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Lynx fan Jesse Ventura, our former governor, gives the team a pep talk at Thursday's practice. Caption, please. (Photo courtesy of the Lynx).
But Tuesday, it was time. We wanted to see these Lynx for a full stretch ... see if this team that has had such impeccable timing this year -- matching their rise to the fall of pretty much every other conceivable team, all while carrying very likable players (including homegrown star Lindsay Whalen) -- suffered from the Minnesota yips that have plagued so many teams before them.
Instead, after a brief stumble at the start, their great timing continued. While the Twins were next door losing their 10th game in a row (for the first time since 1998, more on that here), while the winless Vikings were searching for optimism and making off-field news, while the NBA remains locked out, while the Wild talked about playing a trapping style (yes, almost everyone does it, but the word alone is enough to scare you), and while we all continued to monitor the health of a college football coach the state has taken an immediate shine to, the Lynx convincingly advanced in the playoffs to face Phoenix -- an opponent against which Minnesota went 3-2 this year, with both teams scoring, on average, more than 90 points per game. Game 1 is Thursday night at Target Center.
No, this does not come close to fixing 1998, 41-donut, 12 men in the huddle or any of those head-bashing playoff losses to the Yankees. But in our fragile state, where even a higher seed on a home court makes us nervous, it was refreshing to see a group of players perform at least very close to the peak of their collective skills in a game with major implications.
Congratulations, Lynx. Hop onto the main stage for a while. It's all yours.
In the Page 2 feature that appeared in today's Star Tribune (and online), we tried to break down the 10 levels of being "One Of Us" that a Minnesota athlete can attain. We also asked at the beginning for alternate suggestions and feedback, which can be like asking someone for an honest opinion about a Christmas gift.
In any event, the list was an attempt at fun. A good number of people enjoyed it. You can have a look at it right here, if you'd like.
The most common piece of feedback we received -- from three different e-mailers -- is that Lindsay Whalen belonged among the examples somewhere on the list.
Agreed. The former Hutchinson, Gophers and now Lynx basketball standout is a modern day Molitor when it comes to returning home to conquer the land where she once starred in high school and college.
Lindsay, you are most certainly a high-level "One Of Us." Never let anyone tell you differently. If we had the list to do over again, we would almost certainly include Whalen's name as one of the examples.
However, per two of the three e-mailers who attempted some sort of shaming tactic for not having Whalen (or any other female athletes) on the list: Sorry, but we're not ashamed. We really like Whalen as an athlete and as a local personality. We've written numerous stories about her. But we don't start making those lists with the idea that we had better include category X or type Y into the mix. We only try to conjure up the best examples of which we can think. Sometimes that might lead to an oversight, as it did in this case when Whalen would have been a perfect example. But starting from any other point would -- we think -- tarnish the integrity of the information and the process.
We don't tread lightly on the subject of people's livelihoods. As such -- and because we can't YET successfully get into the minds of those who hold the power -- please construe this exercise as our interpretation of how fans feel about certain local coaches and GMs, and not how close we think they actually might be to losing their jobs.
The Hot Seat Ratings -- a scale of 1-10, with one being a nice cool and comfortable chair and 10 being a flaming bun scorcher -- are merely a device to take the pulse of Minnesota Fan Nation as things stand right at this moment. Here we go:
Jerry Kill -- If he asked you to block a 300-pound lineman right now, would you try it? That's what we thought. Rating: 1.
Anyone involved with the Lynx -- They have the best record in the WNBA by a long shot and have been a significant bright spot during an otherwise dismal sports run. Rating: 1.
Leslie Frazier -- Most fans seem to be genuinely encouraged by his approach, and he has the added benefit of following a guy whose hot seat rating was off the charts at times. Rating: 2.
Mike Yeo -- Another newbie making a good first impression. Rating: 2
Wolves Coach X -- An unnamed coach (possibly Rick Adelman) in charge of a low-expectation team in a league that might not play for a while. Not much pressure there. Rating: 2.
Rick Spielman -- You don't hear much fan griping about Spielman, whose moves have generally helped give the Vikings the talent they need to compete. Rating: 2.5.
Chuck Fletcher -- Injected some life into the Wild with shrewd off-season trades, helping sway a fan base that was teetering. Rating: 3.5
Tubby Smith -- His rating would be a point or two higher based on performance vs. expectation, but there are still a lot of people who feel lucky he is here. They aren't totally wrong. This year, though, will be important. Rating: 4.5
Ron Gardenhire -- There are some card-carrying extremist members of the FIRE GARDY club, but we say they are greatly outnumbered by a quieter middle that is irked by the post-season failures, troubled by the developments of 2011 but overall content with the 2010 AL Manager of the Year. Rating: 5.
Pam Borton -- The Gophers have fallen on hard times the past two seasons, meaning 2011-12 is a big one. Overall, though, Borton can boast of six NCAA tourney berths in her nine seasons as head coach, including a pair of Sweet 16 trips and a Final Four. Rating: 5.5
David Kahn -- He's all over the map right now, but the arrival of Ricky Rubio and the drafting of Derrick Williams have Kahn in the safe zone. When the NBA picks back up, on-court performance could dictate whether his number shoots to a 9 or plummets to a 3. For now ... Rating: 6.
HOT HOT HOT
Don Lucia -- Gophers hockey is held to a gold standard, and when you miss the NCAA tourney three years in a row the heat is definitely on. The two NCAA titles Lucia won early in his tenure seem like distant memories to a lot of hard-core hockey fans. Rating: 8.
Joel Maturi -- You'd be hard-pressed to find another figure so mild-mannered and yet so polarizing. Rating: 8.5.
Bill Smith -- Is he the sole reason everything fell apart for the Twins in 2011? Hardly. Did he play a role? Yes. Is he a symbol of the carnage as far as Twins fans are concerned? Absolutely. Rating: 9.5.
Your thoughts, as always, in the comments.
Stensation points is to a tweet from Sports Biz maven Darren Rovell, who noted that on TravelZoo there exists a rather sad offer: $60 seats for the WNBA FINALS going for $20. Rovell wonders: Time to kill the WNBA?
Harsh? Perhaps. But that can't be a good sign for business. Unless, of course, management is expecting to recoup that money just by getting people in the building. And it is a well-known fact around the WNBA that Dream fans love to party.*
*Not a fact.
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