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Vikings pull trigger, move on

This is the 38th year for me covering the Vikings and the NFL, and never has there been a season with quite the built-in pressures and expectations for the Vikings as this season. Head Coach Mike Zimmer, now in his third season, already was rewarded with a contract extension. The Wilf brothers ownership really believes in his leadership. And with that you still have to produce.

Losing star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a sudden season-ending knee injury was a huge blow and sent shock waves through the Vikings nation. The dislocation and ACL tear of his right knee in a non-contact drill last week was unexpected.

On the heels of a 4-0 pre-season, that has not changed the team’s goal. The Vikings, you may have heard, have enormous expectations as the defending NFC North Champions.

U.S. Bank Stadium, their $1.2 billion new home, has changed the game for the Vikings. General Manager Rick Spielman and Zimmer said all the right things last week after Teddy’s horrific injury, announcing that back-up quarterback Shawn Hill, a 15-year veteran, would step up and replace Bridgewater.

unnamed-2The Vikings were simply blowing smoke — they didn’t think Hill could do it. He lacks mobility. They quickly gave up a 2017 first-round pick and a conditional fourth pick to Philadelphia for former number-one pick quarterback Sam Bradford.

The thanks-but-no-thanks nature of professional football in regard to individual injuries and how quickly things change is evident. Bridgewater has 9-12 months of tough surgery and rehabilitation ahead with the hope he’ll recover and that he can return next year or 2018.

The Vikings, in the meantime, are moving. They believe they are built right now offensively with Adrian Peterson, the best running back in football, and an improved offensive line with new coach Tony Sparano and talented young receivers.

Defensively, the Vikings are really good up front. Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen and, on the back end, Harrison Smith the Pro-Bowler are ready to challenge and pursue winning Minnesota’s first-ever Super Bowl Championship.

Sunday, September 11 they open the 2016 season on the road at Tennessee, so it’s full steam ahead. Here’s how I see the 2016 NFL season unfolding and the 12 teams highlighted that I pick to qualify for the playoffs. # also indicates the teams I predict will make the playoffs.

AFC West: Kansas City#, Denver#, Oakland, San Diego

AFC East: New England#, New York Jets, Buffalo, Miami

AFC South: Houston#, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Jacksonville

AFC North: Pittsburgh#, Cincinnati#, Baltimore, Cleveland

NFC North: Green Bay#, Vikings#, Detroit, Chicago

NFC South: Carolina#, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay

NFC East: Washington#, Dallas, New York Giants, Philadelphia

NFC West: Arizona#, Seattle#, Los Angeles, San Francisco

No place like home — Vikings 23-10 over San Diego!

Since 1982, the MetroDome was home to Minnesota Vikings football. U.S. Bank Stadium is now the spectacular new home on the old Dome site.

Since training camp, the Vikings have been wearing black tee-shirts reading “No-Excuses.” That will serve as the theme into 2016 and the new horizon of Vikings football.

The Vikings, with 66,143 fans in U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday, improved to 3-0 in the pre-season. Thursday night in prime time the Vikings go for 4-0 when they host the Los Angeles Rams at 7 pm.

This new home has totally changed the culture of Vikings football. The old parking lot days of tailgating at the original Vikings home, Met Stadium, are gone.

The Vikings have long been Minnesota’s most popular professional sports team. After four Super Bowls and years of playoff heartbreaks, it’s corporate high rollers now or bust.

The so-called average Vikings family fan on a budget has blown past the middle class.

Expectations on the field fueled by last year’s 11-5 NFC North Division title over 10-9 Seattle’s pain, coinciding with the fantasy-like new home in U.S. Bank Stadium, have allowed the Vikings to sell super expectations with suites at field level that all but touch the players and seat licenses requiring that big money be invested before buying your season tickets.

Many longtime loyal season ticket holders have had to pass on the sizzle. Some are prioritizing by not saving for Johnny going to college or giving up the cabin up north or the boat on Lake Minnetonka.

Has U.S. Bank Stadium allowed the Vikings to change for the better by joining New York, Dallas, New England, Denver, Washington and Arizona? All the big guys with great venues are doing it.

Wine and cheese? Just for starters, how about prime cut U.S. filet, lobster, the best desserts and the finest spirits available? The Vikings are still one of 32. However, U.S. Bank Stadium and the wealth generation have put the Vikings in a league of their own.

Minneapolis parking on the street within three miles of U.S. Bank Stadium on Vikings game days costs $25 for three hours. Yes, the game has changed.

USA dominates in Rio

My, how time flies. The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics are over, and what a remarkable job our hardworking, dedicated athletes did. I feel as if I allowed the threatening hype and the enormous fear of the mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus to cloud my view on these games.

In a career that has spanned nearly four decades, I had the opportunity to work these Olympic games. But I really never even considered going to Rio because I just was not willing to take that chance. In watching the games and events played outside, I never heard anyone even mention a mosquito.

Our society has really burdened many of us with fear locally, nationally and internationally with the many shootings, and ISIS terrorist attacks and threats. Instead of being open-minded and exploring and doing things, I admit I’m sometimes trapped in fear of the unknown. Somebody said it years ago: We’ve been had, we’ve been hoodwinked, we’ve been bamboozled.

Congratulations to our dedicated, hardworking athletes — they were sensational, winning 121 total medals, the most all-time, by a wide margin. To capture 46 golds, 37 silver and 38 bronze, the United States dominated.

Locally, five of our NBA and WNBA players won medals. Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles all captured gold medals as well as Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve. Timberwolves President-Head Coach Tom Thibodeau assisted Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski in winning gold. Ricky Rubio won a bronze medal playing with Spain.

But what will you remember most about the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics? There were many standout accomplishments: Michael Phelps now with 28 total medals and 23 gold, the best ever.

Usain Bolt taking nine gold medals in nine events: 100 meter, 200 meter and 4×100 relay in 2008, 2012 and 2016. The three-peat.

Simone Biles wins four golds and a bronze and captures our hearts in what may be the greatest gymnastics performance ever. Allyson Felix took seven medals in track and field, six of them gold. Ashton Eaton wins the Decathlon gold again. Claressa Shields is the first boxer to win two gold medals. There were so many other incredible wins and performances by many others that were equally great.

Golf returned after 100 years to the Olympics and with no Tiger Woods, there was no gold for the United States.

Rio did a remarkable job with these games — the culture and beauty and pageantry. But so many stayed away because of concerns, and that is a shame.