In Minnesota, Melancholy Isn’t a Mood — It’s a Lifestyle

It’s 8 a.m. The streetlights are still on as the sun has yet to rise. Why should it? Why waste a sunny day as we Minnesotans wallow in our swelling melancholy?

The Vikings fell to 2-4 last night after losing 28-24 to the Green Bay Packers. Quarterback Brett Favre was — again — the storyline. He threw three interceptions that led to 14 points, effectively ending the 14-month honeymoon for Vikings fans like yours truly. Another season of wonder has turned to blunder.

This bleak feeling has become all too familiar of late, where on the local scene mediocrity has become the standard:

  • The Minnesota Twins? Swept from the playoffs by the Yankees.
  • The Minnesota Gophers? 1-7, already on their second coach of the season.
  • Brock Lesnar? UFC heavyweight title lost to Cain Valesquez after a first-round TKO Saturday night.
  • The Minnesota Wild? 3-3-1, but honestly, I had to look that up. I’m not a hockey fan.
  • The Minnesota Timberwolves? Their season doesn’t start for a few days, so right now, they’re the best team in town.

Last season, I was living in Portland as the Vikings stormed through the regular season and into the playoffs. I was back home for losses to the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers, so all told, the Vikings were 13-3 in games I watched 1,700 miles from Vikings territory. Last night, I got to thinking — would I rather live far from Minnesota and see the Vikings win or live here and see them lose?

Still undecided.

Misery loves Minnesota sports. It’s Monday morning agony like this that defines Vikings fan experience. We’ve gotten used to losing, or, as used to it as one can get. Still, you have to wonder what it was like living in a place like Boston the past decade. In the aughts alone, they saw their New England Patriots win three Super Bowls, their Boston Red Sox win two World Series and their Boston Celtics win an NBA title. A Minnesota pro sports franchise hasn’t advanced to a title game, no less won a championship, since 1991 when the Twins won the World Series.

We’re the punchline and the punching bag.

Last night, I tweeted, “So, how about that Minneapolis arts scene?” What I meant was we, as a fan base, should probably look beyond sports for joy. I know it’s a hard transition, but season tickets at the Guthrie Theatre must be cheaper than season tickets at Target Field. As foodies and provincial microbrew drinkers already know, there’s plenty of fine establishments where you can get full and get a buzz for the price of nachos and a Coors Light at a Vikings game. Here’s a bonus: When an artist snaps a photo of his penis, it’s just art!

That’s not going to happen though. You and I will go on in hopeless support of our fledgling pro franchises, just as anyone with Stockholm syndrome would. The highs will be high, the lows will be low, but failure will find us like a shock collar the moment we’ve wandered too far from reality.

Go on in gloom this Monday, which should be nothing other than dark, cold and miserable. What could be more befitting of the Minnesota sports fan experience?

Tough Sell? Timberwolves Use Groupon for Season-Opener

The Minnesota Timberwolves kick off their 2010-2011 season next Wednesday, and though many expect this year’s team to double their win total from the previous season, tickets sales are low. Like, really low.

So low that today, the Timberwolves offered a limited number of discounted tickets through Groupon. Fans can get tickets for the Oct. 27 home-opener against the Sacramento Kings or the Oct. 29 tilt against the Milwaukee Bucks for as much as 61 percent off face value. Awesome if you’re a fan, but really, really bad news if you work in the Timberwolves’ front office.

As local sports talk radio personality Dan “Common Man” Cole would say, the Timberwolves are a terrible team with terrible players and terrible coaches and a terrible front office that play in a terrible league in a terrible facility with a terrible fan base in a terrible city. OK, the Twin Cities are cool, but the Timberwolves are trailing at a distant fourth among the local pro sports teams and the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA can’t be far behind them. As for the rest of the tangent:

Terrible team — This isn’t an opinion, but a fact. Let’s look at the team’s recent history. (Note: I feel bad calling the current squad terrible because there’s been so much turnover each season the past five years. Seriously, college programs see more continuity.)

2005-06 – 33 wins, 49 loss (4th in Northwest Division; 14th in Western Conference)
2006-07 – 32-50 (4th in Northwest; T-12th in Western)
2007-08 – 22-60 (4th in Northwest; 13th in Western)
2008-09 – 24-58 (4th in Northwest; 10th in Western)
2009-10 – 15-67 (5th in Northwest; 15th in Western)

Not to knock anyone’s five-year plan, but even if the T-Wolves double last year’s win total as fans and pundits so optimistically hope, they’ll still fall behind the 2005-06 squad. Ouch.

