Twins, 1987 and 1991
Hey, no one is predicting a World Series title for the 2013 Twins, but each of the franchise’s previous championships did come as a surprise. The Twins entered the 1987 season without a winning year since 1979, including a franchise-record 102 losses in 1982. The ’87 edition benefited from the offseason addition of a legitimate closer, Jeff Reardon, and the spring trade for left fielder/leadoff hitter Dan Gladden, filling two glaring holes. The ’91 Twins finished last the previous season with a 74-88 record, then added free agents Jack Morris and Chili Davis and rode a wave of momentum to a world championship. If Mike Pelfrey becomes the second coming of Jack Morris, well, just maybe ...
Gophers football, 1960
The Gophers were 3-15 in the two years previous, and after a last-place Big Ten finish in 1959 veteran coach Murray Warmath was hung in effigy and had garbage tossed on his lawn. It was hardly coincidence that in 1959 Warmath started a black quarterback, Sandy Stephens. Warmath stood by Stephens, and that faith proved justified when the Gophers tied Iowa for the Big Ten title and claimed their sixth — and to date the last —national championship in 1960. The 1960 team was anchored by All-America lineman Tom Brown and future All-America lineman Bobby Bell. Stephens became the nation’s first black All-America quarterback and maintained a close relationship with Warmath his entire life.
North Stars, 1991
The franchise that had not had a winning record since the1985-86 season was having such problems attracting fans that owners George and Gordon Gund looked into moving the team to San Jose. The NHL balked and came up with a plan by which the Gunds were awarded a franchise and sold the North Stars to a group headed by Norm Green. The Stars started the 1990-91 season 3-9-3, improved marginally to finish 27-39-14 and sneaked into the playoffs. They caught fire in the postseason, knocking off Chicago and St. Louis — with the top two regular-season records — in the first two rounds and defending Stanley Cup champ Edmonton in the conference finals. Minnesota’s Cinderella run ended with a loss to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Gophers basketball, 1989-90
Clem Haskins was hired to rebuild the Minnesota men’s basketball program after three players were arrested in 1986 for sexual assault in a Madison, Wis., hotel room. The three were acquitted, but by the time of the trial all had been kicked off the team and coach Jim Dutcher had tendered his resignation. Haskins’ first two years were disastrous, including a Big Ten record of 6-30. The turnaround started in 1988-89 with a trip to the Sweet 16. The Gophers, led by seniors Willie Burton, Richard Coffey, Melvin Newbern and Jim Shikenjanski, went a step further in the 1990 tournament, marching within one game of the Final Four before losing a thriller to Georgia Tech 93-91 when junior Kevin Lynch’s long corner jumper bounced off the rim.
In four previous seasons the Vikings were 27-37 without a single playoff appearance. Minnesota started the 1987 season with a pair of victories, but the NFL players’ strike and three consecutive losses with replacement players appeared to doom the team to a fifth season in a row out of the playoffs. The Vikings weren’t world beaters, losing three of their final four games, but they got into the playoffs with an 8-7 record. The team surged in the postseason, beating New Orleans 44-10 in the wild-card game and stuffing the 49ers 36-26 in the divisional round. Minnesota lost to Washington in the NFC title game when Darrin Nelson dropped Wade Wilson’s fourth-down pass at the goal line with under a minute to play.