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Separated by the Mississippi River, Saint Paul and Minneapolis are capital and largest cities, respectively, in the state of Minnesota. Their sports teams have really become the heart of the two cities, as well as the state.
Each of the big four sports leagues are represented: Timberwolves (NBA), Twins (MLB), Vikings (NFL) and Wild (NHL). However, over the last 29 years, they’ve suffered some of the most heartbreaking moments in sports history, leading to one of the longest droughts amongst active sports cities.
“The Minnesota bench, hoping to get this winning run across, here in the tenth. It’s carried by Dan Gladden at third. Bases loaded, one out. Infielders are sort of half way at second and short. (Alejandro) Pena in a jam. The Twins are going to win the World Series! The Twins have won the World Series! It’s a base hit! It’s 1-0, 10 inning victory.” – Jack Buck, CBS, 1991 World Series.
Gene Larkin’s World Series winning hit in the 10th inning may be outshined by Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett’s walk off the night before but it’s impact was just as powerful. As the Twins players did a victory lap around the Metrodome, they didn’t realize that was the last championship the city would celebrate.
The Twins would go on to a 90-72 record the next season. It was good enough for second place in the American League West but not good enough to make the playoffs. Over the next nine years, they wouldn’t post another winning season.
Four years later, the Minnesota Timberwolves, in their seventh season, would make a trade that would impact their franchise for years to come.
After watching the Milwaukee Bucks draft point guard Stephon Marbury, the Timberwolves with the next pick would make a call. They would offer the rights to their pick, and the next years first round pick for Marbury, which Milwaukee accepted.
The 1996 player they would give up was Ray Allen. Allen would go on to enjoy a hall of fame career. Meanwhile Marbury, as good as he was, wouldn’t find a stable home until 2004 with the New York Knicks.
However the Timberwolves would march on, making the playoffs in seven straight years. The only downside was they’d have to wait for that eighth season to make it out of the first round. In 2004, they would face the Los Angeles Lakers and when they needed him the most, guard Sam Cassell got hurt, limiting his playing time.
After six games, Minnesota would go home again. Over the next few years they would miss the playoffs, before trading Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics, starting an 11 year playoff drought.
At the Metrodome, the Minnesota Vikings had started putting together a team for the ages. Drafting future all-pros Matt Birk at offensive tackle and Randy Moss at wide receiver to complement wide receiver Cris Carter, quarterback Randall Cunningham and a loaded defense, the purple and gold looked primed for good things.
Going 15-1 in the regular season and stomping the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional playoff, all that stood in their way was the Atlanta Falcons. Kicker Gary Anderson was working on perfect season, when he was asked to ice the game.
He missed. Atlanta would take the ball down field to tie the game. Head Coach Dennis Green would opt to go to overtime, where they would lose on a Morten Anderson field goal.
After a second place finish and divisional round loss the next year, the Vikings chose to drop quarterbacks Cunningham and Jeff George in favor of their 1999 first round pick, Daunte Culpepper. With a great team on the field, they would go 11-5, returning to the NFC Championship game, with only the New York Giants standing in their way. New York would shut out the Vikings, 41-0.
From 2001-2004, the Vikings would miss the playoffs, including once on a last chance play by the Green Bay Packers on the final game of the season. After making the playoffs in the 2004-2005 season and losing early, Minnesota would deal Moss for a first round pick to Oakland. The pick became wide receiver Troy Williamson, who lasted three years before traded and leading to Mike Tice losing his job in 2006.
2002-2003 would be a banner year for the Twins and third year NHL franchise the Minnesota Wild. The Twins would capture first place in the American League Central (joined in 1994) and make it to the American League Championship Series with a chance to go to the World Series.
Meanwhile, the Wild battled through to make it to the sixth seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs before going on a Cinderella run all the way to the Western Conference Finals. The Twins would lose in five games to the eventual World Series champions Angels and the Wild would be swept by the Mighty Ducks, both of which were from Anaheim.
