After the long, drawn-out winter we experienced in 2012-13, and the never-ending rains of this spring, it seems like our summer has been cut short ... or at the least the days since June 21 have flown by at warp speed.

Hard as it may be to believe, autumn is just around the corner and while that may be a depressing thought to some, to many it means the arrival of football and what a lot of folks consider the best time of the year. The NFL Hall of Fame preseason game is the official signal the pigskin season has arrived, and since that contest took place last Sunday, it's time to snap-up the chinstraps, put on the pads and prepare for battle on the gridiron.

Summertime be damned. It's full speed ahead, and so I'll seize the day and expound on a few thoughts about the upcoming season. Some may agree with my observations (a small percentage I'm sure), others will vehemently disagree and many will be so disgusted they'll never read another column I pen. I implore you to not do that. Instead, just consider the source, laugh it off and move on with the knowledge that I've got to write about something if I expect to get paid.

As a kid, I was drawn to sports at a young age, and eventually turned that passion into a career. While my focus evolved from sports to mainstream news reporting, it was my knowledge of athletics (from curling to baseball) that helped me advance in the world of journalism.

Naturally, as an adolescent and teen-ager growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I was a rabid follower of the Bears and absolutely idolized the legend: Gale Sayers. The Gale from Kansas had an unbelievable career, despite it being shortened by a severe knee injury, and I was mesmerized by the way he could run with the football. They called him Black Magic, and the moniker fit perfectly.

Along the way, I had many other favorites like Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Otis Taylor, Bobby Bell, Brian Piccolo, Dick Butkus and yes, O.J. Simpson, but there was one rather low-profile football phenom that attracted my attention in a big way.

Cris Collinsworth was a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals via the University of Florida. I know the reason I liked him so much was because he reminded me of me. Narcisstic, but true nonetheless. Tall and slender, Cris was the antithesis of the hulking, muscle-bound monsters that strode the gridiron. He looked more like Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory than he did an NFL all-pro, and I dared to dream that if he could make it to the big time, so could I. It's good to dream.

Blessed with great speed, sure hands, the uncanny ability to get open and a sublime attitude, the splendid splinter was the epitome of a team player and a wonderful ambassador of the game.

While professional sports of today are filled with athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs to achieve success, fame and riches, Cris remains a shining example that you don't have to be a steroid-created Frankenstein to accomplish great things. True to form, the skinny kid from Florida has become an Emmy-winning NFL analyst for NBC television. I still admire him ... hope I always will.



Don't bet against it

Can the Decorah Vikings find a way to repeat as Class 3A state champions? That's always a difficult task, and with the loss of so many seniors - in particular Josey Jewell who earned a football scholarship at Iowa - the Vikes have a real challenge ahead of them.

But like I've said so many times before, never underestimate Decorah kids, and it would be a huge mistake to do that this fall. With a truckload of juniors who are chomping on their mouth guards to establish their own history, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them back in the hunt for the title.

The Vikes also have one of the best coaching staffs in Iowa high school football in Bill Post, Joel Rollinger and Pat Trewin, and there's no question they'll have their young charges ready to play.

See ya at the Dome.



Bring on Conan?

It's a pivotal year for the Iowa Hawkeyes and Coach Kirk Ferentz. With a $3.6 million annual salary, Ferentz was paid $900,000 for each of the four wins his team managed in its 12 outings during 2012.

With a rookie quarterback stepping in, a bunch of unknowns and question marks at wide receiver, a so-so defense and an offensive line that has yet to prove itself (Hopefully, Decorah's own Brett Van Sloten, at tackle, can help solve that issue.), things will have to fall just right for the Hawks to compete with the best of the Big 10.

There are also many fans who have become disenchanted with Ferentz's coaching strategy and decision-making during the actual games, and he needs to solve that if he wants to justify his take-home check.

Ferentz devotees say he is worth the $3.6 million regardless of how many games he wins because Kinnick Stadium is always sold out. I contend the Iowa faithful would fill the stands if Conan O'Brien were the coach.



Do you believe?

Iowa State certainly seems to be headed in the right direction under Coach Paul Rhoads. The Iowa native stepped right in, stopped the bleeding and has brought respectability back to the program.

Can the Cyclones keep improving enough to establish themselves as a Big 12 power? That may be asking a bit much, but stranger things have happened and Rhoads sure has them believing in Ames. Here's hoping it happens.



Show me the 'Ws'

The question isn't whether or not Luther College can win the IIAC title, it's whether or not the Norse can win a game.

Luther finished a dismal 0-10 last year, and aren't exactly expected to set the league on fire in 2013. New Head Coach Aaron Hafner brings a lot of enthusiasm and hope to Carlson Stadium, but that can only take you so far. The question will be can he coach.

Indicators are the answer to that is "yes," Hafner did help William Penn win two Midwest League championships, but make no mistake, the NAIA competition Penn faced pales in comparison to the NCAA Division III stalwarts of the Iowa Conference.

Only time - and victories - will tell.