Monday, December 21, 2015

How to Be a New York Football Fan In Minnesota -- 2015 Edition

This Sunday, the New York Giants will travel to Minneapolis to play the Minnesota Vikings. After coming back from 28 points down to the undefeated Carolina Panthers yesterday, only to lose on a last-play field goal, the Giants must win their last 2 games, and then hope that the Washington Redskins lose at least 1 of their last 2, to make the Playoffs.

But the Vikings also need to win to solidify their Playoff position. The winner of this game might not be in, but the loser will most likely be out.

Before You Go. The Vikings do not play in the Metrodome anymore, and even if they did, you would only have been indoors for 4 hours at most. So you should consult the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press websites for their forecasts. They're predicting mid-20s for Sunday afternoon, and mid-teens for evening. Bundle up!

Minnesota is in the Central Time Zone, 1 hour behind New York. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. The Vikings are averaging 52,427 fans per home game. That is dead last in the NFL. But that stat is misleading, since having to groundshare with the University of Minnesota while their new stadium is built on the site of the Metrodome means they have the smallest stadium in the NFL. That 52,427 is a sellout. So getting tickets will be tough.

Vikings tickets are among the least expensive in the NFL. In the lower level, the 100 sections, seats on the sidelines are $130 and in the end zone $90. In the upper level, the 200 sections, sideline seats are $112, in the end zone $60, and at the top of the end zone $35.

Getting There. It’s 1,199 road miles from Times Square in New York to Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis (the spot where Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat in the air in the opening sequence of her 1970-77 CBS sitcom), and 1,196 miles from MetLife Stadium to TCF Bank Stadium. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

If you order early, you could get a round-trip flight from Newark to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for a little over $600. More likely, you'll have to pay at least $800. When you get there, the Number 55 light rail takes you from the airport to downtown in under an hour, so at least that is convenient.

Bus? Not a good idea. Greyhound runs 3 buses a day between Port Authority and Minneapolis, all with at least one transfer, in Chicago and possibly elsewhere as well. The total time, depending on the number of stops, is between 26 and 31 hours, and costs $462 round-trip, although it can be dropped to $398 with advanced purchase. The Greyhound terminal is at 950 Hawthorne Avenue, at 9th Street North, just 3 blocks from Nicollet Mall, 2 from the Target Center arena, and from there just across the 7th Street overpass over Interstate 394 from Target Field.

Train? An even worse idea. Amtrak will make you leave Penn Station on the Lake Shore Limited at 3:40 PM Eastern Time, arrive at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM Central Time, and then the Empire Builder, their Chicago-to-Seattle run, will leave at 2:15 PM and arrive in St. Paul (not Minneapolis) at 9:53 PM. From there, 730 Transfer Road, you’d have to take the Number 16 or 50 bus to downtown Minneapolis. And it’s $569 round-trip.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key, through the rest of Ohio and Indiana.

Just outside Chicago, I-80 will split off from I-90, which you will keep, until it merges with Interstate 94. For the moment, though, you will ignore I-94. Stay on I-90 through Illinois, until reaching Madison, Wisconsin, where you will once again merge with I-94. Now, I-94 is what you want, taking it into Minnesota and the Twin Cities, with Exit 235B being your exit for the University of Minnesota area, and Exit 233A for downtown Minneapolis.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 and a half hours in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, 2 and a half hours in Wisconsin, and half an hour in Minnesota. That’s 17 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, outside Chicago and halfway across Wisconsin, and accounting for traffic in New York, the Chicago suburbs and the Twin Cities, it should be no more than 23 hours, which would save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not on flying.

Once In the City. Like the baseball Twins, who arrived at the same time (1961), and the subsequent NBA Timberwolves (1989) and NHL Wild (2000), and the departed NHL North Stars (1967-1993), the Vikings are called "Minnesota," because they didn't want to slight either one of the "Twin Cities."

