Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Minnesota's 10 Greatest Teams

The Yankees are currently playing a series against the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesota's 10 Greatest Teams

Honorable Mention to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. In football, they've won 18 Conference Championships (but none since 1967, and none outright since 1941) and 7 National Championships: 1904, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1940, 1941, and 1960. (This last one is highly dubious: The last polls were then done before the bowl games, and they lost the 1961 Rose Bowl.)

Their basketball team was retroactively awarded National Championships in 1902, 1903 and 1919. Their only Final Four was in 1997, and they were stripped of it after violations were discovered. But they are best known for the hockey team, winning 5 National Championships and reaching 21 Frozen Fours. Herb Brooks coached them to the National Championship in 1974, 1976, and 1979, and that last team provided some of the players he used to lead the U.S. team to the Gold Medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Don Lucia coached them to the National Championship in 2002 and 2003.

Honorable Mention to the Minnesota Lynx, who won the WNBA Championship in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 -- becoming the San Francisco Giants of odd-numbered years. They also reached the Finals in 2012 and 2016.

Minnesota United are now in their 2nd season in MLS, and did not make the Playoffs in their 1st.

Honorable Mention to the 1967-73 Minnesota North Stars. Coming into the NHL with the Great Expansion of 1967, they reached the Stanley Cup Quarterfinals in 5 of their 1st 6 seasons, including the Semifinals in 1968 and 1971.

10. 1988-92 Minnesota North Stars. They made the Playoffs 4 straight times, and in 1991 they got into the Playoffs as the 16th and last seed, but stunned the Chicago Blackhawks, the St. Louis Blues, and the remnant of the Edmonton Oiler dynasty to make the Stanley Cup Finals. They managed 2 wins against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and that was the closest the North Stars ever got to the Cup in Minnesota. This did not boost their attendance much, and, just 2 years later, they were gone.

9. 1996-2004 Minnesota Timberwolves. The T-Wolves were expanded into existence in 1989, and needed 8 seasons to make the NBA Playoffs. Then they made it 8 seasons in a row, culminating in 2004, in which they won their 1st Division title (they were then in the Midwest Division), and beat the Denver Nuggets and the Sacramento Kings in the Playoffs, before falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

Then they missed the Playoffs 13 straight seasons. Until they made it this season, no NBA team had gone longer without making it. From 2005-06 to 2016-17, they didn't even have a single winning season.

8. 2002-08 Minnesota Wild. In 2002-03, only their 3rd season, Jacques Lemaire came close to matching his success with the 1995 New Jersey Devils. Although the Wild were only 3rd in the Northwest Division, they gutted out 7-game Playoff wins against the Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks, before getting swept by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the NHL Western Conference Finals.

They missed the Playoffs the next 2 seasons, but made them the next 2 after that, and won the Division in 2008. That remains their only Division title.

7. 1979-86 Minnesota North Stars. A run of 7 straight Playoff seasons included Norris Division titles in 1982 and 1984 -- the only 1st place finishes the team would have until they were the 1997 Dallas Stars -- Semifinal berths in 1980, '81 and '84; and their 1st Stanley Cup Finals in 1981. But they only won 1 game against the New York Islanders.

6. 2002-10 Minnesota Twins. Winning 6 American League Central Division titles in 9 years is impressive. This included 2006, when they made a mad dash, coupled with a Detroit Tigers meltdown, to win the title on the last day of the season.

But postseason success eluded them. They beat the Oakland Athletics in the 2002 AL Division Series, and have never won another postseason round. Indeed, since 2004, they have never won another postseason game. Their postseason record since October 8, 2002 is 2-20; since October 5, 2004, 0-13.

Included in that is ALDS losses to the Yankees in 2003, '04, '09 (including the last baseball game at the Metrodome) and '10 (including the 1st postseason game at Target Field); an AL Wild Card Game loss to the Yankees in 2017; and the only postseason series win by the A's since 1990, in the 2006 ALDS. The only postseason loss inflicted by a team built by Billy Beane: Now that's embarrassing.