The Wild would bounce back and forth with good seasons, including winning their division in 2007-2008 but would not make it past the first round for over a decade.
The Twins meanwhile made a crucial mistake. Following their loss to Anaheim, they would release designated hitter David Ortiz. Ortiz would go on to have a hall of fame career with the Boston Red Sox. Meanwhile the Twins were consistently good but never made it past the first round of the playoffs before hitting a rough patch in 2011.
Following a multi year rebuild, changes came to the Vikings such as the additions of linebacker Chad Greenway, running back Adrian Peterson and defensive end Jared Allen. The final piece would come in 2009 with former rival, quarterback Brett Favre, looking to bounce back after a disastrous 2008 season with the New York Jets. They would finish 12-4 and stomp the Dallas Cowboys 34-3 in the divisional round setting up for a massive showdown with the New Orleans Saints.
In one of the most controversial games, the Vikings and Saints would battle back and forth. Regulation would be capped off by a horrific 12-men on the field penalty and a poor decision by Favre, leading to an interception, leading to overtime.
Just like a decade before, kicker Garrett Hartley would kick the game winning field goal, ending their season. Two years later, it would be discovered that New Orleans had an taken part in a bounty scheme that was prohibited by the NFL.
Over the next five seasons the Vikings would miss the playoffs all but one year where they lost to Green Bay in the Wild Card round. However one of the most crushing defeats would come in the 2015-16 Wild Card game.
After an 11-5 season, lead by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Peterson, the Vikings hosted the Seattle Seahawks. In a highly contested game, kicker Blair Walsh had the stage set for him to be a hero. Down 10-9, from 27 yards…and he kicked it wide left. Soon after Bridgewater’s time would be cut short due to injury, Peterson was let go and the Vikings underwent more changes.
In 2014, the Wild finally would get over the first round hump defeating the Colorado Avalanche in seven games but gained a new rival. The next two years they’d meet the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round and both times they would fall.
Over the course of the next few years they would make playoff appearances before falling in the first round. In 2018-19 season, they would miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Meanwhile the Twins would finally make the playoffs in 2017 after a six year absence. They would bump into an old enemy in the New York Yankees who would knock them out in the Wild Card game. In 2019, the Twins would set the record for most home runs in a single season as well as set had the best record for a third seed team in baseball history. That didn’t stop them from losing to New York again in the first round.
The Timberwolves, after more than a decade, would finally make the playoffs in the 2017-18 season. Though they would lose to the Houston Rockets, it showed they were making progress. However the next year, coach Tom Thibodeau was fired following a regression.
The Vikings would finally appear ready for prime time in the 2017 season. Lead by journeyman quarterback Case Keenum, the purple and gold would finish the season at 13-3. The Saints, as always, were lurking.
After a game winning touchdown by wide receiver Stefon Diggs, they would host Philadelphia, looking to end the city’s drought in their home stadium against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Instead, Nick Foles played spoiler and knocked out the Vikings.
The next year they’d bring in quarterback Kirk Cousins and miss the playoffs again. In 2019 they would return as a Wild Card team and vanquish New Orleans again. And then they fell to the San Francisco 49ers.
With all the stoppages in play, the Wild were on track to make an appearance as a low seed in the playoffs. On the court, the Timberwolves continued their regression, currently slated as the second worst team in their conference.
The Twins meanwhile appeared ready to make a run acquiring free agents like third baseman Josh Donaldson as well as trading for pitcher Kenta Maeda. However with the hiatus caused by Covid-19 and the the disagreement between players and owners, it could be a while before the Twins make a run.
Their best bet could come in the fall when the Vikings kick off. However, they’ll doing so without most of the secondary that made them dangerous last season, and Stefon Diggs, who was traded to the Buffalo Bills.
It could be a while before the Minnesota faithful celebrates in the streets. Until then, they’ll continue watch the snow fall and wonder: when their heartbreak will end?