Whether you have enjoyed 2017 or thought it has left a lot to be desired, most of us would agree on this: An unbelievable number of things happened this year, creating a dizzying pace with which it was hard to keep up. If you retreated to the world of Minnesota sports for a sense of calm and happiness, you were generally rewarded. This year has, for the most part, been filled with positive local sports stories. There were more than enough of them to comprise a list twice as long as the one I ended up with, but sometimes you need to let the cream rise to the top. Here, then, is a look back at the top 10 Minnesota sports stories of 2017 — counting down from 10 to 1.
10. Maple Grove football
Scores three times in 59 seconds to win playoff game
This list is not specifically about moments, but the first item might be the single most incredible thing to happen in any high-level game in this state in 2017.
In the Class 6A football quarterfinals, Maple Grove trailed St. Michael-Albertville 27-10 in the final minute of play. From that point on, the Crimson scored a touchdown … recovered an onside kick … scored another touchdown … recovered another onside kick … and scored one more TD, all in a span of 59 seconds, to win 29-27.
“It just shows as bad as things might seem for you, you can never give up,” Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi said after the game.
9. Gophers softball
Emerges as national power
Minnesota fans love a team that wins, and the Gophers softball team captured imaginations — and later fueled indignations — with an incredible season. Minnesota was ranked No. 1 at one point and finished the regular season with a 54-3 record.
Despite those lofty achievements, the Gophers were not given a top-16 seed in the NCAA tournament and were instead sent on the road to Alabama for their regional. There, they went 2-2 and finished the year 56-5. Two months later, the coach who led the revival of the program, Jessica Allister, left to take the head job at her alma mater, Stanford.
8. Minnesota United
Major League Soccer debut
The Twin Cities enhanced their reputation for being a pro sports mecca when Minnesota United made its debut in Major League Soccer in March.
Though their final results left plenty of room for improvement — the Loons won 10 games, lost 18 and tied six in their inaugural 34-match season — they built an impressive fan base at TCF Bank Stadium while construction began on their permanent home of Allianz Field in St. Paul.
7. Gophers men’s basketball
Reaches NCAA tournament
There were plenty of pleasant surprises in 2017, but the first chronologically was the Gophers men’s basketball team.
A squad that won just eight games in 2015-16 rebounded to win three times as many in 2016-17, punctuating that turnaround with a berth in the NCAA tournament as a No. 5 seed.
Though the Gophers fell to Middle Tennessee State in the first round, the season generated renewed interest in the program. Minnesota is 11-3 this year heading into Saturday’s home game against Harvard.
6. Minnesota Vikings
The team’s QB situation
I feel like this general topic has a permanent place on a yearly top 10 Minnesota sports stories list. Something awful, or strange, or amazing always seems to happen to Vikings quarterbacks.
This year’s QB situation is among the strangest of the strange. Starter Sam Bradford has played just six quarters all season. Backup Case Keenum, presumed to be an afterthought, not only has played but excelled — enough so that he’s kept Teddy Bridge-water, who returned from a major injury, from reclaiming his starting spot.
Oh, and now Bradford is slated to resume practice next week. The final chapter of this tale will be written in 2018.
5. Gophers Football
P.J. Fleck hired as Gophers football coach
Yes, it was technically early January of 2017 that “Row the Boat” changed from being a thing you might do at the lake in the summer to the mantra of an entire program.
P.J. Fleck, fresh off a 13-1 season at Western Michigan, was hired to replace Tracy Claeys and to alter the trajectory of Gophers football. His first season on the field played out as at least a temporary step back, as Minnesota went from nine wins to five, but an impressive recruiting class leaves hope for the future.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Timberwolves remake their roster, starting with huge trade for Jimmy Butler
When it comes to franchise-altering deals, it’s clear that the Timberwolves’ draft night acquisition of Bulls star Jimmy Butler already has the potential to be one of the biggest in recent Minnesota sports history.
True, there is maybe some recency bias in that statement given Butler’s monster game Wednesday against Denver. But his acquisition, and subsequent additions of Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford, have the Timberwolves on a path to reach the postseason for the first time since 2003-04.
3. Minnesota Lynx
Lynx win fourth WNBA title, led by Sylvia Fowles
In another year, this might be No. 1. You could make the case that it deserves to be at the top of this list. I’ll say this: You couldn’t go wrong with any of these final three being at the head of the list, but I went with the element of surprise over the tried and true champion when it came to the biggest stories of the years.
That shouldn’t take anything away from the Lynx’s fourth championship in seven seasons, achieved in remarkable fashion after coming back from a 2-1 series deficit against rival Los Angeles — with the Game 5 victory coming inside a boisterous Williams Arena. Center Sylvia Fowles was the MVP of both the regular season and the finals, a tremendous accomplishment.
2. Minnesota Twins
Twins make surprise run to MLB playoffs
The Twins left themselves plenty of room to improve in 2017 after a 59-103 dud in 2016. But few would have envisioned Minnesota gaining 26 victories to finish 85-77 and claim a Wild Card berth — particularly after the team fell below .500 and dealt away assets at the trading deadline.
The Twins offered plenty of moments of pure joy along the way, including the contributions of 44-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colon. They were an enjoyable team to watch, even if the year ended with a familiar postseason loss to the Yankees.
1. Minnesota Vikings
Vikings are making a run at the Super Bowl in the year they host the game
I thought the Vikings had a better chance of finishing 6-10 than 10-6 this year, and that was before they lost their starting quarterback and hotshot rookie running back.
As it turns out, they will finish neither 6-10 nor 10-6. Instead, they can finish 13-3 and lock up a first-round bye with a win over Chicago on Sunday. Doing so would put them just two wins away from becoming the first team in NFL history play in its home stadium for the Super Bowl.