Terrible players – OK, that’s harsh. The T-Wolves will have the league’s youngest team, led by – gulp – former No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley. Beasley’s been disciplined for off-the-court behavior and spent time in rehab. I’m hard-pressed to imagine the parent who wants their eight-year-old wearing a Beasley jersey to school.

There’s not a single player with All-Star experience on the roster. However, Darko Milicic and Kevin Love could make up one of the more intriguing front courts in the NBA. Darko, the No. 2 pick in the vaunted 2003 NBA Draft, has one last chance to save his career. Love helped Team USA earn gold at the Pan-Am Games over the summer and has the personality to be loved, Kevin Garnett-style, by the fan base.

Terrible coaches – Great group of coaches … if this was 1988 … and they were still players:

Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis won four NBA titles. As a player.

Assistant coach Bill Laimbeer won two NBA titles. As a player.

Assistant coach Reggie Theus never won an NBA title, but he did wear a bitchin’ mustache. As a player.

Fun fact that won’t necessarily lead to success: All three of the above-listed coaches have extensive comedic acting experience. So, clearly they’re qualified to coach the T-Wolves. Theus was most memorable:

Terrible front office – I hate to throw the whole front office under the bus. So, Terrible general manager. David Kahn’s been comically bad since taking over personnel decisions:

Terrible league – I could go 35 different ways with this one, but I’ll resort to one simple fact: Since 1980, 30 NBA titles have been shared by just eight teams. Seven times, the title has been won by the same team in consecutive years. Compare that the most successful pro sports league, the NFL, where 15 teams have shared the last 30 Super Bowl championships, only four teams have won consecutive titles and no team ever won three in a row. Parity, people. The NFL has it. The NBA does not.

Terrible facility – The Target Center is just 20 years old and its relatively cozy at 20,500 seats. But, sit anywhere outside of the $100 seats and you’d confuse Shaquille O’Neal for Earl Boykins. The place lacks intimacy and it’s way too spread out:

Barring another Groupon deal, that’s probably what the place will look like on game night come February.

Terrible fan base – There’s just one thing you’ve got to realize, devout Timberwolves fans. (That’s you, Eric and Steve.) Minneapolis is cold in the winter. You know that. So, if I’m Big Name Free Agent Guy and I’ve got the choice between South Beach or Minneapolis for roughly the same pay, I’m taking the climate and tax shelter and going to Miami. That we had a player of Kevin Garnett’s ability was a miracle. The fact we conned him (Kahned him?) into a second contract is one of the finest deals a pro sports franchise has ever pulled off.

We drafted Kevin Garnett. We drafted a shit ton of other terrible players before and after that. We’re never going to sign Big Name Free Agent Guys unless they’re getting the chance to play alongside a Kevin Garnett. (Not a Kevin Love.) So, loyal fan base of two, quit your bickering about poor trades and never signing the big catch, because the reality is the Timberwolves will live and die by the NBA Draft as long as Minnesota winters are cold and quit lamenting the Kevin Garnett era. He gone!

Terrible city – Again, that’s not true. Twin Cities, we have every reason to be skeptical of this ball club. We suffer enough heartbreak between the Vikings, Twins and Wild. Maybe that’s all the more reason to jump on the Timberwolves bandwagon. We know to keep our expectations low and hell, it’s one of the cheapest tickets in town.

So, hop on Groupon today and get your Timberwolves tickets on the cheap. And besides, catch game one or two and you might just get the rare chance to see the home team with a winning record. For once.

Brett Favre Saga Reinforces Athletes Aren’t Role Models

A beautiful, loving wife like Deanna Favre would be more than enough for most men. But most men aren't pro athletes like Brett Favre.

As if the Tiger Woods saga wasn’t enough, it’s possible Brett Favre is the latest mega athlete to reinforce a) athletes aren’t role models b) athletes are self-entitled and c) talent in sports does not equate to skills social or moral.

For those keeping score at home, there are rumors (and pictures) claiming Brett Favre sent photos of his genitalia via text message to Jenn Sterger while playing for the New York Jets two years ago. Favre has been unwilling to discuss or deny the allegations while the National Football League has opened an investigation. (Sterger was an employee of the Jets at the time, so even while she hasn’t pursued sexual harassment charges, the league sees Favre’s alleged conduct as a serious disciplinary issue.)