Well, these "twins" are not identical: They have different mindsets, and, manifesting in several ways that included both having Triple-A teams until the MLB team arrived, have been known to feud as much as San Francisco and Oakland, Dallas and Fort Worth, Baltimore and Washington, if not as much as Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Minneapolis has about 400,000 people, St. Paul 300,000, and the combined metropolitan area about 3.7 million, ranking 15th in the U.S. -- roughly the combined population of Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island -- or that of Manhattan and Queens. Denver is the only metropolitan area with teams in all 4 sports that's smaller. And, despite being the smaller city, St. Paul is the State capital.
The State House in St. Paul

"Minneapolis" is a combination of the Dakota tribal word for water, and the Greek word for city. It was founded in 1867 with the name St. Anthony Falls, and, of course, St. Paul, founded in 1854, is also named for an early Christian saint. In Minneapolis, Hennepin Avenue separates the numbered Streets from North and South, and the Mississippi River is the "zero point" for the Avenues, many (but not all) of which also have numbers.

Each city once had 2 daily papers, now each is down to 1: Minneapolis had the Star and the Tribune, merged in 1982; St. Paul the Pioneer and the Dispatch, merged into the Pioneer Press and Dispatch in 1985, with the Dispatch name dropped in 1990. Today, they are nicknamed the Strib and the Pi Press.

The sales tax in the State of Minnesota is 6.875 percent. It's 7.775 percent in Minneapolis' Hennepin County, and 7.625 percent in St. Paul's Ramsey County. Bus and Light Rail service is $2.25 per ride during rush hours, $1.75 otherwise.

Going In. TCF Bank Stadium, designed to look like the old red-brick horseshoe college football stadiums of the 1920s, is on the campus of the University of Minnesota, across the Mississippi River from most of Minneapolis, 3 miles due east of Nicollet Mall and the homes of the Twins and T-Wolves. The official address is 420 SE 23rd Avenue.

Coming from downtown, you would take the Green Line light rail to Stadium Village stop. If you're going by light rail, you're most likely going to enter via the open west end of the horseshoe. If you're driving, you'll be taking I-94 back across the river, to Exit 235B, and probably parking at the enclosed east end of the stadium. Parking can be had for as low as $5.00. This being Big Ten country, tailgating is encouraged.

The stadium opened in 2009, allowing the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers to play home games on campus as they did at Memorial Stadium from 1924 to 1981. Their alumni were sick of playing in the cold, so when the Metrodome opened for the Twins and Vikings in 1982, they wanted in (figuratively and literally). But, even during winning seasons (which have been few and far between since the 1960s), attendance was lousy. So an on-campus facility was built. Unlike most football stadiums, due to solar and wind patterns, the field is laid out east-to-west, and is made of FieldTurf.
Before moving in for the 2014 and '15 seasons, the Vikings played a home game there in 2010, following a snow-caused collapse of the Metrodome roof. The Vikings lost to the Chicago Bears, and it turned out to be Brett Favre's last NFL game. It's also hosted an outdoor game for UM hockey, and this coming February 21, it will play host to the Wild against the Chicago Blackhawks. It hosted a match between soccer teams Manchester City of England and Olympiacos of Athens, Greece.
Memorial Stadium, a.k.a. "Old Memorial," seated 56,000 people, and was across University Avenue from where the new stadium now stands. The McNamara Alumni Center and the University Aquatic Center are on the site. The Vikings had played a home game at "Old Memorial" in 1969, due to a conflict with a Twins Playoff game at Metropolitan Stadium.

Across Oak Street from the new stadium's west end, on opposite sides of 4th Street, are the University's basketball and hockey homes. The Gophers play their basketball games at Williams Arena, a classic old barn built in 1928. The 1951 NCAA Final Four was held there, with Kentucky beating Kansas State in the Final.

