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ISSUE 120 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/20/2007

Inside the Lines: End of mediocrity

By Matt Tiano
Executive Editor

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tuesday night, the Minnesota Wild comfortably avoided a sweep in the Western Conference quarterfinals with a 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

If history is to repeat itself, which it normally does, we can comfortably assume that the Wild will not erase a 3-1 series deficit and will begin to pack their bags.

But, hey, an early exit is acceptable if a playoff berth follows an improbable regular season that follows an even more improbable recover from 2006 misery.

Or is it?

The Minnesota sports landscape has everything a sports fan desires -- four teams that belong to the four major sports leagues, a Division I athletic program that belongs to one of the most prestigious conferences and expectations that aren't as ridiculous as in other settings.

Or are expectations the problem?

Take a look at how the six major Minnesota sports teams have fared in the last three years:

1. Vikings: 2006, 6-10; 2005, 9-7; 2004, 8-8 (lost in first-round divisional playoffs)

2. Timberwolves: 2005-2006, 33-49; 2004-2005, 44-38; 2003-2004, 58-24 (lost in Western Conference Finals)

3. Wild: 2005-2006, 38-36-8; 2003-2004; 30-29-20; 2002-2004, 42-29-10 (lost in Western Conference Finals)

4. Twins: 2006, 96-66 (lost in ALDS); 2005, 83-79 (lost in ALDS); 2004, 92-70 (lost in ALCS)

5. Gopher basketball: 2006-2007, 9-22; 2005-2006, 16-15 (lost first-round NIT); 2004-2005, 21-11 (lost in first-round NCAA)

6. Gopher football: 2006-2007, 6-6 (lost Insight Bowl), 2005-2006, 7-5 (lost in Music City Bowl), 2004-2005, 7-5 (won Music City Bowl)

Minnesota is only one of five states (California, New York, Texas and Florida are the others) that can boast four teams from the major sports organizations (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL). The only thing that separates Minnesota from the rest of the pack is that titles are such a rare commodity -- the last championship brought home to Minnesota was the Twins'’ 1991 World Series victory.

Herein lies the problem. The Minnesotan sport culture refuses to forget about the past and move on to bigger and better things. Sure, the 1991 title was rewarding. We see Bert Blyleven in the booth (unfortunately) on a nightly basis, so we are constantly reminded.

We can talk for days about the job Terry Ryan has done as Twins general manager due to payroll limits, but why is it that we can so easily accept mediocrity and show so much appreciation for mere playoff appearances here and there?

Minnesota continues to make excuses. After the Twins won the American League Central on the last day of the 2006 regular season, a sweep in the ALDS to Oakland somehow was adequate. For a team that possessed the American League MVP, batting champion and Cy Young Award winner, sports talk radio continually mentioned the team “overcoming the odds.”

If they meant these “odds” as the odds to rebound after a treacherous first half, then I would have to agree.

For the other organizations, the Vikings have “off-the-field issues,” the Wild “still are an expansion franchise” and the Timberwolves “have failed to land that superstar to accompany Kevin Garnett.” But, hey, not to worry, the Wolves were a playoff participant in 2004 before getting ousted by the Lakers. Playoffs? Timberwolves? Anyone confused?

And then the Gophers, a basketball team fresh off its most embarrassing season in its history and a football team currently enjoying the fact that they blew a four-touchdown lead to powerhouse Texas Tech in the prestigious Insight Bowl. That is in Tempe, Ariz., by the way.

Gopher Athletic Director Joel Maturi was one season late on this one, but I am offering full forgiveness and appreciation for carrying an entire sports community on his back. Maturi fired football coach Glen Mason and replaced him with Tim Brewster, a man you had never heard of but who has an attitude consistent with winning. He replaced basketball coach Dan Monson with Tubby Smith, a man that has a national title to his name.

And not only has Maturi brought one of the nation's most respected coaches in Smith to the 'U', the contract negotiations sure demonstrated the newfound winning mindset. Smith will receive a guaranteed salary of $1.7 million, competitive with the biggest programs, and will receive additional compensation for winning the Big 10, garnering an NCAA tournament bid, making the Final Four, and winning, gasp, a national title.

You may be confused to hear “winning” mentioned in the same sentence as the the University of Minnesota. If so, talk to Brewster.

On the wall of the team meeting room, “Big Ten Champs” is etched, with no year mentioned.

“"I'm a dreamer,”" Brewster said. “"A big-time dreamer. We can make dreams reality. I know how to get it done.”"

Whether he does “get it done” or not, Brewster defies the typical Minnesota attitude.

And that's exactly what Minnesota needs:– a revamped attitude.

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