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Some things never seem to change

Some things may never change in sports. That’s especially the case for Minnesota’s most popular teams.

Barring a massive change in their fortunes, the state’s big five programs will always fall short of expectations. I’ve gotten used to this over the years, but no matter how often it happens, it still cuts me deeply.

The Twins are the most recent team that broke my heart and this one really stings. This year, Minnesota set the Major League record for home runs in a season and almost set the team record for wins in a season.

Naturally, they were promptly swept in the opening divisional round of the playoff by the Yankees. A magical season turned forgettable in the span of a week. My beloved Twins have been eliminated by New York in five of their last seven playoff appearances.

It’s gotten so bad that I just assumed it’d happen again before this year’s series even started. That’s what they’ve done to me.

It’s not just the Twins, though. The Vikings have also killed me emotionally. Four Super Bowl-caliber teams in the past 15 years have made the NFC Championship game, only to fall flat. There’s 1998, when Minnesota lost in overtime to Atlanta, 2000 when they lost 41-0 to the Kerry Collins-led New York Giants (who then got blown out by Baltimore in the Super Bowl), and 2009 where Brett Favre, playing for the Vikes, did Favre-like bad things — throwing two picks and fumbling once.

Oh, and let’s not forget the worst of all, 2017. The Vikings got by the Saints in the divisional round and were one game away from becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl on their own field. Again, naturally, they got lit up by Philadelphia in the NFC title game. That’s enough to drive a fan to drink, but with the way Minnesota falls apart, you’d probably get cirrhosis by the time you’re 30.

Those are the two teams to have caused the worst memories, but the Timberwolves and Wild have had their moments of disappointment.

The T’wolves have been, for the most part, one of the most underachieving franchises ever, but there was that one season in 2003-04. Everything was coming together. Kevin Garnett had won the NBA MVP and Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell were starting their comeback tours.

Meanwhile, there were times that Wally Szczerbiak reminded us that he still existed on the court. I still remember my group of about 15 friends, some of them girls who didn’t even like basketball, gathered around a TV and watched Minnesota beat Sacramento in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

The house went insane and I was actually thinking the Wolves might actually win the whole thing. Then they lost in six games to the Lakers (and to make matters worse, L.A. lost to the freaking Pistons in the NBA Finals).

The team hasn’t been the same since and may never be again. They were my favorite Minnesota team growing up, and to be honest I forget they’re still around, as sad as that sounds.

The Wild may not be as inept as the Wolves, but their disappointments are greater. Minnesota made a Cinderella run to the Western Conference finals in 2003 on the strength of two Game 7 wins over Colorado and Vancouver. The thrill didn’t last, though, as they were swept by Anaheim, held scoreless in three of the games and left with a whimper.

They won the Northwest Division in 2007-08 and lost in the first round to Colorado. Five years later, they made three straight playoff appearances with the idea in town that this would be the team that would win it all; instead, they lost three straight years to the Blackhawks. Minnesota went on to make the playoffs three more years in a row and lost quickly in the first round.

Hey, it takes talent to be that consistently bad in the playoffs. You’ve got to give them credit for that and Minnesotans raise a glass of Summit Extra Pale Ale to that achievement every year.

And then there’s the Golden Gophers. The best men’s basketball team was fielded in 1997, when it made the Final Four and then had to vacate it due to an academic scandal. The men’s hockey team hasn’t won a national title in 16 years and the closest it’s come was in 2014, when it got thumped by Union.

Then there’s the football team, who the less said about the better. The last time it won the Big Ten was in 1967 and it gave P.J. Fleck a contract extension after a 5-7 season in 2017. Nobody embraces mediocrity like the Gophers.

The interesting thing about all this is while the men’s teams fail, the women succeed. The WNBA’s Lynx are tied for the most championships in league history. The Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League won the league title in its first season last year. And the Gophers women’s hockey team has won six national titles, most of any team.

Let’s be honest, in Minnesota, the women deliver in clutch time and the men forget to arrive. It’s like they refuse to ask for directions. Sorry, lame joke.

So if you’re a big fan of Minnesota’s men’s teams, what do you do? I suggest adopting a realist’s approach because it’s worked for me so far. Don’t be overly positive. Be happy that your team made the postseason, but be aware of what could be coming.

Everything may appear to be going your way and you’re starting to be confident, and almost immediately after you think that, it will fall apart. If you keep things realistic and reasonable in your mind, you’ll be disappointed, but you won’t be despondent and searching for something to take the pain away.

Some things may never change and that’s probably the case for Minnesota sports teams, at least for the men. However, there’s still hope that maybe things will be different someday and that’s a good thing.

Us Minnesota fans just need to stay realistic whenever we dream of championships. It’ll make disappointment easier to handle.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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