Across 4th Street from Williams is Mariucci Arena, home of the hockey team that has won National Championships in 1974, '76, '79, 2002 and '03. Named for John Mariucci, a member of the Chicago Blackhawks' 1938 Stanley Cup winners who coached the Gophers. The arena was built in 1993, after the team previously played hockey at Williams.

Legend has it that 4th Street is the "Positively 4th Street" used as the title of a song by former UM student Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, although, as is often the case with Dylan songs, there is no mention of the title in the songs. Whether the "friend" who's "got a lot of nerve" was a fellow UM student, I don't know. It's also been suggested that the 4th Street in question is the one in New York's Greenwich Village.

Food. Considering that Minnesota is Big Ten Country, you would expect their stadium to have lots of good food, in particular that Midwest staple, the sausage. They don't disappoint.

Named for UM's Gopher mascot, Goldy's Grill stands include hot dogs, bratwurst, burgers, chicken tenders, and... cheese curds. A little touch of Montreal -- poutine in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? I hope not!

The open west end has Jax Cafe, including burgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, cheesesteaks, chili, clam chowder and "Buffalo chips." I hope that means potato chips with Buffalo-chicken-style seasoning! The west end also has Famous Dave's barbecue and Dino's Gyros. The stadium also has Subway, Maui Wowie and ice cream stands.

Team History Displays. There is no display at TCF Bank Stadium for the Vikings achievements. They will wait until the new stadium opens to display mentions of their 1969 NFL Championship (losing Super Bowl IV); their 1973, 1974 and 1976 NFC Championships (losing Super Bowls VIII, IX and XI); their 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2000 NFC Central Division Championships; and their 2008 and 2009 NFC North Division Championships.

Nor are their 6 retired numbers mentioned. Of the 6, 4 are from their Super Bowl teams: 10, quarterback Fran Tarkenton; 53, center Mick Tinglehoff; 70, defensive end Jim Marshall; and 88, defensive tackle Alan Page. They also retired 80 for 1990s receiver Cris Carter, and 77 for 1990s offensive tackle Korey Stringer, who suffered heatstroke and during during training camp in 2001.

At the Metrodome, the Vikings had a Ring of Honor. Presumably, this will be put in place at U.S. Bank Stadium. There are currently 21 individuals honored:

* From the 1960s, but not making it to the 1969 title: Tarkenton.

* From the 1969 NFL Championship: Tinglehoff, Marshall, Page, running back Bill Brown, offensive tackle Ron Yary, defensive end Carl Eller, safety Paul Krause, head coach Bud Grant, general manager Jim Finks, and medical adviser Fred Zamberletti. Interestingly, Joe Kapp, the starting quarterback on this team, has not been honored.

* From the 1973 and 1974 NFC Championships: Tarkenton (who was traded to the Giants and traded back to the Vikings), Tinglehoff, Marshall, Page, Brown, Yary, Eller, Krause, Grant, Finks, Zamberletti and running back Chuck Foreman.

* From the 1976 NFC Championship: Tarkenton, Foreman, Tinglehoff, Marshall, Page, Yary, Eller, Krause, Grant, Zamberletti and linebacker Matt Blair.

* From the 1980s: Grant, Zamberletti, Blair, defensive end Chris
Doleman, linebacker Scott Studwell, safety Joey Browner and
coach Jerry Burns.

* From the 1990s: Zamberletti, Carter, Stringer, guard Randall
McDaniel and defensive tackle John Randle.

* Thus far, no one has been inducted from the 2000s, although
Zamberletti is still with the organization.

Tarkenton was named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest
Football Players in 1999. He, Page and Randy Moss were
named to the NFL Network's 100 Greatest Players in 2010.

 Since the Vikings are not the primary team at TCF Bank Stadium, they don't have a big team store there, just a few stray souvenir stands. Their main Team Store is, ironically, on the site of their first stadium, at the Mall of America in Bloomington. Whether that store or any of the stands sells horned helmets, the team's symbol and long the symbol of the original Vikings, even though they never actually wore them, you'd have to go to find out.

