If you’ve forgotten how much fun it is to participate in sports rivalries, November is here to remind you.
The Gophers and Hawkeyes already played an entertaining college football game in Iowa, with Minnesota losing 40-35. That was the warmup to Sunday, when the Vikings and Packers meet for the first time this year. But there’s more: Badgers at Gophers the following Saturday, as well as the possibility of St. Thomas and St. John’s meeting in a Division III football playoff game.
All four things happen every year (though the Tommies and Johnnies have never met in the football playoffs). Having all four happen so close together feels special. And they feel particularly special because of this as well: rivalries are so much better when both sides are good.
Vikings-Packers has a wonderful history, but it’s been a terribly lopsided affair in recent seasons. Green Bay is 9-1-1, counting the playoffs, against the Vikings in this decade.
Gophers-Badgers is next in the pecking order, but again, Wisconsin has won 11 consecutive games.
Gophers-Iowa has been more even in recent seasons, though not necessarily because of greatness on either side.
St. Thomas-St. John’s picked up steam when the Tommies hired Glenn Caruso and he turned the program around. Then St. John’s slid back.
What we have now, though, is this:
This Vikings/Packers game Sunday will heavily influence who wins the NFC North title. If the 7-2 Vikings win, they will be firmly in control with a two-game lead and a distinct tiebreaker edge. If the 6-3 Packers win, they’ll reclaim the spot as the favorite.
Either way, it’s a game worthy of the hype — maybe not on the level of Randy Moss’ rookie season and certainly not as good as when Brett Favre changed sides in 2009, but a legitimately good game.
Gophers vs. Badgers and Gophers vs. Iowa need a little work, but Minnesota is getting there despite this year’s 4-6 record. The Gophers played at Wisconsin last year with the Big Ten West title on the line. Iowa’s resurgence and the Gophers’ ability to hang with good teams made this year’s game meaningful beyond just geography.
St. Thomas vs. St. John’s — a showdown that will happen if both teams win their first-round playoff games this weekend — would be a matchup of the two teams clearly atop the MIAC now.
When both sides have roughly an equal stake and equal chance of winning because they are both good enough to be in that position, that’s when rivalries come alive. Enjoy this month — and hopefully many more years like this.