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Local Sports

Herron: Zimmer, Vikings take over top spot in NFC

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer stands on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer stands on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

When the NFL announced in 2014 that Super Bowl LII was going to be played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018, it’s a pretty good bet that the Minnesota Vikings were viewed as longshots to be playing on their home field in the big game.

Earlier that year, Mike Zimmer was named as the Vikings head coach after nearly 20 years as an assistant with Dallas, Atlanta and Cincinnati.

The Lockport graduate and son of legendary Porters coach Bill Zimmer has steadily made the Vikings a force to be reckoned with, winning the NFC North in just his second season.

With injuries to quarterbacks seemingly dooming their hopes for 2017, many wrote off any likelihood that the Vikings would contend in the NFC North, let alone in the conference.

But those predictions have changed greatly over the past few weeks, as Minnesota not only leads its division, but also moved past Philadelphia on Sunday for the top seed in the conference.

The Vikings were 2-2 after losing at home to Detroit on Oct. 1. After getting a late field goal to beat the Bears, 20-17, they’ve kept on winning, extending their streak to eight consecutive victories after winning 14-9 at Atlanta on Sunday.

With Seattle claiming a 24-10 home win over Philadelphia later that night, the Vikings and Eagles now are tied for the best record in the NFC at 10-2, but as of now, Zimmer’s team owns the tiebreaker between the two.

With surprising quarterback Case Keenum leading the offense and a typical Zimmer-esque defense putting the clamps on some very productive offenses, the Vikings are in a good spot with only four weeks remaining in the regular season.

They play at Carolina on Sunday and host Cincinnati the following week. Then it’s off to Green Bay for a game on Dec. 23 before they host the Bears on the final day of 2017.

For all of us Lockporters who either knew Bill Zimmer or have great pride in the high school, watching the success that Mike is enjoying is obviously very satisfying.

I covered Bill’s Porters for many years and he was always understandably very proud of how Mike was moving up the coaching ranks. During my years around Bill Zimmer, his son went from Weber State to Washington State before finally getting his big NFL break by joining the staff in Dallas.

For a while, it looked like Mike Zimmer might join a long list of outstanding assistant coaches who never got a chance to take over a head coaching spot in the league.

But when the Vikings spot opened after the 2013 season, Zimmer seemed like a natural choice, kind of a throwback to Hall of Fame Vikings coach Bud Grant.

I still can remember my conversations with both Zimmers after Mike finally got an NFL head coaching job. It was obviously very special for Bill, who always knew that his son deserved such an opportunity at the highest level of the game.

It’s already been a special year for the Vikings and we’ll see how things play out through December. In a season where there’s been a lot of negative news about the NFL, what Mike Zimmer and his team are doing is definitely one of the league’s top stories of 2017.

But unfortunately I have to end this column on a down note. I received the sad news today involving the passing of two individuals that were well-known to area sports fans.

Dave Mitidiero, a standout in both basketball and football at Lockport, passed away Thursday at age 48. Besides being a quarterback for Bill Zimmer, he also played on coach Bob Basarich’s last season as Porters basketball coach in 1986-87.

He was a three-year varsity performer in basketball and finished with 1,055 points. He scored 513 points his senior year when the Porters advanced to the Sweet 16. After his high school career, he continued his football career at Northwestern University.

His visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Donnellan Family Funeral Home in Skokie.

And since we’re talking about coaches, certainly one of the best that ever coached the high school game in Illinois, Gary Korhonen, passed away Saturday at age 77.

He won more than 300 games during a memorable career at Richards, surpassing Providence Catholic coach Matt Senffner to become Illinois’ all-time winningest coach. His teams made the playoffs in each of his last 23 years, one of the greatest runs in state history.

Korhonen’s Bulldogs always had a knack for being able to compete against the best and had back-to-back titles in 1988 and 1989 to show for it. Had it not been for several big clashes with great Providence teams, he would have likely won more championships.

His visitation is from 2 to
9 p.m. Tuesday at Our Lady of the Woods Catholic Church in Orland Park.

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