With an uneven history that, as yet, doesn't include a World Championship, there aren't many books about the Vikings. But that history does include an NFL Championship. Pat Duncan wrote about it in Last Kings of the Old NFL: The 1969 Minnesota Vikings. Star-Tribune columnist and 1500 ESPN radio host Patrick Reusse and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar combined in 2010 to write a 50th Anniversary retrospective, Minnesota Vikings: The Complete Illustrated History.

As for DVDs, the NFL's official History of the Minnesota Vikings came out in 2001, so it only goes up to the team's 40th Anniversary. In 2009, the NFL released Minnesota Vikings: 5 Greatest Games. Except none of the 5 are from their 1970s glory days, which is inexcusable due to the vast library of NFL Films.Instead, they chose a Playoff win over the San Francisco 49ers from the 1987 season, a Playoff win over the Arizona Cardinals from the 1998 season, a Playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys from the 1999 season, Adrian Peterson's NFL record 296 yards against the San Diego Chargers in a 2007 regular season game, and the 2008 Division title clincher against the Giants.

During the Game. Because of their Midwest/Heartland image, Vikings fans like a “family atmosphere.” Therefore, while they don’t especially like the Giants, they will not directly antagonize you. I would advise against saying anything complimentary about the Green Bay Packers, the University of Wisconsin, the Dallas Stars (the hockey team that used to be the Minnesota North Stars) or Norm Green (the owner who moved them).

For many years, a man in a traditional (if historically inaccurate) Viking costume showed up at games at Metropolitan Stadium. In 1994, Joseph Juranitch, born the same year as the team, 1961 -- ironically, in Milwaukee, territory of their arch-rivals, the Green Bay Packers, but grew up in Ely, Minnesota -- took up the mantle, calling himself Ragnar the Viking.
I'm not going to tell him that Vikings don't ride motorcycles.

His contract was not renewed for the 2015 season, but he still makes public appearances in costume. He is a security officer for a Twin Cities high school. He was replaced by the foam-costumed Viktor the Viking.
Seriously? Is this guy really an upgrade on Ragnar?

The Vikings hold auditions for the National Anthem, instead of having a regular singer. Their fight song is "Skol, Vikings" -- "Skol" being a variation on "Skål," a Scandinavian word meaning "good health," in effect a toast, equivalent to the Gaelic "Sláinte," the Spanish "Salud," the Italian "Salute," the German "Prost," the Hebrew "L'chaim" or the Slavic "Na zdrowie." "Skol, skol, skol" is also the main fans' chant.

And, in case you're wondering, Minnesota (and, to a lesser extent, the neighboring States of Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota) have a large concentration of people of Scandinavian descent (Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish and Icelandic), which is why the team was named the Vikings. Just as the Boston basketball team was named the Celtics in honor of Boston's Irish heritage. And teams in places with Native American influence have been named the Kansas City Chiefs and the Florida State Seminoles. But nobody's ever had the guts to name a team in a city with a large Italian population the Philadelphia Paisans or the Chicago Godfathers. There's no New York Jews, L.A. Chicanos or San Francisco Chinamen, either. Nor should there be. Although "New York Mensches" would be complimentary.

After the Game. Minneapolis is a relatively safe city, and the UM campus even more so. As long as you don't go out of your way to antagonize anybody, you should be all right.

If you want to be around other New Yorkers, I’m sorry to say that listings for where they tend to gather are slim. O'Donovan's Irish Pub, in Minneapolis at 700 1st Avenue North at 7th St., downtown, is said to cater to football Giants fans. Jet fans are said to go to the Lyndale Tap House, at 2937 Lyndale Avenue South, but that's 2 1/2 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis. Number 4 bus.