Did Favre do it? Sure. Probably. Have you met a professional athlete? I have. I lived with nearly 90 of them during an NFL training camp. One night, they would cavort with some honey they met at the club. The next day, they would welcome a pregnant wife for a camp visit. I don’t want to paint the stroke to broadly, but in many cases, football players and pro athletes in general are just big nerds who happen to be talented at a sport, and they can’t believe a woman — a beautiful woman — might reciprocate interest in them. Then, they get used to the attention. Then, they find themselves in Brett Favre’s uncomfortable position.

Let’s review the lessons in case Favre cops to sexting Sterger. I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of reality:

Athletes aren’t role models. Athletes do embody a number of respectable traits and virtues: Hard work, determination, willingness to sacrifice, dedication, etc. However, one can find these intangibles among any different crowd, like policemen, firemen, soldiers and even parents. It’s not right to hand pick a few aspects of a person and turn your shoulder to the colder realities. It’s similar to when people applaud Adolf Hitler’s leadership. Really? That’s your guy?

It’s hard to fit the role of role model, but that’s why they’re so important to youth. Role models need to be held to the highest standard. So, let’s mine elsewhere because athletes will always disappoint.

Athletes are self-entitled. This shouldn’t require elaboration. When the world has been given to them for possessing such a simple, irrelevant set of talents, believe they expect the rest of humanity to abide their will. They feel all the money, parties and women are fruits of their labor. They deserve to be treated differently because they’re better. Someday, we’ll find a gene linking pro athletes with those who suffer dementia.

Talent in sports does not equate to skills social or moral. In fact, success in sports requires an extreme cold-bloodedness and a survival-of-the-fittest mentality that makes athletes incredibly self-absorbed. Not all athletes, but this explains why some of the best athletes in the world find themselves in Favre’s (alleged) position. When it’s Compete! Compete! Compete! your whole life, it’s hard not to hold your interests above all others. The alpha dog rarely plays nice.

Nick Collins Apologizes — But What About the Bears Fan?

NFL players get fined for responding to unruly fans. But what happens to the unruly fan?

The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have the longest-standing rivalry in the National Football League, and although players from each team probably couldn’t care less about the 90-year grudge, it’s still a game that brings out intense emotion.

The Bears and Packers added another chapter to the NFL’s oldest slugfest on Monday night when Chicago eked by Green Bay 20-17 on a late field goal. The upstart Bears moved to 3-0 while the Packers — overwhelming favorites to win the NFC North — fell to 2-1.

According to WITI-TV FOX6 Milwaukee, as Packers safety Nick Collins was exiting Soldier Field through a tunnel, a Bears fan spat on him and called him the N-word. Collins, caught on several cameras, reacted to the fan by throwing his mouthguard and shouting back:

On Wednesday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers offered support for Collins:

“I think fans sometimes forget we’re human. And then some fans think that because they’re behind the rail, or gate, or stadium fence, that that gives them the right to do whatever they want … Fans would probably counter with, ‘Hey, I bought the ticket, I can say whatever I want.’ … I really don’t think that’s right.”

Collins was apologetic for his role in the incident, saying:

“This is a situation that I could have walked away from but (in the) heat of the moment, things happen. Both sides (were) out of line. It was just a situation I shouldn’t have been a part of. I should have just kept walking into the locker room … I’m a grown man. I’m a big boy. And like I said before, I shouldn’t have put myself in that position. Unfortunately, I got caught up in the hype and the emotion from the game.”

Collins will likely receive a fine from the NFL while the Bears fan has a story to tell his buddies. That’s not right.

I don’t condone violence, but this is where the NFL, and more importantly, society gets it wrong. Collins is forced to apologize for responding to the incident when he had nothing to do with starting it. For that, he’ll be about $10,000 lighter come the weekend. The NFL can’t hold the Bears fan responsible, but an example should be made. How about a lifetime ban from Bears games? How about the Bears fan is no longer allowed at Soldier Field, period? How about he gets a second chance to stand toe-to-toe with Collins, spit in his face and call him the N-word? (Somebody watch the door, please.)

I don’t go to football games. Or at least, I avoid them when I can. Too much testosterone, alcohol, buffoonery. It’s an unhealthy mix that too often boils over into altercation. Don’t get me wrong — I’ll tailgate. However, the modern football fan is too emboldened, too entitled. Four hours in a stadium seat swigging from a flask can only mean bad things. I’d rather watch at home and stay away from drunken boneheads.

Players cross the line and the league reacts swiftly. Rightfully so. However, the NFL should do more to ensure unruly fans aren’t negatively affecting the experience for anyone else, players included.

