Rand: Our friendly rivals: Athletes you can't hate

  • Updated: February 12, 2014 - 9:44 PM

Minnesota sports fans put a lot of time and energy into establishing grudges because, well, in lieu of championships in a lot of cases, rivalries will have to suffice.

They lustily boo A.J. Pierzynski. They yell themselves hoarse at Bo Ryan. Villains are fun.

That said, there are those rare opposing sports figures that deserve to escape this wrath. Sure, you don’t want their teams to win and you can feel free to cheer when they fail. But when they come through, it’s hard to much but tip your cap and curse the fact that they aren’t playing for the home team.

That brings me to Derek Jeter, who announced via Facebook on Wednesday that 2014 would be his final season in the majors. “I could not be more sure. I know it in my heart,” Jeter said of the decision to retire, which are words Brett Favre probably never penned.

Jeter is a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer. In addition to that, he has a more personal distinction: He makes my top five list of opposing players I find it impossible to truly hate.

Kevin Durant: The Thunder isn’t a true Wolves rival, but OKC is the team the Wolves aspire to be. Durant consistently kills the Wolves with his unguardable shot. But you can’t hate him. He’s too nice and he’s so good.

Mariano Rivera: Two Yankees on this list? Say it ain’t so. It is, and Mo earned it by being one of the most gracious superstars in the baseball, even as he was splitting bats with that evil cutter and finishing off the Twins in the playoffs.

Aaron Rodgers: The guy seems genuinely funny and he’s the best quarterback in the NFL. Can’t hate him. Tried, but failed.

Barry Sanders: Very much the same as Rodgers, even at a different position on a different team. Impossible to tackle. Impossible to hate.

Jeter: He was fawned over a little too much by the national media, but much of it was deserved. You play two decades in the Bronx and come out clean? You must be doing something right.

The question was put to the masses on Twitter, and many of you brought up other worthy names like Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Peyton Manning, Ken Griffey Jr. and even Brett Favre and Jim Thome before they joined Minnesota teams.

It is rare, but not impossible, to possess a quality that makes fans of even your most bitter rival admire you, albeit grudgingly.

In fact, if my friends who are Packers fans can be trusted, a lot of them feel that way about Adrian Peterson.

Michael rand


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