Another restaurant that may be of interest to New York baseball fans is Charley's Grill, at 225 3rd Avenue South at 2nd Street.  It was popular among visiting players from other American Association cities when they came to play the Millers and the Saints. Legend has it that, when the Yankees gathered for spring training in 1961, they were trying to figure out which restaurants in the new American League cities were good, and someone who'd recently played for the Denver Bears mentioned Charley's. But Yogi Berra, who'd gone there when the Yanks' top farm team was the Kansas City Blues, said, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." Well, someone must still be going there, because it's still open.  (That Yogi said the line is almost certainly true, but the restaurant in question was almost certainly Ruggiero's, a place in his native St. Louis at which he and his neighbor Joe Garagiola waited tables.)

Sidelights. Minnesota’s sports history is long, but very uneven. Teams have been born, moved in, moved around, and even moved out. But there are some local sites worth checking out.

* Site of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and U.S. Bank Stadium. Home of the Twins from 1982 to 2009, the University of Minnesota football team from 1982 to 2008, the NFL’s Vikings from 1982 to 2013, and the NBA's Timberwolves in their inaugural season of 1989-90, that infamous blizzard and roof collapse in 2010 brought the desire to get out and build a new stadium for the Vikes to the front burner, and it finally led to action. Until then, there were threats that the Vikes would move, the most-mentioned possible destinations being Los Angeles and San Antonio.
The Twins won the 1987 and 1991 World Series at the Metrodome – going 8-0 in World Series games in the Dome, and 0-6 in Series games outside of it. The Vikings, on the other hand, were just 6-4 in home Playoff games there – including an overtime defeat in the 1998 NFC Championship Game after going 14-2 in the regular season.
From October 19, 1991 to April 6, 1992, the Metrodome hosted 3 major events in less than 6 months: The World Series (Twins over Atlanta Braves), Super Bowl XXVI (Washington Redskins over Buffalo Bills), and the NCAA Final Four (Duke beating Michigan in the Final). It also hosted the Final Four in 2001 (Duke won that one, too, over Arizona).

In May 2012, faced with the serious possibility of the Vikings moving without getting a suitable stadium, the Minnesota State legislature approved funding for a new stadium for the Vikings, to be built on the site of the Metrodome and on adjoining land.

In a piece of poetic justice, just as the damn thing was (with considerable ballyhoo) built and completed ahead of schedule and under budget, so did the demolition take place. The people of Minnesota seemed to be proud of its having been built on the cheap and on time, but it served its purpose, to keep the Twins and Vikings from moving for a generation, and now replacement stadiums are achieving the same purpose.

Billy Martin, who hated the place, had the best word on it, though the awkward wording of it may have been inspired in part by his pal Yogi Berra: "It's a shame a great guy like HHH had to be named after it." (Billy's first managing job was with the Twins, at the Met in 1969.)

U.S. Bank Stadium is scheduled to open in time for the 2016 NFL season. It will host Super Bowl LII in February 2018, and the 2019 NCAA Final Four. 900 South 5th Street at Centennial (Kirby Puckett) Place. Metrodome station on Light Rail.
Construction is moving along well.

* Target Field. Home of the Twins since 2010, it gives Minnesota's baseball team its 1st true ballpark after a half-century of waiting, rather than the Bloomington ice tray and the Homerdome. The official address is 1 Twins Way, along 3rd Avenue N., between 5th and 7th Streets. It has its own stop on the light rail system.

* Mall of America and sites of Metropolitan Stadium and the Metropolitan Sports Center. In contrast to their performance at the Metrodome, the Vikings were far more successful at their first home, while the Twins were not (in each case, playing there from 1961 to 1981).
The Vikings reached 4 Super Bowls while playing at The Met, while the Twins won Games 1, 2 and 6 of the 1965 World Series there, but lost Game 7 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a shutout by Sandy Koufax. (So the Twins are 11-1 all-time in World Series home games, but 0-9 on the road.) The Vikings were far more formidable in their ice tray of a stadium, which had no protection from the sun and nothing to block an Arctic blast of wind.

