Last spring, it seemed like we had reached the nadir on the Minnesota sports scene. After the train wreck that was the 2010 Vikings season and more mediocrity from the Wolves, Wild and Gopher football, hockey, and basketball teams, the one remaining ray of hope for local sports fans was the Twins. And we all know how that worked out for us.
But as bad as things were then, it’s hard not to conclude that they’re even worse now. The Twins had to engineer a walk off victory on the last night of the season against Kansas City to avoid the ignominy of losing ONE HUNDRED games. The 2011 Vikings are off to an 0-4 start having just lost to a previously winless Kansas City team that was considered by many to be the NFL’s worst squad. And the Gopher football team is 1-4 after getting destroyed by Michigan 58-0 on Saturday.
The woes of our local teams are even more painful to endure when you compare them with our rivals in Wisconsin. The defending Super Bowl champion Packers are an offensive juggernaut and boast a 4-0 record. The Badgers are also undefeated having just annihilated a powerful Nebraska team at home. And the Brewers have not only won their division, they’ve already taken a 2-0 lead in their best-of-five NLDS playoff against Arizona. Those with short memories may need to be reminded that the Twins have lost TWELVE straight playoff contests, their last post-season victory dating back to 2004.
It doesn’t get much better when we match up with Michigan. In addition to the humiliation inflicted by the Wolverines on Saturday, we have to deal with a Lions squad that’s 4-0 and a Tigers team that not only dethroned the Twins as Central Division champions, but has proven that it’s possible to face the Yankees in the playoffs without curling up in the fetal position and begging for mercy.
They say that it’s always darkest before the dawn and there are some reasons to hope that we’ve reached pitch blackness and can expect to see light start to break through.
1. The NBA is currently locked out and it’s possible that the entire season could be lost. No NBA means no reason to be reminded just how pitiful the Timberwolves are. A definite win for Minnesota sports fans.
2. For the first time in years, the Wild actually have legitimate goal scorers with Heatley and Setoguchi. Having them on a line with Koivu is going to provide the offensive punch the team has lacked. If they get solid goaltending and can bring their young defensemen along, there’s no reason that the Wild couldn’t make the playoffs. While that might not sound like a lofty goal, considering where we’re at now it would be something to celebrate.
3. The young Gopher hockey squad seems poised for a possible return to glory. It might not happen this year (the team is ranked sixth in the WCHA pre-season coaching poll), but the pieces are being put in place that should allow them to vie for conference championships and be a factor in the NCAA tournament once again. It’s been a rough stretch of late for the Gopher pucksters, who have usually been one of the few local sports teams that we could always count on to be competitive. Getting them back to where they belong among the top programs in the country will do wonders for the psyche of local sports fans, especially for those of us who follow it closely. Beating the Badgers would also help.