikings haven't decided if they'll make that enhancement. The state's share was to come through expanded gambling, which some legislators opposed on principle. Others worried the state overestimated the money it would get by authorizing charitable organizations to offer electronic versions of pull tabs, a low-tech paper game offered in bars and restaurants around the state. Rep. Morrie Lanning, a Republican who was the stadium's chief House advocate, said getting the required votes depended on upping the team contribution by 50 million. The team long said it would give no more than 427 million. "We knew we had to drive a hard bargain and we drove a hard bargain," he said. If the Senate gives its OK later Thursday, the bill goes to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature, a near certainty given the months he has pressed legislators to come up with a stadium deal that would guarantee the Vikings don't get lured away. The city of Minneapolis would have a month to consent, which is considered a formality. Outgunned but not going quietly, opponents expressed disgust that lawmakers were bowing to baseless fears of the team leaving if it doesn't get a new stadium. "I think the state got rolled. Our constituents got rolled," said Rep. Tina Liebling, a Democrat from Rochester. "I think we can do much better." Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen was among those to slam the state's decision to authorize thousands of mini-gambling devices in bars and restaurants and take a cut of the profits. He characterized the plan as preying on people addicted to gambling. "Rather than Robin Hood, we're robbing the poor to subsidize the rich," said Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe. But ardent fan Larry Spooner Jr., the leader of a band of Vikings fans who held daily vigils at the Capitol during stadium discussions, was giddy with excitement. Spooner said he would hold off on celebrating until all of the votes were done. "We are Vikings fans," he said. "We are prepared for the worst."

McAdam: Despite all the talk, Ortiz is still the retiring type

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McAdam: Despite all the talk, Ortiz is still the retiring type

CHICAGO -- Will or won't he?

It's the first week of May, and already the question is being asked. Sure, David Ortiz said he was retiring after this season. But will he stick to his word or change his mind? Inquiring minds want to know.

The questions get louder with every homer hit, every run knocked in, every milestone reached.

When Ortiz homered off Carlos Rodon Wednesday night, becoming the first lefty hitter to ever do so, the chatter began again.

It's unlikely to stop much in the coming months, especially if Ortiz continues to hit at this sort of pace. If Ortiz continues to produce like he has in the first five weeks, like he did a year ago, why would he walk away from a game he can still dominate?

But that's missing the point.

Ortiz isn't retiring because he can't perform any longer. Remember, he made the announcement last November, weeks after he finished 2015 with 37 homers, the most he's had in a single season since his club-record 54 in 2006.

Ortiz couldn't have had any sense that he was nearing the end after what he achieved last year. And he can't be motivated financially, either; the Red Sox hold a $15 million option for 2017, meaning he knew he was walking away from that when he decided to quit.

So maybe, just maybe, Ortiz is retiring because he doesn't want to play any more.

He may still love the game and enjoy the lifestyle, but he's played professional baseball for the last 23 years, or more than half of his life. That's a lot of plane rides, bus rides and time away home and family.

And even though he's essentially been a DH for virtually all of his Red Sox career, there's still a physical price to play. The Achilles injury he suffered several years ago still affects him.

It was telling that Ortiz was out of the lineup for both games in Atlanta, a National League city where the Red Sox can't use the DH. In the past, he would have started at least one game at first base. But this time he pinch-hit in the first and didn't appear at all in the second.

Then there's the matter of the hype surrounding The Long Goodbye. Three franchises -- including the White Sox Thursday night -- have held ceremonies to honor Ortiz's last visit to their ballpark. In the coming weeks there will be pregame tributes in Kansas City, San Francisco, and Minneapolis, with many more to follow.

It would be pretty awkward for Ortiz for shrug his shoulders, announce he's had a change of heart, and give back those gifts.

There are planned promotions at Fenway, with sponsors cued up to take part in various events.

Ortiz has also agreed to be the subject of a season-long documentary by a production company that followed him around on Opening Day, the home opener at Fenway and will be around periodically throughout the season. What happens to that project? Does it become an inside look at the next-to-last season for David Ortiz? Would anyone watch "A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Year David Ortiz Gave Careful Consideration To Retiring Before Changing His Mind?''

And while it's true Ortiz has developed a good relationship with president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in a short period of time, and Dombrowski would undoubtedly welcome Ortiz back next season, it's highly unlikely Dombrowski's presence could bring about a change of heart.

After all, Ortiz has had a very good relationship with John Farrell and enjoys playing for him. So if Farrell, whose history with Ortiz dates back to 2007, can't sway Ortiz, it's highly doubtful Dombrowski could.

Mostly, this talk has surfaced because of the Sports Talk Industrial Complex, a business that traffics in conspiracy theories and is in dire need of debate and hot takes 24-7.

Noted player evalautor Sigmund Freud, however, once sagely noted: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

And sometimes, a retirement is just a retirement.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Curran: Shula will be remembered in New England as an angry old man

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Curran: Shula will be remembered in New England as an angry old man

Don Shula landed in the hospital this week and, fortunately, the 86-year-old former Dolphins coach was treated and released

But the news served as a reminder of two things. One, Shula’s getting really old. Two, the time will come when it’s time to pay proper tribute to his coaching career and also point out that the petty potshots Shula’s lobbed at the Patriots since 2007 have colored New England’s opinion of him.

All politics are local,” the great Tip O’Neill once said. Sports, too. We view things through our parochial prism, asking, “What does this (person/event) mean to me?”

