Late Sunday — a few days later than expected — a 6-foot-tall corpse flower bloomed at the University of Minnesota. The flower is named because of its pungent smell of rotting animal flesh, which is both disgusting and fascinating all at once.
A day later, the Timberwolves — all of them listed as taller than 6 feet — delivered a performance at Target Center with a scent almost as ghastly. Minnesota trailed by 25 points at the end of three quarters against a slumping New Orleans squad. Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell explained the game thusly:
“I’m just going to say it was one of those clunkers. You get two or three a season.”
The first inclination was to wonder if poor Mitchell was joking. Two or three a season? It feels like the Timberwolves have delivered two or three a month — and at times two or three a week.
But then a search of Minnesota’s 37 losses this season (compared to 16 wins) confirmed that Mitchell was more or less correct.
A 25-point loss on New Year’s Eve at Detroit qualifies as a clunker. A 10-point loss at Philadelphia probably qualifies. Blowout losses to the Spurs and Cavs? Those might be more competition-driven than anything.
The larger point is that Mitchell was right about this: Sometimes a team or an individual just doesn’t “have it” for whatever reason. It’s one of the hardest things for sports fans to comprehend, but it’s true.
Teams are comprised of individuals who, in addition to being world-class athletes, are flawed human beings. That’s not a knock on athletes specifically. We’re all flawed in some way and prone to not be at our best all the time for a variety of reasons.
We saw it on the first Monday of the NFL season, when the Vikings were steamrolled 20-3 at San Francisco. In the immediate aftermath, there was this question: Had many of us overrated Minnesota going into Year 2 of the Mike Zimmer regime?
As it turned out, it was a clunker. San Francisco was really bad. The Vikings were really good. But on that night, the roles were reversed.
And we saw it again in the very last game of the NFL season, in the same stadium, when the favored Panthers were overwhelmed by the Broncos.
Much of what happened in that 24-10 Denver victory was caused by the Broncos, but plenty of it was self-inflicted by Carolina.
It was a clunker at the worst possible time — heartbreak of epic proportions for the players on the wrong side of it, but also a fact of human nature.
Even the best aren’t immune from it, and we need to remember that.
After all, none of this — not even the smell of the corpse flower — is really a matter of life and death.