UPDATED Apparently I’m not alone on this. Mark Craig, NFL reporter for the Minneapoli Star Tribune, writes, “In my perfect NFL world, a fan who spits on and/or hurls racial slurs at a player would face the consequences of the player having the legal right to deliver a good, stiff punch to the fan’s over-served snout.” I completely agree.

Football Players Less Like Nitschke, More Like Nietzsche

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, at the end of the day, is not a wordsmith, and it is what it is.

As my Minnesota Vikings flailed through an unsightly 14-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins yesterday, I started preparing myself for a season of disappointment. Going back to 1990, only about 10 percent of 160 teams to start 0-2 made the playoffs. It’s Sept. 20 and I’m ready to write the eulogy on the 2010 season. It’s going to be a long winter.

It may also be a season full of idioms like “it is what it is” and “at the end of the day.” These are two of the most common phrases used by sports types when explaining failure. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is famous for using both in failures both athletic and political:

On Sept. 19, 2009, regarding the lasting effects from a cheap shot the previous season by Lions offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus: “Yeah, it stinks. My knee still clicks, but it is what it is.”

On Aug. 15, 2010, responding to New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams vow to aggressively pursue Brett Favre in the season-opener: “Those are just meathead comments. You know what, it is what it is. People trying to get their team fired up. They’re trying not to let a successful season get to them … at the end of the day people are going to talk with their pads and we’ll see how things happen down in New Orleans.”

On Nov. 6, 2008, following Barack Obama’s victory over Sen. John McCain in the presidential election: “It is what it is and McCain, I still love you, and Obama, you better do what you promised because the whole country is watching.”

What Allen lacks in prose he makes made up for in mullet. (Perhaps with Allen’s mullet went the Vikings’ 2010 hopes and dreams?)

I equally despise the cliche “at a loss for words,” but I’d rather that be the case than resorting to dumb ones. It is what it is? At the end of the day? What does that even mean? Let’s take a look:

“It is what it is.”

According to Urban Dictionary — the foremost authority on these things — “this incredibly versatile phrase can be literally translated as ‘f*ck it.'” Fitting. I’ve always felt it’s a phrase existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche would appreciate:

Jared Allen: “We worked our tails off, but Rodgers is a great quarterback, man, and it is what it is.”

Friedrich Nietzsche: “You bet your ass, it is.”

“At the end of the day.”

Urban Dictionary says, “A saying mostly used by people trying to prove points without having any other intelligent way of expressing it.” Far be it from a bunch of oversized grunts to intellectualize why they’re horrible at a boy’s game. Is the “day” metaphorical? Does it end at midnight or is that subject to change? And what’s going on at the end of the day? What’s the difference between then and now? What changed from the start of the day? Will things be the same tomorrow? Why do you not kick a chip-shot 43-yard field goal on 4th and 2 on the opening drive? Was that a call you’d make differently at the end of the day? Are you the Antichrist? Are you talking 2012 shit, like End of Days? Have you seen End of Days? Not Schwarzenegger’s best work, but it is what it is. Wait, dammit!

If I spend the next four months in a fetal position, it’s not because I can’t stand watching a season wither away. Again, I’m a Vikings fan. What I can’t stand is the nonsensical blubbering you get from the world’s most elite athletes, who can bench press 400 pounds but can’t parse a meaningful phrase even if their contract bonus depended on it.

Rejects Revel in Minnesota’s Misery

My good friend Jake (left) is a Minnesota graduation and current grad school student. I am a Minnesota reject.

Let me preface this post by saying I was rejected by the University of Minnesota. I was the over-involved high school student who thought a litany of extracurriculars would compensate for a slacktastic GPA. I ended up attending Minnesota State University Mankato and I’ve been holding a grudge against the maroon and gold for eight years strong.

That said, I still wish they would’ve let me in. That’s why I wore a Gophers t-shirt and temporary tattoos (for like 14 minutes) while tailgating at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. My girlfriend and I had intended to see the game — Minnesota vs. South Dakota — but chose to watch the game from a bar neighboring the stadium.

Famously, the Gophers lost to the Coyotes, a I-AA team that just might be the second-best in South Dakota. I played high school football with guys who turned their nose up to USD, yet it was Vermillion’s own who won 41-38. Before halftime, the temporary tattoos were long gone and my shirt was inside out. I was the obnoxious guy at the bar who cheered a little too loud for the opposing team. Luckily, Gophers fans have a firm grip on reality and I managed to avoid any haymakers.

