It must be great for fans of Wisconsin teams to look west and note the suffering their Minnesota rivals are going through at all levels.
Wisconsin came to TCF Bank Stadium for the first time on Oct. 3, 2009. This was the sparkling on-campus facility that was going to change the balance of power in the Badgers-Gophers rivalry.
Wisconsin was leading 24-13 in the middle of the fourth quarter and was driving deep in Gophers territory.
Suddenly, the ball came loose and the Gophers' Marcus Sherels was speeding toward the end zone, an 88-yard romp that produced what remains the loudest roar in TCF Bank Stadium's brief history. A successful two-point conversion made it 24-21.
It was at this moment that Gophers zealots -- the ones that had spent months exchanging Internet comments on how fortunate Minnesota was to have Tim Brewster and not a jerk like Wisconsin's Bret Bielema -- were feeling satisfied in their opinion.
The teams traded touchdowns in the final three minutes and Wisconsin held the Axe, 31-28.
That narrow defeat was the lone blow to Minnesota fans on that long sports weekend. The Twins forced a Game 163 with a Metrodome three-game sweep of Kansas City, then defeated Detroit amid high drama to reach the playoffs.
The extra game had been pushed to Tuesday, so Brett Favre could lead the Vikings to a 30-23 victory over Green Bay on Monday Night Football.
A month later, Favre went back to Lambeau Field and led the Vikings to a 38-26 victory.
"I can't tell you how many text messages ... today [that] said, 'Hey, you're going to play great,'" Favre said. "I'm like, 'It's easy for you to say.' But they were right again."
The Favre-lead Vikings went 12-4 and lost the NFC Championship Game 31-28 in overtime inside the Louisiana Superdome. The wild-card Packers lost a first-round shootout at Arizona.
Also that winter, Tubby Smith's Gophers stretched their winning streak to three games over Wisconsin by blowing the Badgers out of Williams Arena 68-52. That game in the Barn was Feb. 18, 2010, and Minnesotans had several avenues to agitate Wisconsin folks:
We had Favre and they didn't; we had Tubby and they didn't; we had a winning baseball team and the Milwaukee Brewers were under .500; and we had a football program ready to make inroads on the Badgers.
That was 18 months ago.
The Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions, and they have a fabulous quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. Favre's encore season in Minnesota became a 6-10 fiasco, and now the Vikings are the popular choice to finish last in the NFC North.
The Badgers bashed the Gophers 41-23 last fall, leaving Brewster and the Ski U Mah loyalists to moan over Bielema ordering a two-point conversion late in the blowout.
Bielema took the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. The Gophers fired Brewster eight days after his whining in Madison.
The Brewers have won 24 of 29 and are leading the NL Central by 10 games. The Twins have lost 24 of 35 and are in battle with Kansas City for last in the AL Central.
Smith, entering his fifth season at Minnesota, has yet to win an NCAA tournament game, while Bo Ryan and Wisconsin have won six NCAA games over that same period.
Dick (The X Man) Spangler of the Madison area is a hardcore follower of Wisconsin sports. The nickname stems from the section at Camp Randall where he holds his Badgers football tickets.
"I think a big reason for the sports success in Wisconsin is the investment we've made here," Spangler said. "We put $300 million into Lambeau Field. We built Miller Park, with a retractable roof. We've spent $100 million on Camp Randall. The Kohl Center is a modern arena where the Badgers almost never lose."
It must be great for a Badger to look west and note the suffering the Minnesota rivals are going through at all levels, isn't it?
"Not really," Spangler said. "I think the Gophers have the right coach now in [Jerry] Kill, and they should be able to recruit with that stadium. The Twins have the new ballpark and the Vikings probably will get one.
"I remember 20 years ago when we had 30,000 people at Camp Randall. Things can change. I think you're going to be OK over there."
Thanks, X Man. That assurance should make Minnesota sports followers feel much better about all this Wisconsin dust we're eating.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • email@example.com
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