Minnesota sports right now, collectively, kind of stinks.
Gopher hockey has been disappointing, Gopher basketball is...Gopher basketball, and even though the Fighting Kills had a heck of a season that garnered Jerry Kill the Big Ten Coach of the Year, they laid an egg come bowl season.
And the pro teams? Yuck. The pro teams are all bad, but you could argue that the Vikings are on the upswing. Maybe. However, the Twins, the Wild, and the Timberwolves are a Triumvirate of Sadness right now. And because of that, we see another former Viking great, DT Kevin Williams, pursue his Super Bowl dream in another uniform.
Williams is just the latest in an all too long line of professional Minnesota athletes play here at a high level, fail to attain a championship, and leave to pursue their championship dreams elsewhere. I can't blame them, mind you, but I'm about fed up with it. Let's take a look. We'll focus mostly on Vikings players, but we'll touch on a couple of other ones, too:
Kevin Williams: Williams is just the latest in what's become a long line of former Vikings that are close to winning a Super Bowl elsewhere. He formed part of 'The Williams Wall', with teammate Pat Williams, and defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen. They were, arguably, the second best defensive line group in team history behind the famed Purple People Eaters, and they were consistently tops in the NFL at stopping the run. But they could never get to the Super Bowl, coming up short in 2009. At the end of 2013, Williams became a free agent, and after the Vikings briefly flirted with bringing him back, they decided to go in another direction and KWill signed with Seattle.
Antoine Winfield: Winfield was a surprise cut by the Vikings prior to the 2013 season, angering not only Winfield, but a large percentage of the fan base. And it's not that he was cut; this is a business and that happens. But it was more in the way he was cut, which seemed particularly brutal for a guy that had given so much to the team for a decade. Like Williams, Winfield signed with the Seahawks, but was cut in training camp. Had he made the roster, he'd have a ring, as Seattle destroyed Denver.
Randy Moss: I know Moss is and probably always will be a polarizing figure...but on the field, I loved the dude. Loved him. I will go to my grave with the belief that former owner Red McCombs traded Moss as he was selling the team to give the fans and the state of Minnesota one last middle finger because he couldn't get a stadium built while he was the owner. (PROTIP: Threatening to move and break a lease with the Metrodome is not the way to go about getting a stadium.) After a forgettable stopover in Oakland, Moss re-emerged in New England, and has the distinction of being the top receiver on two of the most potent offenses in NFL history. New England went undefeated in 2007, and it looked like he had caught the game winning pass Super Bowl pass until the New York Giants pulled off a miracle. Moss was denied again a few years later with the 49ers and retired without a championship, but he came pretty close. Closer than he ever did with the Vikings, anyway.
Brad Johnson: At the end of 1998, a season in which the Vikings went to the NFC Championship, Brad Johnson began the season as the starter, but broke his leg early on against the St. Louis Rams. Randall Cunningham came in and had a season for the ages, and the Vikings decided to trade Johnson to Washington for their first round pick. That pick turned into QB Daunte Culpepper, and Johnson eventually worked his way to Tampa Bay, where he was the starting quarterback when the Bucs won it all in 2002. I always wonder what would've happened if the Vikings had kept Johnson and let Cunningham walk, but water under the bridge and all of that.
Rich Gannon: Although the Denny Green era ended on a pretty sour note in 2001, it started off well. Green, a guy that knows offense, made a kind of curious decision early on, though. He had two QB's to choose from in the 1992-1993 time frame--Rich Gannon, a guy that reminded me a lot of Fran Tarkenton, and Sean Salisbury, a guy that got a Christmas tree haircut. Green and Gannon clashed--Gannon says Green didn't like him, Green says Gannon was too quick to scramble and improvise--so Green settled on Salisbury and traded Gannon. Salisbury ended up sucking, and the Vikings eventually traded for Warren Moon, which started the 'old vet QB' carousel. Gannon went to Washington, Kansas City, and eventually Oakland, where he was the NFL MVP in 2002, and faced off against former Viking QB Brad Johnson in the Super Bowl.
Good call Denny. I hated that Super Bowl.
David Ortiz: When speaking about former players that got away and won titles elsewhere, Big Papi always comes up...but I have a hard time faulting the Twins for letting him walk at the time. Back then, he was a power hitter that had hit only 18 and 20 home runs in 2001 and 2002, and hit none in the 2002 ALCS against the Angels. He was asking for a lot of money, and it seemed like a pretty high price tag for a guy that was generally perceived as an overweight underachiever. Sure, hindsight being what it is, letting Ortiz go was a mistake, as he signed with the Red Sox and has won two titles with them, although he's been found guilty of taking steroids while there. But when taken in context at the time, I can't really blame the Twins for passing. They still had a pretty good run without him, even though they couldn't get past the Yankees in the post season.
Kevin Garnett: When Kevin Garnett retires, he should be a first ballot hall of famer, my limited basketball knowledge aside. He's in his 20th (holy crap really?!?!?!) NBA season, and the first 12 were spent with the Wolves. He was first or second team All NBA and All Defense for pretty much his entire time in Minnesota, and, like most everyone else on this list, Garnett came tantalizingly close to a title here. He started out his career with Stephon Marbury, and I gotta say, had Marbury been okay with playing in KG's shadow, I think these guys would have won a title or two together. Man, they were becoming really good when Marbury blew that up. But the Wolves gave Garnett some pieces to work with in Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, and they made a run to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the Lakers in six games. Then Cassell and Sprewell blew that team up, and Garnett won an NBA title in freaking Boston in 2007-08.
The Minneapolis Lakers: Speaking of the Lakers, do you know why they're called the Lakers, when there isn't a lake within a jillion miles of Los Angeles? Yeah, you know why, because they were the Minneapolis Lakers first, and were the best team in the NBA, winning five titles before moving to L.A. They've only gone on to become one of the most iconic franchises in professional sports, and have won a total of 16 titles, five in Minneapolis, and they've appeared in the finals a staggering 31 times. Now, would they have become that dominant and iconic playing in Minneapolis and not L.A.? It's a good question, but this team was a dynasty before they left here, so the odds are good. Imagine Magic, Kareem, Shaq, and Kobe playing in Minneapolis. Sigh. But this one doesn't hurt too bad, though, as most Minnesota sports fans don't remember the Lakers here, since they left in 1959.
The Minnesota North Stars. But this one? Oh, this one hurts. Norm Green can burn in Hell. Move the team to Dallas, win the Stanley Cup a few years after moving there, and ruining what was the best jersey in all of sports in the process. Seriously, the North Stars green and gold jersey, with the N on the front? Beautiful. As beautiful as Lord Stanley's Cup, which should have been all over the State of Hockey in 1999 and 2000. The North Stars moving is why I quit watching the NHL, and am still struggling to get back into to this day.
Seriously, sports hate should never cross over into real life, but for me it does. Norm Green and Drew Pearson are two people I will never forgive. Ever. But I digress.
Wouldn't it be nice if someday, the Vikings, or for those of you that live and die with all Minnesota pro sports...anyone of Minnesota's pro teams, became a destination to try and win a title? Just for a few years?
Just one before I die. Just. One.