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This is Tom Talks, thanks for calling

Welcome to Tom Talks, the sports talk show of the printed page. You ask and if I can’t answer one of my sidekicks will find the answer for you. On most sports talk shows sidekicks are responsible for arranging the burgers and fries. On mine, it’s salads, non-fat lattes and water. While lean, my sidekicks are looked down upon by the industry, and when they leave me they have trouble finding work.

Tom, this is one of your sidekicks. I’d tell you my name but you’d have no idea who I am. I just want you to know that we gorge on red meat when you’re not looking. The reason we can’t find work is because your show is fake.

Let’s go to the phones.

Tom, Fred from Farmville. The Charlotte Hornets started practice Saturday. How does Big Al Jefferson look?

Big Al looks as if he can run all the way down the court without taking a break. Big Al looks lean. He worked hard to shed weight, and his fans, and his knees, thank him for it.

Tom, Fran from Foscoe. This week the Minnesota Vikings’ longtime mascot, Ragnar, told his employers he wanted to be paid $20,000 a game, which comes out to $160,000, unless he also collects for exhibition games. What’s your take?

For whatever reason, the Vikings said no. Ragnar has worked as the team’s mascot for 21 years. Because he wears a fur vest and horns, his employment prospects could be limited. I met him in a Marriott concierge lounge in downtown Minneapolis. I was with a fellow sportswriter from greater Charlotte, and my friend joked with Ragnar and Ragnar got angry and scared my friend. It is the first time in concierge lounge history that a man has been scared by a guy wearing fur and horns.

Tom, Hank from Harkers Island. How do the Charlotte Hornets look so far?

They look different. If their names weren’t on their jerseys they’d need name tags. I counted eight players who weren’t with the team last season. In alphabetical order they are: Nicolas Batum; Tyler Hansbrough; Aaron Harrison; Spencer Hawes; Frank Kaminsky III; Jeremy Lamb; Jeremy Lin; and Elliott Williams.

You like what you see?

I like those Buzz City uniforms. Last season was one of the most disappointing in franchise history. We believed in that team. We believed that because they were successful the season before last that they were on the cusp of something big. We were wrong, and when I look back, I don’t see why we were so optimistic. Yes, they sustained injuries. But it wasn’t there. They weren’t going to be good. This season will be a challenge. To turn so many new players into a team is daunting. In Steve Clifford they have a coach who is really good. I like their talent, and can’t wait to see them play. Along with the new guys, I want to watch Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They add something new to their games every season.

Tom, Ragnar from Ranlo.

The mascot?

No. I sell tires. Listen. Jimmy Clausen is starting for the Chicago Bears Sunday. Isn’t that a joke?

Clausen isn’t a joke. Yes, he went 1-9 as a Carolina Panthers rookie in 2010. But on that dysfunctional team he never had a chance. Last season he started for the Bears against Detroit. He was 23 of 38 for 181 yards and two touchdowns and a nasty interception. I like Clausen; we were born the same day (but, like, in different years). You could rip him in print and he’d still talk to you. There was only one subject he refused to talk about, and that was his Twitter war with Supercuts. He criticized a haircut, the Tweet blew up and the attention embarrassed him.

Are you serious?

I am. The Panthers cut Clausen in 2013, and that hurt. The haircut might have hurt more.

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