The first thing people think about in this six-state region when it comes to Shula isn’t his 36 years as an NFL head coach, record 347 career wins, two Super Bowl titles, six Coach of the Year awards and his team’s perfect season in 1972. The first thing they think about is the times he’s ripped and discredited Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Few people under 40 will remember watching Shula coach in the 1984 Super Bowl. Few under 30 will remember him coaching in the NFL, period (he retired after the 1995 season).

That’s reality. And it’s too bad, because Belichick has always spoken on Shula with reverence. And the respect, at least for a while, was reciprocated.

More than a decade ago, as the Patriots prepared for the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 38, Belichick was asked about what he remembered about the 1972 Dolphins.

“They won all their games," Belichick deadpanned, before adding, “They had a pretty good coach. I tell you what, they had a pretty good coach (Shula). One of the coaches that I was fortunate, when I came into the league, he was coaching in the division I was in. I think Don is obviously one of the all-timers and should be."

While Belichick’s primary coaching idols were his father Steve, legendary Browns and Bengals coach Paul Brown, and Navy coach Wayne Hardin, Belichick closely followed Shula as well.

Growing up a Colts fan in Annapolis, Belichick said, “[Shula] was a guy I probably saw more of than anyone else. And who better to look at than Don Shula?"

Shula reciprocated.

"I just think he's done a tremendous job," Shula said back then. "One of the great coaching jobs of all-time was (in 2001). He brought them out of nowhere, with a young quarterback. The way they won, instead of sitting on the ball at the end like [announcer John] Madden wanted them to, they showed confidence in [quarterback Tom] Brady and the system, and they won in overtime. And then you look at what they did (in 2003) . . . They somehow find a way to win. Close games, they find a way to do it. And the other thing you admire is, they had so many injuries and you never heard a complaint. All they did was line up each week and win. The emphasis was on getting the next guy ready to play, and playing the next game.

"That starts at the top, Belichick, the coaching staff, the organization. Everybody is talking about parity, and they don't know what to expect, but (the Patriots) have gone to the Super Bowl two out of three years. That speaks volumes about their organization, their coaches and their players."

Shula’s tune changed, not surprisingly, in 2007 when the Patriots began to stalk the 1972 Dolphins perfect season.

In early November, Shula said the Patriots videotaping of opponent’s coaching hand signals in the first game of the season and in previous years “tainted” them. "The Spygate thing has diminished what they've accomplished," Shula said. "You would hate to have that attached to your accomplishments. They've got it."

Shula tried to walk his comments back two days later. "If they run the table, and they win all the games, then they are doing it within the rules of the National Football League," Shula said. "And there shouldn't be any asterisk to it. That would be the accomplishment that they made. It would be the best in all of sports."

But less than a month after that, with the Patriots bidding to get to 12-0, Shula was a guest in ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth when the Patriots played in Baltimore.

It was one of the most memorable games of the Bill Belichick Era and Shula rooted openly on national television for the Ravens. (This live blog recap is hysterical.) Bill Simmons described Shula’s appearance by writing, “Don Shula's interminable 'Monday Night Football' cameo during the Pats-Ravens game was the interminably long cameo by which all other interminably long cameos should be measured: I didn't find anything that he said to be interesting; he openly rooted for one of the two teams; he wouldn't even leave when Mike Tirico thanked him for stopping by 25 different times . . . ”

While the pride of ownership in being the lone team to have a perfect season is understandable, the annual champagne-popping and chest-puffing of those Dolphins had jumped from cute to obnoxious years before. Reactions among the ’72 Dolphins when the Patriots finished the regular season 16-0 were evenly split between genuine and grudging respect.

“My heart is dead set against it,” said ex-Dolphin Bob Kuechenberg. “The '72 team is uniquely immortal in American sports and I don't want us to lose that special place. We will forever be immortal, and if they win every game in front of them, then they will join us among those ranks.”

Belichick stayed consistent in his respect for Shula. He mentioned having had dinner with Shula in the offseason prior to 2007. He said in December of that year, "I was a big fan of Coach Shula from when he was at Baltimore and his association with my dad, going all the way back to when they were in Ohio . . . The team they had was an awesome team and they were fun to watch.”

The whole thing lay dormant for nearly seven years until a Florida columnist sat down with Shula in January 2015 on the occasion of his 85th birthday. During the conversation, Belichick’s name came up. 

“Beli-cheat?” Shula replied.

Two weeks later, league operations officials seized footballs they believed the team removed air from prior to the AFC Championship Game and Deflategate was born.

In May, at an event kicking off the Dolphins 50th season, Shula lobbed another grenade.

“We always tried to live by the rules and set an example that it was always done with a lot of class, a lot of dignity’’ Shula said. “Always done the right way. We didn’t deflate any balls.”

That cemented Shula’s place on the Patriots fans’ enemies list and sent them off dredging up the occasions when Shula or his team line-stepped in what was unarguably a time when getting the valued “edge” was a lot easier and accepted.

Which brings us to now, where Shula seems at odds with the only current coach who belongs in the pantheon of great coaches alongside him and the others. Shula, Belichick, Brown, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Paul Brown and Bill Walsh. Rank them how you like but those are the best there’s been.

Does Shula really have that little respect for Belichick that, at the mention of his name, he seeks to discredit him? Or has he just been playing the hits for the Miami media when he’s had the chance?

At 86, I suppose the opinion of him in New England isn’t a daily concern of Shula’s. And it’s his prerogative to say whatever he likes. His coaching legacy is safe. But broadsides of Belichick make it hard for people up here to think first of his coaching acumen when Don Shula’s name is in the news.