In fact, the Met had one deck along the 3rd base stands and in the right field bleachers, two decks from 1st base to right field and in the left field bleachers, and three decks behind home plate. Somebody once said the stadium looked like an Erector set that a kid was putting together, before his mother called him away to dinner and he never finished it. At 45,919 seats, it had a capacity that was just fine for baseball; but at 48,446, it was too small for the NFL.

Prior to the 1961 arrivals of the Twins and Vikings, the Met hosted the Minneapolis Millers from 1956 to 1960, and 5 NFL games over the same stretch, including 4 “home games” for the Packers. (Viking fans may be sickened over that, but at least University of Minnesota fans can take heart in the University of Wisconsin never having played there.)

The experiments worked: The Met, built equidistant from the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, in the southern suburb of Bloomington, was awarded the MLB and NFL teams, and Midway Stadium, built in 1957 as the new home of the St. Paul Saints (at 1000 N. Snelling Avenue in the city of St. Paul, also roughly equidistant from the two downtowns), struck out, and was used as a practice field by the Vikings before being demolished in 1981.

The NHL’s Minnesota North Stars played at the adjoining Metropolitan Sports Center (or Met Center) from 1967 to 1993, before they were moved to become the Dallas Stars by owner Norm Green, earning him the nickname Norm Greed. The Stars reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1981 and 1991, but never won the Cup until 1999 when they were in Dallas.

The Beatles played at Metropolitan Stadium on August 21, 1965 -- making 1 of only 3 facilities to host an All-Star Game, a Finals and a Beatles concert in the same year. (The others were the Boston Garden and Maple Leaf Gardens in 1964.) Elvis Presley sang at the Met Center on November 5, 1971 and October 17, 1976.

8000 Cedar Avenue South, at 80th Street -- near the airport, although legends of planes being an issue, as with Shea Stadium and Citi Field, seem to be absent. A street named Killebrew Drive, and the original location of home plate, have been preserved. A 45-minute ride on the Number 55 light rail (MOA station).

* Site of Nicollet Park. Home of the Millers from 1912 to 1955, it was one of the most historic minor-league parks, home to Ted Williams and Willie Mays before they reached the majors. With the Met nearing completion, its last game was Game 7 of the 1955 Junior World Series, in which the Millers beat the International League Champion Rochester Red Wings. A few early NFL games were played there in the 1920s. A bank is now on the site. Nicollet and Blaisdell Avenues, 30th and 31st Streets. Number 465 bus.

* Site of Lexington Park. Home of the Saints from 1897 to 1956, it wasn’t nearly as well regarded, although it did close with a Saints win over the arch-rival Millers. The site is now occupied by retail outlets. Lexington Parkway, University Avenue, Fuller & Dunlap Streets.

* Xcel Energy Center and site of the St. Paul Civic Center. Home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild since their debut in 2000, and site of the 2008 Republican Convention that nominated John McCain for President and Sarah Palin for Vice President. (The GOP met in Minneapolis in 1892, renominating President Benjamin Harrison at the Industrial Exposition Building at 101 Central Avenue SE. It was torn down in 1940, and condos are on the site now.)

The place is a veritable home and hall of fame for hockey in Minnesota, the most hockey-mad State in the Union, including the State high school championships that were previously held at the Civic Center.

That building was the home of the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association from 1973 to 1977. The Fighting Saints had played their first few home games, in late 1972, at the St. Paul Auditorium. Elvis sang at the Civic Center on October 2 and 3, 1974, and April 30, 1977. The Civic Center is also where Bruce Springsteen and Courteney Cox filmed the video for Bruce’s song “Dancing In the Dark.” 199 Kellogg Blvd. West. at 7th Street.

* Target Center. Separated from Target Field by I-394 and 2nd Avenue, this arena has been home to the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves since the team debuted shortly after its 1989 opening. The T-Wolves have only made the Western Conference Finals once, and are probably best known as the team Kevin Garnett and GM (and Minnesota native) Kevin McHale couldn’t get over the hump, before Garnett went to McHale’s former team, the Boston Celtics.

