Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Land of Ten Thousand Headaches

The term “Minnesota Nice” is used to describe the usual happy and chipper demeanor of those residing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  However, this year has brought quite a bit of strain and hardship on those in who cheer for the teams that wear “Minnesota” on their uniforms, and in very few cases, does it look to be getting any better.  The Twin Cities are one of the few areas in the nation that support a team in each of the big four professional sports leagues; the Minnesota Vikings (NFL), Minnesota Twins (MLB), Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA), and the Minnesota Wild (NHL).  To give you a quick idea of what we’re talking about, lets take a look at each teams most recent season.

            The Minnesota Vikings came into the 2010-2011 season coming off of a NFC Championship game appearance in which they lost a heartbreaker to the New Orleans Saints.  With expectations high, the Vikings fell flat on their face.  The Vikings, led by aging quarterback Brett Favre, went a dismal 6-10, occupying the cellar of the NFC North division even falling below the Detroit Lions.  Despite returning much of their roster from the previous season, the Vikings could never put it together, with the tipping point coming in a trade for former Viking wide receiver Randy Moss from New England in exchange for a third round draft pick.  The much publicized reuniting of the two parties lasted only four weeks, in which Moss produced minimal numbers for the struggling offense, and was low lighted with an instance of physical abuse towards a plate of cold barbecue.

            Looking forward for the Minnesota Vikings, they have one thing many other teams in the league cannot claim, which is a top shelf level running back like Adrian Peterson.  Unfortunately for the Vikings, they don’t have much to help support Peterson, and defenses will lick their chops against this offense as they dare rookie quarterback Christian Ponder to throw the ball and load up defenders in to box to hold Peterson in check. 

The Favre experiment left the Vikings handicapped, as they now are going to have to rely on either Ponder of Joe Webb to command that offense, unless you buy into the idea of them signing Donovan McNabb.  Bringing Favre onto the roster was not a total bust, as he reinvigorated his career in 2009, showing some of the old magic from his Green Bay days in plays like this pass to Greg Lewis.  Overall, moving forward, Minnesota will have to try and balance providing Peterson with carries and putting their young quarterbacks into manageable situations for them to succeed.  All is not lost in Viking-land, and the promise of a new stadium in Arden Hills is giving the franchise some hope.

            The Minnesota Timberwolves were just recently dealt another blow to their perennially terrible franchise, by being overtaken for the first overall draft pick in the 2011 NBA draft by a Cleveland pick which had roughly a three percent chance of gaining the top spot.  Ever since the departure of NBA great Kevin Garnett, the T’Wolves have squandered any decent talent that had made it’s way onto their roster, more recently forward Al Jefferson. 

ricky-rubio.jpg            The 2010-’11 Timberwolves limped through the NBA season with a team of misfits and castaways, with the only shimmering gleam of hope coming from Kevin Love.  To be completely honest, the Timberwolves might be the best thing for Kevin Love’s production and statistics.  Don’t get the wrong idea, Love is a naturally talented rebounder and has made improvements on his offensive game, but on any team currently in the Conference Championship games, Love would be the third or fourth best player on the roster and would really only be used as a defender and rebounder.  With the Timberwolves, Love is their premium scoring option surrounded by a lackluster group of throw away guards and discarded big men (Darko is the prime example). 

            Finding hope in the T’Wolves situation is like searching for a attractive women’s softball first basemen, you really have to squint and hope to blur the edges enough to make it passable.  The Wolves are still waiting on supposed sensation Ricky Rubio to come to the team, and are trying to push the media and their fans into believing a team with Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley as primary scoring options other than Love. 

Moreover, the Timberwolves have always gotten placed in the draft in a position where they’re just out of reach of any marquee name players.  This year there is only one arguable sure thing in Duke guard Kyrie Irving, who will most likely be taken with the first overall pick.  If I were David Kahn, I’d go with Derick Williams from Arizona.  Put him at power forward, deal Love for a fast, lethal shooting guard (Stephen Curry maybe?) and then get Rubio over and trot out a lineup of Rubio, Curry, Johnson, Williams, and Beasley and go all out Phoenix Suns run-and-gun offense.  The fact that those five names are maybe their best chance at success should give you an idea of how far down this franchise truly is.

The only team of the major four in the Twin Cities that plays it’s games in St. Paul is the Minnesota Wild.  The Wild play at a great arena, the Xcel Energy Center, and are privileged enough to play in what is widely regarded as the State of Hockey.  However, it’s no secret that Minnesota has an ugly past with professional hockey, losing the North Stars back in the ’93-’94 season to Dallas and being teamless for a period of six years.  Since their creation in 2000, the Wild have had great fan support, but have lacked the extra gear to make a real competitive splash on the league.  This past season was no different, except the fact that for the first time the Wild saw their attendance numbers drop, most likely caused by the decrease in quality of play and the increase in ticket prices.        
The 2010-2011 season was another middle of the road performance for the Wild, who went 39-35, putting them in third place in the Northwest Division behind Vancouver and Calgary.  At one point during the season, the Wild seemed to be pushing for a playoff spot, but a crash and burn performance put those thoughts to rest.  The one point of promise for the Wild is that they do still identify quite a bit with their fans.  Their roster is full of fan favorite guys such as Cal Clutterbuck and Mikko Koivu.  One thing with being in the middle of the pack is that arguably, the Wild are only a move or two away from being a competitive team, and perhaps there are greener pastures in the future for this team.

Perhaps the one bright spot over the past few years in the Cities has been the Minnesota Twins.  The Twins have battled for the AL Central title and won it six times over the past 10 seasons, and have been led by homegrown golden boy Joe Mauer.  After signing a blockbuster deal this past offseason, Mauer has been bit by the injury bug, joining first basemen and neighbor to the north Justin Morneau, who was still feeling the lingering effects of his concussion he suffered last season. 

joe-mauer-twins-20ad5804db9ea7ee_large.jpgThe Twins 2011 season thus far has been devastating.  The Twins are currently 13-27, the worst record in Major League Baseball, and despite an inspired performance from the on again, off again Francisco Liriano on the night of the passing of Twin great Harmon Killebrew, Twins fans have had very little to cheer about.  Even Liriano’s no hitter a few weeks back was about as ugly as a no-no can get.  Beyond Liriano, the Twins pitching staff is a snore fest, with guys like Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn making up the starters.  The Twins could also be mistaken for their AAA Rochester affiliate, as the players being called up and sent down have made the Twins roster a revolving door of overwhelmed minor leaguers and underperforming big leaguers. 

Little hope lingers amongst Twins fans, as they finally may be witnessing the end of their run.  Talk of moving Mauer from behind the plate and into the outfield to protect their $23 million investment has left fans torn into two parties, and besides prospect Kyle Gibson, there seems to be little help lying in wait in the farm system. 

Overall, the Twin Cities could be better regarded as the Thin Cities when it comes to athletic talent.  In fact, if you really want to witness the best team built for success, be sure to tune in to the Minnesota Lynx this summer during the WBNA season, as their starting five ladies all were former collegiate All-Americans, highlighted by Maya Moore.  The past sentence should give you an idea of the dire situation Minnesota sports fans find themselves in, and it’s only a matter of time before that “Minnesota Nice” wears off and fans serve up some “Minnesota Ice.”

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