The passion for sports in this area has been questioned occasionally through the decades, including by me. You see 10,000 empty seats in a smallish Big Ten football stadium for a new coach’s conference opener and that idea can be reinforced.
And then you encounter amazing sights that confirm sports has never been more important in Minnesota than in 2017:
There are 37,000 tickets sold and nearly all are used for a Division III football game between St. Thomas and St. John’s at Target Field. There is a full-volume, capacity crowd of more than 14,000 in ancient Williams Arena to watch the local Lynx claim a fourth championship in the summer, 12-team basketball league, the WNBA.
The Gophers football stadium, TCF Bank, opened in 2009, and has been followed by Target Field (2010) for the Twins, CHS Field (2015) for the Saints, U.S. Bank Stadium (2016) for the Vikings, a remodeled Target Center (this month) and the soccer stadium in the St. Paul Midway (2019).
The Wild’s practice facility at the top of the abandoned Macy’s building in St. Paul will open in December, and the Vikings complex, Zygiville, will open in Eagan next spring.
One of the main fascinations in covering sports here has been to watch as fans make their decisions on important figures — sometimes without wavering, other times changing with the wind.
My favorite recent example of wind-changing was a decade ago, when Tim Brewster came blustering into town with a vow to take the Gophers to Pasadena, Calif., for a Rose Bowl.
The Gophers hardcores were as fully on board with him as they are with Phillip John Fleck, although they almost universally denied that after Coach Brew failed.
Here’s a handful of sports figures who seem to find themselves currently on the wrong side of public opinion:
Rick Spielman: The Vikings general manager has had full authority to bring in personnel since 2011, one year before getting the GM title. Fans still like to throw Christian Ponder at Spielman from that draft, even though the statute of limitations has expired.
There have been other misses for Spielman, but in truth, he has accumulated a defense with seven stars on it, and the offensive limitations can be traced more to injuries than draft failures.
One accusation is Spielman surrendered too much to bring in Sam Bradford from Philadelphia after Teddy Bridgewater’s injury. That’s as preposterous as the ongoing suggestion that the Twins should not have given a huge contract to reigning MVP Joe Mauer, a couple of weeks before they moved into a new ballpark in 2010.
The 2016 Vikings were coming off an 11-5 season, they had the potential to repeat as NFC Central champs, and a competent quarterback was a must to make that happen.
Anybody questioning the Bradford trade when they started 5-0?
Spielman did what he had to do to give the Vikings a shot. There were injuries, yes, and also a coach in Mike Zimmer who got far from the best out of his roster down the stretch.
There’s no good reason for Spielman to be in trouble, other than the possibility the rumors are true that he’s not a favorite of team President Kevin Warren.
Zach Parise: Now that his back problem has flared again, we’re supposed to be questioning the 13-year contract that was given to him (and another to defenseman Ryan Suter) on July 4, 2012.
Nonsense. The NHL was headed for a lockout. The Wild had missed the playoffs for four straight seasons. Season-ticket sales were going in the tank.
Then, Parise and Suter signed. The Wild now has made the playoffs in five straight seasons and averaged 102 percent of capacity. Sing no sad songs for owner Craig Leipold on the eight years that remain on Zach’s contract. Those 13-year deals already have been paid for.
Andrew Wiggins: Go ahead and whine about him getting a max deal from the Timberwolves. Me? I’m nervous he’s not going to sign it. He’s 22. He can go get a basket. I’ll take him.
Derek Falvey: He shouldn’t have traded Brandon Kintzler. Agreed. He should have signed Paul Molitor to a new contract before the end of the season. So what? It was about a couple of coaches, not the manager.
This was an unexpectedly positive season and Falvey was in charge, meaning … the kid is off to a good start.
Don Lucia: I used to love to needle the Gophers as the “Yankees of College Hockey.” They are still that, but the sport is more chaotic than ever. And it’s not Lucia’s fault that the administrators sold out hockey to provide a third-level programming for the Big Ten Network.
The Don should get to stay as long as he chooses.