The Minnesota Lynx also play here, and have become the WNBA’s answer to the San Antonio Spurs, winning league titles in odd-numbered years: 2011, 2013 and 2015. 600 N. 1st Avenue at 6th Street.

* Site of Minneapolis Auditorium. Built in 1927, from 1947 to 1960 this was the home of the Minneapolis Lakers – and, as Minnesota is “the Land of 10,000 Lakes” (11,842, to be exact), now you know why a team in Los Angeles is named the Lakers. (The old Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden said his team and the Lakers should switch names, due to L.A.'s "West Coast jazz" scene and the Great Salt Lake: "Los Angeles Jazz" and "Utah Lakers" would both make more sense.)

The Lakers won the National Basketball League Championship in 1948, then moved into the NBA and won the Championship in 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954. In fact, until the Celtics overtook them in 1963, the Minneapolis Lakers were the most successful team in NBA history, and have still won more World Championships than all the other Minnesota major league teams combined: Lakers 5, Twins 2, the rest a total of 0. (Unless you count the Lynx, who make it Lakers 5, everybody else 5.)

They were led by their enormous (for the time, 6-foot-10, 270-pound) center, the bespectacled (that’s right, he wore glasses, not goggles, on the court) Number 99, George Mikan. The arrival of the 24-second shot clock for the 1954-55 season pretty much ended their run, although rookie Elgin Baylor did help them reach the Finals again in 1959. Ironically, the owner of the Lakers who moved them to Los Angeles was Bob Short – who later moved the “new” Washington Senators, the team established to replace the team that moved to become the Twins.

Elvis sang there early in his career, on May 13, 1956. The Auditorium was demolished in 1989, and the Minneapolis Convention Center was built on the site. 1301 2nd Ave. South, at 12th Street. Within walking distance of Target Field, Target Center and the Metrodome.

* Minnesota United. Currently playing in the new version of the North American Soccer League, this team will join Major League Soccer in either the 2017 or 2018 season. They currently play at the 10,000-seat National Sports Center in Blaine, 18 miles north of Minneapolis, but plan to move to a 20,000-seat stadium to open in downtown St. Paul in 2018.

* Museums. The Twin Cities are very artsy, and have their share of museums, including one of the five most-visited modern art museums in the country, the Walker Art Center, at 1750 Hennepin Avenue. Number 4, 6, 12 or 25 bus. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is at 2400 3rd Avenue South. Number 17 bus, then walk 2 blocks east on 24th Street. The Science Museum of Minnesota is at 120 W. Kellogg Blvd. in St. Paul, across from the Xcel Center.

Fort Snelling, originally Fort Saint Anthony, was established by the U.S. Army in 1819, where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers meet, to guard the Upper Midwest. It served as an Army post until World War II. It is now a museum, with historical demonstrations based on its entire history, from the post-War of 1812 period to the Civil War, from the Indian Wars to the World Wars. 101 Lakeview Avenue in St. Paul, across from the airport. An hour’s ride on the Blue light rail.

Minnesota is famous for Presidential candidates that don’t win. Governor Harold Stassen failed to get the Republican nomination in 1948, and then ran several more times, becoming, pardon the choice of words, a running joke. Senator Eugene McCarthy opposed Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic Primaries in 1968, but lost his momentum when Robert Kennedy got into the race and LBJ got out, then ran in 1976 as a 3rd-party candidate and got 1 percent of the popular vote.

Vice President Walter Mondale was the Democratic nominee in 1984, losing every State but
Minnesota in his loss to Ronald Reagan. In the 2012 election cycle, the moderate former Governor Tim Pawlenty and the completely batty Congresswoman Michele Bachmann ran, and neither got anywhere.

