The currency of Minnesota sports fandom is the feeling of great optimism that fades — or more likely falls quickly and clumsily — into disappointment.
Cataloging Minnesota sports seasons that fit such a description would likely require the publication of a book.
The opposite type of Minnesota sports season, one that starts basically with no expectations and evolves into something pleasantly wonderful, can be confined to a smaller space.
I started thinking about that in the context of the 2017 Twins, who lost 103 games last season and were picked even by optimists to flirt with at least 90 losses again this year. Playoffs? Few would say that was on the radar, and yet here we are.
With that in mind, here are five other seasons in Minnesota sports history with a similar trajectory:
2012 Vikings: In the preceding season, the Vikings went 3-13 while shifting midseason to rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. Late in the 2011 season, star running back Adrian Peterson suffered a devastating knee injury that threatened his 2012 season.
What followed in 2012 was stunning, even if it proved to be an aberration. The Vikings went 10-6, Ponder started all 16 games, Peterson nearly broke the NFL rushing record and Minnesota reached the playoffs by beating the Packers in the regular-season finale.
2011 Lynx: The Lynx have been good enough for long enough now that it’s almost hard to remember when they were definitely not good. For the first 12 years of their existence, they made the playoffs twice, winning a total of one playoff game (and zero playoff series).
To go from that baseline to a 27-7 regular-season record and WNBA championship in 2011 was shocking, even if the addition of No. 1 overall pick Maya Moore that season foreshadowed improvement.
2004-05 Gophers men’s basketball: The 2003-04 Gophers went 3-13 in Big Ten play, and that was with conference freshman of the year Kris Humphries leading the Big Ten in both scoring in rebounding. He declared for the NBA Draft after one year and was a first-round pick.
Under those circumstances, few would have predicted Minnesota — led by the less-heralded Vincent Grier — would rebound to go 10-6 in conference play and make the NCAA tournament in 2004-05.
2002-03 Wild: Nothing about the Wild’s first two years of existence — 68 and 73 points, respectively — suggested Year 3 would be much different. The first surprise, then, was a jump to 95 points in 2002-03 and a franchise-first appearance in the playoffs.
The bigger surprise came once the Wild reached the postseason, knocking off first Colorado and then Vancouver after coming back from 3-1 series deficits in each case.
1987 Twins: The 1986 Twins went 71-91 and fired manager Ray Miller late in the season while turning the team over to a young Tom Kelly. Andy MacPhail, then 33, took over as general manager that offseason.
Even if the 1987 Twins had a promising core of young players led by Kirby Puckett, there were few expectations that season. “We were just trying to get organized and we won the World Series,” Bob Gebhard, MacPhail’s top personnel assistant, famously said after the Twins shocked the world.
Thirty years later, the Twins are in a similar spot.