Minnesota is a fine institution, but sort of like that friend you love to see fail. The team, especially coach Tim Brewster, has been lynched by the local media and fan base for what’s got to be the most embarrassing loss in team history. Darren “Doogie” Wolfson, in his blog for the Star Tribune, wrote:

When your players skip out on “Hail Minnesota” at the end of the game; when the TCF Bank Stadium crowd for three straight appearances — remember the vitriol from the Illinois & South Dakota State games — turns extremely ugly on the coach and the program; when some of Brewster’s biggest supporters on the local rivals.com site and gopherhole.com turn on him; when it’s hard to figure out if the team is any better today compared to when Brewster took over; when Brewster said the program was “light-years” ahead of when he took it over; and when Brewster called this his most athletic team to date, it’s time for a change.

Off-the-field incidents? They can be sort-of excused. Recruiting violations? The same. But a loss to South Dakota is inexcusable.

Here’s the thing. Many argue sports media are too hard on college athletes. They are, after all, young men who are bound to make mistakes. When they win, however, college athletes are steeped in praise, showered in rewards, honored like humanitarians or noblemen. When they win, we treat them less like college athletes and more like heroes and saints.

What keeps the scale from tipping? Criticism. Bold, harsh, relentless criticism. That’s why I don’t feel bad for Minnesota, Brewster, athletic director Joel Maturi or the team. Sooner or later, the program will be back in the Top 25. For now, they hardly seem worthy of their new $500 million stadium, let alone a healthy chunk of the West Bank that might better serve as parking lot. For now, Minnesota is like a drunken Goliath, and the USDavids have no problem taking them down a notch.

So, even though I put on my Gophers shirt Saturday morning and pretended I had some attachment/connection the school, the reality is I couldn’t have been happier to see them lose. I’m sure there’s hundreds of Minnesota rejects who feel the same way.

What Winning and Losing Really Means

If ever there was an image to depict the 49 years of failure by the Minnesota Vikings, this is it. Will the 50th season be any different?

I was living in Portland, Ore. when the New Orleans Saints defeated my Minnesota Vikings in last year’s NFC Championship. Famously, the Vikings dominated the Saints for four quarters, but committed turnover after turnover, including a costly interception by quarterback Brett Favre just as the team was positioned for a game-winning field goal attempt in overtime:

I don’t want to relive it, but many Vikings fans will tonight when The Purple seek revenge against the Saints at the Superdome.

Back to living in Portland. I was as traumatized as most, but lucky for having lived and worked in a city that was largely apathetic to the NFL. If I’d lived in Minnesota, I doubt I would’ve gone to work. Misery loves company and all, but we fans of Minnesota pro sports have played that card too often. I would’ve spent the week in bed.

Last night, my girlfriend and I attended a Minnesota Twins game. (I went because the company I worked for was offered a spot in a suite. Beth went because upper deck tickets were just $4.) I got into a conversation with two women in their 30s who remember (fondly) the Minnesota Twins winning the 1991 World Series. One was at Game 7 while the other missed school to attend the World Series parade. That’s all I needed to hear, because it made me realize that’s all we Vikings fans really want: A celebration to break up the monotony. Something positive for a change. We want a parade.

As a sports fan, I’ve hedged my emotional investments after countless heartbreaks. You might argue it’s me getting older, wiser, more sensible, and realizing pro sports are merely entertainment. I don’t disagree.

However, I believe pro sports also bring about civic pride. There’s a reason we wear the team gear outside of season, kind of like a proclamation — This is where I’m from. This is what I’m about. A city like Minneapolis has a billion things to be proud of, but we can’t brag about our lakes, the arts scene and our best bicycling city title. Nothing could make us stick out our chests like a Super Bowl win. It’s not about pride in our town, but pride in our city. It just so happens pro sports are the best measuring stick.

I’ve argued, time and time again, sports matter because they don’t matter. We live at a time where everything matters — the economy, the housing market, the BP oil spill, the wars, etc. (And I don’t mean to underplay other issues using an et cetera, but that list could go on for days.) All the world’s seriousness stops outside of the stadium, never crosses the sidelines and can’t stop us from ejecting off our coaches when our favorite team scores a touchdown or hits a home run. That’s the beauty of it. The best part about pro sports is our team can lose and it doesn’t mean a damn thing.

The Vikings are five-point underdogs tonight. It’s possible the Saints throttle the Vikings and we’re left with the cold reminder brilliant seasons like last year’s are rare. It’s also possible they’ll go down to New Orleans and level revenge and have the Greater Twin Cities teeming with hope come Friday morning.

Either way, it’s better to be here, in Minneapolis, no matter suffering or celebrating. Although celebrating would be nice for a change.