When the 2015 Vikings broke through to win their first NFC North championship since 2009, they did so with a victory against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
When the 2016 Vikings tried to salvage a spiraling season, they embarrassed themselves with performance and behavior at Lambeau Field, providing another easy victory for a Packers team that has surged past the Vikings to the NFC title game.
When Jerry Kill’s stronger Gophers football teams climbed toward national prominence, it was Wisconsin that acted as a glass ceiling. Glen Mason, Kill and Kill’s replacement, Tracy Claeys, lost their last 13 games against the Badgers.
In 2009, the last near-great Vikings team thrived because of former Packer Brett Favre, the greatest Border Battle crossover star of all time, ahead of former Brewers star and current Twins manager Paul Molitor.
Favre’s best season became the high-water mark for Brad Childress, who was fired after a blowout loss to the Packers.
The Packers have been one of the NFL’s most successful franchises since Favre came on the scene in 1992. The Badgers football team has been a powerhouse since hiring Barry Alvarez away from Notre Dame in 1990.
What might gall discerning Minnesotans the most, though, is not the difficulty that Wisconsin football teams have presented but the disparity between the Golden Gophers men’s basketball program and the Badgers.
Saturday, the Gophers basketball team will play its biggest game in years at Williams Arena. The opponent: Wisconsin. Of course. Because for aspiring Minnesota teams, Wisconsin is the bouncer standing in the door to success.
In 1999, the Gophers responded to Clem Haskins’ scandals by hiring Dan Monson from Gonzaga. It was a logical choice doomed by Monson’s ambivalence about the Midwest and the visibility of a Big Ten program in the heart of a major city.
In 2001, the Badgers made a less-celebrated hire, plucking Bo Ryan from Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Since Ryan’s hiring, the Badgers are 184-74 in the Big Ten. The Gophers during that time are 103-161 in the conference. In a sport that should offer Wisconsin few inherent advantages, the Badgers have dominated the Gophers with coaching acumen and continuity.
Greg Gard, Ryan’s longtime assistant, took over the program last season. He is 30-11 and 16-7 in the conference. And now he can deal the Gophers a severe blow in their quest for relevance.
The Gophers responded to an overtime loss at home to Michigan State in the Big Ten opener with three straight victories. They reached No. 24 in the rankings. They had built a résumé ideal for NCAA tournament consideration.
Now they have lost two straight and stand at 3-3 in the conference. Games played in January might not be decisive, but a victory would elevate the Gophers’ national reputation and a loss would trigger the traditional Minnesota sporting seasonal affective disorder.
There was a time, children, when Gophers basketball dominated Wisconsin, and when Williams Arena offered the most coveted tickets in town.
A victory Saturday wouldn’t necessarily resurrect the former trend but could provide a reminder of the latter.
For all of the stunning venues erected in the Twin Cities in the past two decades, Williams remains quaint and cozy.
A Gophers victory over Wisconsin could make it a much more interesting place for the rest of this still-promising season.