Most notable is Hubert Horatio Humphrey. Elected Mayor of Minneapolis in 1945 and 1947, he became known for fighting organized crime, which put a price on his head, a price it was unable to pay off.  In 1948, while running for the U.S. Senate, he gave a speech at the Democratic Convention, supporting a civil rights plank in the party platform, a movement which culminated in his guiding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the Senate as Majority Whip. He ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1960, but lost to John F. Kennedy, then was elected LBJ’s Vice President in 1964.

He won the nomination in 1968, but lost to Richard Nixon by a hair. He returned to the Senate in 1970, and ran for President again in 1972, but lost the nomination to George McGovern. He might have run again in 1976 had his health not failed, as cancer killed him in 1978 at age 66. His wife Muriel briefly held his Senate seat.

Not having been President (he's come closer than any other Minnesotan ever has), he has no Presidential Library, but there is the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, 301 19th Avenue South, only a short walk from the Dome that would be named for him. Hubert and Muriel are laid to rest in Lakewood Cemetery, 3600 Hennepin Avenue. Number 6 bus.

The tallest building in Minnesota is the IDS Center, at 80 South 8th Street at Marquette Avenue, rising 792 feet high. The tallest in the State outside Minneapolis is Wells Fargo Place, at 30 East 7th Street at Cedar Street in St. Paul, 472 feet.

Nicollet Mall is a pedestrians-only shopping center that stretches from 2nd to 13th Streets downtown. At 7th Street, in front of Macy's, in roughly the same location that Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards threw her hat in the air in the opening to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, is a statue of "Mare" doing that. It was the first in a series of statues commissioned by TV Land that now includes Jackie Gleason outside Port Authority, Henry Winkler in Milwaukee, Bob Newhart in Chicago, Andy Griffith and Ron Howard in Raleigh, Elizabeth Montgomery in Salem, Massachusetts and Elvis in Honolulu. However, the show had no location shots in Minneapolis.

The sitcom Coach, which aired on ABC from 1989 to 1996, was set at Minnesota State University. At the time, there was not a real college with that name. But in 1999, Mankato State University was renamed Minnesota State University, Mankato; and in 2000, Moorhead State University became Minnesota State University, Moorhead.

The University of Minnesota was originally a model for the school on the show, but withdrew its support: Although some game action clearly shows the maroon and gold of the Golden Gophers, the uniforms shown in most scenes were light purple and gold. In one Season 1 episode, the Gophers are specifically mentioned as one of the Screaming Eagles' opponents, suggesting that Minnesota State might have been in the Big Ten. Show creator Barry Kemp is a graduate of the University of Iowa -- like Wisconsin, a major rival of the Gophers -- and most of the exterior shots you see of the campus were filmed there. In addition, the main character, Hayden Fox, was named after then-Iowa coach Hayden Fry. No scenes were actually shot in Minnesota, not even Hayden's oft-snowy lake house.

St. Paul is the capital of the State of Minnesota. The Capitol Building is at University Avenue and Capital Blvd. It's a half-hour ride from downtown on the Number 94 bus (named because most of its route is on I-94).


Bob Wood, a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a graduate of Michigan State University, wrote a pair of sports travel guides: Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks, about his 1985 trip to all 26 stadiums then in MLB; and Big Ten Country, about his 1988 trip to all the Big Ten campuses and stadiums. (Penn State, Nebraska, and soon-to-be members Rutgers and Maryland were not yet in the league).

The Metrodome was the only stadium that featured in both books, although if either were updated to reflect current reality, it would feature in neither. In Big Ten Country, Wood said, “Now, don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't like Minneapolis. How can you not like Minneapolis?... No, Minneapolis is lovely. It’s the Metrodome that sucks!”

Thankfully, the Metrodome is gone, the Vikings will soon play in a new stadium on the site, the Twins also play in a new stadium that actually feels like a ballpark, and, from what I understand, Minneapolis and St. Paul are still terrific cities, including for sports. A Giants or Jets fan should definitely take in a game against the Vikings there.

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