5. 1962-70 Minnesota Twins. In 1961, their 1st season since moving from being the original Washington Senators, they lost 90 games. But then they won 91 in each of the next 2 seasons. In 1965, they won the AL Pennant, but lost the World Series in 7 games -- the 2-0 shutout by Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers being the only home World Series game the Twins have ever lost. They are 11-1 at home, and 0-9 on the road.

They lost the 1967 Pennant on the last day of the season, then won the 1st 2 AL Western Division titles, but got swept in the AL Championship Series by the Baltimore Orioles both times. They fell apart in 1971, and didn't get back to respectability for a few years.

4. 1968-71 Minnesota Vikings. Like the T-Wolves, the Vikes needed 8 seasons to make the Playoffs for the 1st time, but they became one of the best teams in the NFL, winning the NFL or NFC Central Division the next 4 seasons, 10 of the next 11, and 12 out of 14.

In 1969, they won the NFL Championship, the last one awarded before the merger. But they lost Super Bowl IV to the Kansas City Chiefs, and began a legacy of underachieving. There have been more pathetic franchises in the NFL -- the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals come to mind, as do the Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite each having won a Super Bowl -- but none has been a more stunning underachiever.

3. 1973-78 Minnesota Vikings. "The Purple People Eaters" won 6 straight NFC Central Division titles. From 1973 to 1976, they went 45-10-1. In the 1973, '74 and '76 seasons, they won the NFC Championship. But they lost all 3 Super Bowls, making them 0-4 in the Roman numeral game.

Since Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977, the Vikings have played 41 seasons, made the Playoffs 21 times, won 12 NFC Central or North Division titles, won 11 Playoff games, and reached the NFC Championship Game 6 times... and lost them all. This includes 2 overtime losses (1 at home after going 15-1 in 1998), a 41-0 pounding by the Giants at the Meadowlands in the 2000 season, and the 38-7 beatdown they just got from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Maybe, as in the 1958 Number 1 hit novelty song, "purple people" are all that gets eaten at Vikings games. And they're the purple people. But the Baltimore Ravens have won 2 Super Bowls, so why can't the Vikings?

2. 1987-91 Minnesota Twins. In 1987, they didn't quite go "worst-to-first," going from 6th place an dlosing 91 games to winning 85, enough to win the AL West, then shocking the Tigers in the ALCS and upsetting the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, using their dome-field advantage.

They actually won more games in 1988, 91, but the Oakland quasi-dynasty got in the way until 1991, the only AL West title the A's didn't win between 1988 and 1992. The Twins did it again, this time going worst-to-first, 7th with 88 losses to 95 wins. They beat the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, and then mirrored the '87 Fall Classic by losing all 3 games in Atlanta and beating the Braves in all 4 in the Metrodome, including the great Game 6 won by Kirby Puckett's catch and 11th inning walkoff home run, and Jack Morris pitching 10 shutout innings in Game 7.

That 1991 World Series has been called the best ever, and it began a run where the Metrodome, in a span of just 6 months, hosted a World Series, a Super Bowl, and an NCAA men's basketball Final Four. No other facility has ever hosted all 3, let alone so close together. But that '91 Series also remains Minnesota's last World Championship, in any sport.

1. 1947-54 Minneapolis Lakers. John Kundla's team, led by the NBA's 1st great big man, George Mikan, won the National Basketball League title in 1948, then 5 of the next 6 NBA titles. The installation of the 24-second shot clock for the 1954-55 season changed the game and ended their dominance.

But in just 13 seasons before moving to Los Angeles in 1960, they produced 6 Hall-of-Famers (7 if you count Kundla), reached 6 NBA Finals, and won 5 of the 7 World Championships won by major league sports teams from Minnesota. Though a resident of the Land of 10,000 Lakes would have to be at least 70 years old to remember a championship basketball team in his home State, the old Lakers are still the Twin Cities' defining team.

Or, to put it another way: For all their success and glory, the Los Angeles Lakers didn't match their Minneapolis forebears in titles until 1987.

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