Minnesota Champions: the forbidden fruit
We need this feeling
About four months ago, I sat before a tumbler of my favorite single malt and reminded with lament, frustration, and bitter fact that the Phillies' World Series win labeled our headquarters as the 4-sport market with the longest championship drought. Can we expect that to change anytime soon?
Here's one man's view of the respective Big 4's chances (listed in order for furthest to nearest) of -- if nothing else -- appearing in a championship series anytime during the Obama Administration (Term 1):
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Friends and peers alike can attest to my being a 'Wolves apologist for a long damn time. But such time has passed. Hell, my Pop -- a season ticket holder since the Inaugural '89 - didn't
re-up for this year, and I couldn't blame him. For reasons that could encompass about 186 of these articles, the Timberwolves are one of the sorriest franchises in the entire sporting world. Yes, they have a cache of ensuing draft picks. Yes, they have a committed owner who by all accounts is also a good man (some might say too good). Yes, they have a quality place to play with a cool, new floor. Yes, they have talent and one guy that will likely retire with superstar credentials.
But isn't this the type of thing apologists say?
The rub is that since 1999, the Lakers or the Spurs have represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals nine times. Furthermore, from 1989-1998, the NBA title was won by only three teams, with the Bulls of course taking six of those babies.
Point being: the NBA is most often a player's league in which dynasties rule. We have no Isaiah, no Jordan, no Hakeem, no Kobe, no Duncan. And even among Conference teams in a similar building mode, Portland will prove far better.
Just one Conference Finals appearance in 20 years for these dudes. The Chinese say, "He who knows patience, knows peace," but at least they have Yao Ming.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The Purple are indeed trending upward, going from 6-10 in '06, to 8-8 in '07, to 10-6 last year.
They've had the league's top run defense three years running and sport the NFL's leading rusher - both surefire recipes for success. Of further hope is both last seasons' return to the playoffs, and also the fact that the Super Bowl rarely seems to pit the league's two best teams. In football, a hot late-season run can get a club a title shot with less resistance than in other sports.
But who will take them there? Sure, an argument can be made for mediocre quarterbacks appearing on Super Sunday (just this decade - Rex Grossman in '06; Brad Johnson in '02; Trent Dilfer in '00). Sage Rosenfels may prove to be a click above mediocre, but he's also a guy with no playoff experience and 72.2 QB rating in 12 career starts. We'll be wishing for Jeff Garcia come December.
2. Minnesota Wild
Regular readers know I'm not the next Don Cherry, although I'm learned enough about hockey to report that of the contestants in the last six Stanley Cup Finals, neither two teams had
both advanced to their Conference semi-final the season previous. Regarding the 2006 Cup, neither Carolina nor Edmonton had even appeared in the playoffs the previous season (of course, the '05 year was shut down). Of the '04 finalists, loser Calgary didn't make the postseason in '03. Of the '03 Cup contenders, Anaheim didn't make the playoffs in '02. Of the '01 teams, neither Detroit nor Carolina advanced to their Conference semi's in 2000.
Hockey is more about the "system" than any other sport - that, and a black magic goalie.
Like the T-Wolves and Purple, the Wild can boast a devoted owner and some true talent. But match that with one of the world's finest arenas, Jacques Lemaire, and the aforementioned numbers, and perhaps a run is always a little nearer than the standings suggest.
1. Minnesota Twins
I'll exercise some brevity herein, both because there should be opportunity for ample lauding in the next six months, and also because last year I loved the club up - this year, I'll aim to play it a little cooler. Expectations are, and should be high on these boys. But let's not strangle them by hugging too hard just yet.
Still: everything is in place for high hopes. Hell, this club is so damn settled with a top-flight manager, a new stadium, a slew of talented young arms and cornerstone studs -- that the biggest Spring Training debates involve which of the four skilled outfielders won't start and whom our 12th pitcher will be. Nice. This should prove a highly entertaining season.
The key, gentle reader, is to buy the champagne now; then consider icing it down in about 19 months.
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