The Twin Cities may rank high on every lifestyle survey imaginable, but in the objective standings of sports, we neither win, place, or show. Layer on a range of questionable ownership behavior and shocking turns of bad luck and I am hard-pressed to think of another four-pro-team market with major conference college athletics (San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Chicago, Philly, Miami, NYC, DC, Boston) that is quite as hard-luck as we are.
Those other towns have won a national championship in at least one pro or marquee college sport in this century and average at least one major crown a decade. (Phoenix and Denver are admittedly thinner in success, but most of their franchises are very young.)
Our run of hard luck borders on the fantastical. We may be the “state of hockey,” but the North Stars never won a Stanley Cup and only visited the finals twice. The Wild have an equally undistinguished short history, with copious playoff droughts. After signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last season, the Wild barely made the playoffs and were quickly dispatched in the first round. Gopher hockey, a niche product to be sure, has won only two national championships since 1980. State of hockey, folks.
The Gopher football team has not won the Big Ten or made a Rose Bowl appearance since the ’60s and currently has a coach who tragically suffers epileptic seizures on the sideline. The Vikings are notorious for their Super Bowl losses and terrible taste in quarterbacks.
We’re not a basketball hotbed to be sure, but the Gophers’ last national championship was in 1919, and their 1997 appearance in the NCAA Final Four was vacated due to academic fraud. The NBA Timberwolves are no strangers to sanctions, losing half a decade of draft picks after owner Glen Taylor signed an illegal contract with a player, Joe Smith, who went on to a thoroughly undistinguished career. The team is notorious for its subsequent draft decisions and injuries to its best players, which destroyed the high-potential teams of the last two seasons. The Wolves have not been to the playoffs since 2004, even though nearly half of all NBA teams make the playoffs every year.
Our one outlier had been the Twins, baseball’s doormats for nearly 20 years, who emerged to win two World Series in 1987 and 1991, then suffered an ignominious lost decade but returned to win six division titles in the 2000s (though suffering embarrassing sweeps in the playoffs). But now fans have endured three consecutive near-100-loss seasons, and sportswriter Patrick Reusse called this team’s squad the worst he’d witnessed in all his years covering the game.
Despite this, the Vikings sell out all their games, as do the Wild, win or lose, and the Twins averaged more than 30,000 tickets sold per game this season. What gives?
I wish I knew. Some of it is fan sensibility. In Philly or Chicago or Boston there’d be riots in the streets. Coaches and owners would be hung in effigy. Fans would vote with their feet and the media would create intolerable pressure. That’s not our style. I’m a good example, owning partial season tickets to the Twins and Timberwolves. I can vote with my feet, but instead I vote with my heart: This is finally our year . . .
Statisticians say things even out. Which means our time’s coming. Boy will it be great. If I live to see it.