It’s an interesting time to be a Minnesota sports fan. The last months have been anything but dull around here. The media usually doesn’t have much to say regarding the sports teams of the Twin Cities other than “I wonder whether great player X will end up in New York or Boston next year”. Now it seems that Minnesota is spending time in the headlines of each major sport, each for different reasons and with plenty of controversy. Consider:
The Minnesota Twins finally secured permission and land to build a new open air stadium last year. Construction on Target Field has been going on all year as the Twins play their last season in the outdated and boring Metrodome. The season itself feels like a big build up to next year with the squad going up and down all summer. However, Joe Mauer is once again vying for the batting title and the Twins are now poised to make a late run in their division. Will the owners actually spend some of the money they’re getting from the new stadium (and tax-payers by proxy) to improve the team for the inaugural outdoor season or will they continue to scrimp and keep as much as they can? Big questions for this year and next are still unanswered.
Speaking of new stadiums, theUniversity of Minnesota Golden Gophers Football team will be played this fall in a brand new, on campus stadium of their own. TCF Bank Stadium replaces the already mentioned Metrodome as the place to see Gopher football. With a classic look and plenty of seats, fans will no doubt flock to it. Of course, controversy is here too as U of M officials decided to outlaw liquor sales within the stadium, prompting many alumni season ticket holders to complain. Plus, the use of state funds to underwrite the construction rubs some the wrong way. In any case, outdoor football is something folks around here have been aching for since Met Stadium was razed.
Though I don’t follow the Minnesota Wild very closely, they’ve also had a crazy year. After a lackluster season last year, the owners fired the GM and Coach Lemaire left for greener pastures. Coupled with Marion Gaborik finally admitting he didn’t like playing here, the Wild have drastically changed their look and course. Now with a new staff and new players, they look to make another playoff run to soothe the State of Hockey.
Of course, the Minnesota Timberwolves have had a tough stretch of fortune dating back to the conclusion of their deep playoff run in ’03-’04 season: firing a few coaches, trading away Kevin Garnett, watching Garnett promptly win it all with the Boston Celtics, finally axing Kevin McHale etc. It’s been one thing after another and something had to be done. The team finally admitted defeat and decide to start fresh with new blood. They hired a new GM named David Kahn who immediately made his presence known by dismissing McHale and trading Mike Miller and Randy Foye for a high draft pick. Kahn then used that pick to draft Spanish presumed-phenom Ricky Rubio, who inexplicably fell to #5 in the draft. Kahn then took another talented point guard with pick #6 (Jonny Flynn), causing every draft analyst to furiously scratch his head. Since then, a flurry of trades has left the team in an almost unrecognizable state and Rubio is still in Spain. Kahn swears he wants both Flynn and Rubio on the roster, but is having trouble working out a deal with Rubio’s old team. In the midst of all this roster chaos, Kahn hired long-time Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis as his new head coach. A very splashy choice since Rambis was the presumed heir to Phil Jackson’s team. Really, the Wolves have nowhere to go but up, so this will be a very intriguing season. Flynn has looked very good in his summer league play and Rubio is still a question mark, therefore the point guard spot will be a huge talking point this season.
Finally, the Minnesota Vikings have seized headlines by finally luring Brett Favre out of his perennial retirement. After months of speculation, Favre said he was staying retired. Then, once training camp was over, Brad Childress called again and gave Brett one more chance to join him. This time, Favre’s magic 8-ball gave him the OK and he signed on the dotted line. The Vikings were already a favorite to make a good run this year, so naturally this development spawned a media circus the likes of which hadn’t been seen around here in years. The rivalry between the Vikings and Packers has now reached a previously unknown level. We’re now subjected to news stories about what Favre’s wife was buying at the Kohl’s in Eden Prairie this week.
Beneath the hype is the singular question: can a 40-year-old Brett Favre still succeed in this league? This is what’s bother me most. We all watched early last season as Favre gunned his Jets team into a great position to make the playoffs and then gunned them right out again late in the year. His arm basically fell apart was was reconstructed in the off season. My fear is that this is where we’re headed again. However, our team this year is more talented than the Jets were last year and the coaching staff appears to have learned from the Jets fiasco by placing Favre on a pitch count to save his arm for the late season. With all the questions that are still unanswered, one thing is certain: the TV ratings for the two Packers/Vikings games will be off the charts. The Twin Cities will become the center of the sports universe. For better or worse remains to be seen.