Former Minneapolis Journal sports columnist Dick Cullum, one of the people who taught me everything and helped start my career in the newspaper business, had a phrase he used for Minnesota sports fans. He called them the “Lose and Love It Club.”
Cullum always thought that as much as fans liked to win, they found just as much entertainment from complaining about their favorite squads. There’s no doubt that continues to be as true today as ever.
Looking back over the past year of local sports, we’ve had some of the best moments in recent history.
The Twins hit the most home runs (307) of any team in the history of baseball en route to winning 101 games, the second most in franchise history.
And not only that, but they have built a team of young, homegrown stars and have made smart veteran additions, including huge contracts for players such as slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson.
But what did we mostly hear about? Losing to the Yankees in the playoffs again.
The Gophers football team posted an 11-2 season — their most victories since 1904 — defeated Penn State at home in one of the greatest games in program history and topped Auburn 31-24 in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day on national television.
But what did we mostly hear about? They lost to Wisconsin and couldn’t win the Big Ten.
The Vikings went 10-6 and put together one of their best performances in a 26-20 overtime victory over the Saints in New Orleans in the NFC wild-card matchup, a game no one on Earth gave them a shot to win.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins posted the fourth-best passer rating in the NFL, and the second-best mark in franchise history.
But what did we mostly hear about? Losses to the Bears and Packers and an NFC divisional-round loss to the eventual NFC champion 49ers.
Top stars are targets
When local teams aren’t winning, the Lose and Love It Club will find a bright spot on a bad squad and trash them.
Before their season got suspended, the Timberwolves were having another losing season in a long line of losing seasons.
But the Lose and Love It Club still found a lot to rejoice about when Andrew Wiggins was traded to the Warriors.
Wiggins had long been a Lose and Love It Club favorite target for complaints even though, by the age of 24, he had scored the second-most points in franchise history, trailing only Kevin Garnett.
The Wild, meanwhile, had one of the most difficult schedules in NHL history to open the season, with 13 of their first 18 games on the road. Everyone around the team and in the league knew it would make for a rough start.
But the club’s 6-11-1 record eventually led to the mid-February firing of coach Bruce Boudreau, who fans had grown tired of despite being the winningest coach in Wild history.
Of course the Wild, with a much more favorable schedule after that early stretch, turned its season around. The team was one point out of a Western Conference wild-card spot when play was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yes, this is the nature of those fans in Cullum’s Lose and Love It Club. Even in good times, it’s still easier to have fun by pointing out the negative or finding fault with players and coaches.
But hopefully, with sports on pause for the foreseeable future, we will get a chance to really look back and find some great moments with the local teams, even if they aren’t perfect.
Sharpe on Cousins
The Vikings’ decision to sign wide receiver Tajae Sharpe to a one-year, $1 million contract was a no-brainer.
The former Tennessee Titan has proved to be an excellent threat when healthy and, if he has a breakout campaign with the Vikings in 2020, he could be gone after one season.
Sharpe spoke to the media last week on a conference call and talked about how strange it was to have his first chance at free agency come during this disrupted offseason.
“I think this offseason was a little bit weird for everybody with everything going on,” Sharpe said. “[The coronavirus] situation, teams not being able to meet with players and things of that nature were a little bit different for everybody, but especially with this being my first time being a free agent, I didn’t know what to expect. Honestly it was exciting, just to, you know, get a new opportunity to go somewhere else and kind of showcase your talent to different fans in a different city.
“It was an exciting experience and I’m just happy the process is over. I’ve landed in a spot where I’m completely happy and I think I definitely made the right decision.”
Last season in Tennessee, Sharpe posted a career-high catch percentage of 71.4, making 25 receptions on 35 targets. That number would have tied for fourth on the Vikings last season and his catch percentage would have led the team. By comparison, since-traded Stefon Diggs caught 63 of 94 targets (67.0%) and Adam Thielen caught 30 of 48 targets (62.5%).
Sharpe said he’s eager to work with quarterback Kirk Cousins because of his accuracy and strong command of the offensive game plan.
“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “I had the pleasure of speaking with Kirk, he reached out to me, and he was excited to get things going. I’m excited as well. To have a guy that is obviously a great leader for this team, an established quarterback and player in this league, he does a great job of delivering the football to his receivers.
“I’m excited all the way around to have a guy like that under center who has control of the offense and leads his guys the right way.”
• The last Gophers basketball player to be drafted by the NBA — a streak likely to be broken by sophomore center Daniel Oturu this year — was Kris Humphries in 2004. If sophomore guard Marcus Carr, who made himself eligible for the draft this week, were to also get selected, it would be the first time two Gophers were picked since 1997, when guard Bobby Jackson went No. 23 overall to the SuperSonics and center John Thomas went at No. 25 to the Knicks.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck talked to 247Sports.com about how long he’d need to feel safe about getting his players ready for the 2020 season: “If there’s still a June 1 or July 1 [resumption] to get that month-and-a-half of work, then get into training camp, I think you could be caught up,” Fleck said. “Maybe not if you didn’t have it, but you’d still have the ability to keep kids really safe.”