As winter closes in, there are signs of a thaw.
The Wild's four-game winning streak means a place near the top of the NHL's Western Conference. The Gophers hockey team is ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Vikings appear to have a quarterback they can pin their future on; the Gophers football team is stockpiling moral victories.
Baby steps. But if you're a sports fan in Minnesota these days, you take what you can get.
The Twins? A historically bad season led to Bill Smith's removal and Terry Ryan's reinstatement as general manager. The Vikings will miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. The Timberwolves -- in lockdown mode -- hope Rick Adelman will save them from being an NBA laughingstock. The Wild hasn't been in the playoffs since 2008.
It has been a tough time for sports fans. And now, a two-day border battle makes local shortcomings even more apparent.
The Gophers will play host to the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday, and the Vikings travel to Green Bay to play the Packers on Monday.
The state to the east first had the fun-loving Brewers, who rode their "Beast Mode" into the baseball playoffs as the Twins were forced to "celebrate" not losing 100 games.
The invasion of the Badgers, the nation's 16th-ranked football team, means TCF Bank Stadium will revisit a few weeks ago, when Nebraska fans flooded the town and made Gophers fans see red.
The unbeaten Packers are the defending NFL champions and the only unbeaten team.
The fan rivalry can mean frustration.
"I have to hear it every week, even from his dog," Chris Konsor said.
Konsor, wearing a purple satin smoking jacket, stood under a tarp, out of the rain, in a parking lot a few blocks from the Metrodome in the hours before the Vikings-Packers game Oct. 23. Next to him, dressed in Packers green, was his roommate, Jay Bushmaker, a Green Bay native. The dog reference is to Bushmaker's pet, who is dressed in Packers garb every Sunday. Konsor and Bushmaker will be at Lambeau field together on Monday.
"It's ridiculous," Konsor continued. "It hurts so bad. It really does. He's happy every single Sunday and I'm crushed and defeated. It's been a rough couple years, except for the Minnesota Lynx. Go Lynx!"
Konsor turned to his friend.
"Where is your women's basketball team? Oh, wait, you have one: The Milwaukee Bucks."
This border battle has been waged for years in homes in both states. But rarely has that battle been so one-sided. The Brewers, the Badgers, the Packers ... towering over the Twins, the Gophers and the Vikings.
Hours before the Gophers played Nebraska on Oct. 22, the TCF Bank Stadium parking lot for season-ticket holders was being overrun by Huskers fans.
Larry Oster was heating up the grill, dressed top to toes in red. He was born in Minnesota but moved to Nebraska when he was a kid. He remembers going to the Nebraska-Minnesota game in Lincoln in 1984.
"I went as a Gophers fan," he recalled. "But I went straight to the bookstore after that game and bought new clothes and became a Nebraska fan."
Now back in Minnesota, he holds Gophers season tickets because he loves college football. But he still wears red to games.
And at least he goes. The Gophers have to depend on fanatical foreigners to keep TCF Bank mostly filled. The Vikings are selling out, but working very hard to do so. Target Center is nearly as full now during the lockout than it was when the Wolves were playing last season, and scalpers were left with handfuls of tickets at Target Field by the end of the Twins season.
A few cars down from Oster, Walter Bond prepared his tailgate spread. Bond came to Minnesota from Chicago to play basketball for the Gophers. He was on the Minnesota team that reached the NCAA regional finals in 1990.
Bond, who still lives in the Twin Cities, is a motivational speaker.
"I've lived here now more than half my life," he said. "I've become a Vikings fan, a Twins fan. I love Gophers basketball and football. It has been a tough stretch. But I'm a fan. Win or lose won't determine whether I follow them. I've never been a fair-weather guy. I'm committed."
And the pain
Walking, hand-in-hand, before that Oct. 23 Vikings game (which the Packers would win, 33-27) were Brittany Badour and Chris Rainforth, up from Omaha for the game. Badour, who grew up in Green Bay and played youth sports against Brett Favre's daughter, was wearing an Aaron Rodgers jersey. Rainforth was wearing a Percy Harvin jersey. Rainforth said he has been on the wrong end of that split for a while.
"It's so rough to be a fan right now," Rainforth said. "You think every year is going to get better, but it doesn't. But now [Vikings rookie quarterback Christian] Ponder is starting. I see some promise there."
Also walking in the rain that Sunday were Diane and Brad Therrien. She is a Wisconsin native and Packers fan, he is a Minnesotan who has always followed the Vikings. They have two children, whose football loyalties are split.
Diane has a shirt for every team in the NFL, and wears the shirt of whatever team the Vikings are playing that week. Brad grins and bears it.
"Hope is what lets you get by," he said. "It's just hope."
But, in Minnesota, there is a strange mix of emotions. Vikings fans are loyal even though the team has broken their hearts so many times. Tauer, a local, understands that, comparing Vikings fans to Chicago Cubs fans.
"I don't think we expect to win championships," Tauer said. "The Twins are our only champions, and that's 20 years out."
As a fellow who did his graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, John Tauer, a University of St. Thomas associate professor of psychology, also understands the extra pain fans of Minnesota sports are feeling this weekend.
"Minnesota fans might accept not winning, but what makes it more difficult is a look across the border. The Packers, the Badgers, the Brewers. That might make it sting a little more."
The answer? You can dig in and wait for better times. Or not. Responding to an on-line question about how fans cope, Tony Perleberg e-mailed his response:
"I moved to Arizona," he said.