This is a rare post on TDG that will cross sports, leagues and blog lines. This post will include information about Vikings, Twins, Wild, Wolves and of course Gopher sports. Earlier this week I swung and missed (really it was more of a foul ball) when I suggested that 2011was possibly the worst year in Gopher Basketball history. It was accurately pointed out that 1999 holds that title as the year of the Pioneer Press story that led to significant NCAA Sanctions, the firing of Clem Haskins and lost momentum from the 1997 Final Four.
But even though I was wrong about Gopher basketball, I was on the right track. The general feeling that 2011 was an incredibly tough year to be a fan in the state of Minnesota was dead on accurate. I will argue that this was the absolute worst year to be a Minnesota sports fan. For some of our favorite local teams this was the worst or really close to being the worst season on record. But collectively I think there is no doubt 2011 is the winner for earning the distinction as being the worst year ever to be a sports fan in the state of Minnesota.
Let's run down our favorite teams here in Minnesota starting with the worst and working our way to the least painful.
2011 Record: 3-13
Lowlights: Besides the 3-13 record? And for the record, I am not assuming a loss on Sunday, the 13th loss (or the 1st one) is the one at Detroit last year on Jan 2nd to end the 2010 season. The absolute low of what has been an awful season was the double ACL tear in the knee of our franchise player. And of course Adrian Peterson had just signed a 7-year, $100 million contract extension. Just when we had come to grips with this lost season and started to look forward to a top 3 draft pick, we do and win a game potentially dropping us to as low as #6 in the 2012 NFL Draft.
There were several "near wins" for this team. Had Mr. McNabb completed one 3rd down pass in the second halves of the first four games we probably would have started 4-0. Instead of being the worst 4-0 team in the league we felf like the best 0-4 team. There have been a total of eight games lost by less than a touchdown. I don't believe this means anything because there are so many close games all over the NFL, but we lost nearly all of our close games. Why? Because this might just be the worst team in the history of this proud franchise.
Hope for the Future? Well if we get a top 3 pick in the upcoming draft we will have some intriguing options for upgrading the talent on this team. We could keep it to land a top notch OT, CB or WR. Or we could trade it and add draft picks. We will also have some cap room to add some talent. And it should always be noted that dramatic improvements can be made in just one year in the NFL. But there are a lot of holes to be filled so there is a lot of work to be done. There is some young talent that can be developed and every team goes through terrible years, we just better not get used to it. If you spend too much time being terrible, it becomes a very difficult cycle to break. This team can and will bounce back. Super Bowl contention appears farther away than we'd like but playoffs are always just a season away in the NFL. One of these years the football gods will actually show favore on Vikings fans.
2011 Record: 63-99
Lowlights: Again, the record is enough but this one particularly stings because of the expectations heading into the season were to win the division again and hopefully compete in the playoffs. But Joe Mauer missed most of April and all of May with something called bi-lateral leg weakness. Justin Morneau missed most of June, all of July, most of August and all of September. Injuries decimated this team so much that for most of the season it more closely resembled the Rochester Red Wings than it did a major league club. Year two of Target Field was incredibly disappointing.
The overall depth of the organization was tested and failed. There appeared to be very few back up plans in place for catcher, the bullpen, the rotation and the infield. There was a brief 15-2 run in June to sort of get back into the race for the AL Central and we even cut the division lead to 5 games in mid July. But in reality that just got us close enough to not be sellers at the trade deadline. When faced with division opponents in Aug and Sep we stunk and floundered to 99 losses.
Then the offseason came and some guys who have been in a Twins uniform for a long time left the organization.
Hope for the future? Well, the Twin successfully avoided a 100 loss season and ended the season on a 2-game win streak! The best news of the offseason is that Bill Smith was reassigned to a new role and Terry Ryan is back to get this organization back on the right track. The minor league staffs will be re-emphasizing teaching fundamentals so players will be major league ready when they get here.
We do have some promising position players who got plenty of playing time in 2011. Ben Revere is raw but an exciting player to watch in 2012. The health of Mauer and Morneau will always weigh heavily into the success of the Twins, if those two can both play 130+ games then this team will win plenty of games. A number of things need to be fixed and this team does not appear to be a serious playoff threat. But I firmly believe they will be much better in 2012 than they were in 2011.
2011 Record: I'm not going to figure it out, it was really bad
Lowlights: January, February, March and April were the lowlights for the Timberwolves in 2011. Last season this team earned the worst record in the NBA and in true Timberwolves fashion they did not land land the #1 pick in the lottery. Kurt Rambis and his staff were let go after two seasons because his teams obviously didn't win and more importantly they played very little defense while not improving throughout the season.
Very little needs to be said about the Wolves, they have been brutal for a few years and 2011 may have been rock bottom.
Hope for the Future? This team actually has a bright future. Kevin Love is fringe All-Star candidate. He has a unique skill set that on the right team can take them from being good to very good. Ricky Rubio has finally arrived from Spain and La Pistola looks very comfortable on an NBA floor. He is going to be very good and it has been pointed out that his style is one that should attract scorers to Minnesota as he is brilliant at getting the ball to guys exactly where it needs to be for them to score. Then you have Derek Williams who was the #2 pick in the draft but many believe he may be the best player taken. There is a young nucleus here and new coach Rick Adelman is a proven commodity on the bench. Will they make the playoffs this year? No, but they should be much better and I would not be shocked at all to see them in the playoffs in
Minnesota Gophers Basketball
2011 Record: decent but misleading
Lowlights: The awfulness of the calendar year for Gopher Hoops was less about the record and more about the devastating injuries that may end up ruining two different seasons. Al Nolen's injury in January led to a 1-10 finish to what was a very promising season. Devoe Joseph's transfer didn't help anything either. But last year's team worked incredibly hard to strengthen it's NCAA Tournament resume by beating North Carolina and West Viriginia late in 2010. They were poised to compete in the Big Ten before losing their point guard and first guy off the bench. Eventually they were unable to find way to win any game (except Iowa at home).
Then we start the 2011-12 season and our fringe All-American candidate tears an ACL and ends his Gopher career. Now the team searches for a new identity and has to start over.
Hope for the Future? This team has actually played well in the absence of Mbakwe. I haven't fallen in love with any of our young guys to make me think that a year of seasoning might lead to a dynamic lineup next year. But this current roster is playing well together and their defense is actually improving. I am not confident in any significant success in the near future but this team will not be as bad as everyone anticipated when Mbakwe went down for the season.
Minnesota Gopher Football
2011 Record: 3-9
Lowlights: Losing to North Dakota State and New Mexico State. This season was bad but it was slightly salvaged by beating Iowa (again) and Illinois (again). Gopher football is in a hole and the new staff is desperately trying to dig us out of it.
Hope for the Future? Many believe so, yes. For the first time in several seasons the football team really improved as the season wore on. The offense really started to click and 'get it' after the Nebraska loss and the entire team resembled an actual Big Ten team. MarQueis Gray, most of the offense and most of the defense will return next year after a number of freshmen/sophomores saw significant playing time in 2011. You will not see this team in the Big Ten Title game in 2012 but they will be better and with a couple breaks you might see them in a bowl game next year.
2011 Record: terrible to start the year, much better to end it
Lowlights: Last season the Wild made a brief run to get near the playoffs but their inability to score goals cost them down the stretch and the ended up 11 points out of the playoffs. This wasn't a terrible season. Nowhere near the awfulness of the Vikings, Twins or Wolves. It was a pretty average year that ended with the firing of the coaching staff and a new direction.
Hope for the Future? Certainly. This year the Wild have been one of the top teams in the NHL, at least according to wins and points. The new coaching staff is actually making this team better and we have some better scorers on the roster. Is this team going to compete for Lord Stanley's Cup? I doubt it this year, but I'm no great (or even mediocre) hockey mind so what do I know. On the whole, this organization is in better shape and didn't have nearly the rough year as the rest of our local teams.
I'm sure I am missing some of the lowest of the lowlights from 2011. To add to the misery of Minnesota sports fans our neighbors to the east have been rather successful. The Packers won the Super Bowl, the Badgers went to the Rose Bowl and won the inaugural Big Ten Title game, the Brewers made it to the NLCS and Badger hoops remains a top 20 program. Our time will come (I hope) but 2011 was miserable for Minnesota sports fans.
It is probably true that most of the teams above have had individually worse seasons. But seriously...when you look at it in totality this was just brutal. Vikings are one of the worst 3 teams in the league, Twins were 2nd worst in their league and Wolves were the worst. Wild and Gopher basketball were irrelevant and Gopher football has been a punchline.
Tomorrow night let's all hold up a class to toast a better 2012.