Our family recently estimated that, in the past nine months since the pandemic took hold in Minnesota, we have walked at least 300 miles together — my wife and I on foot and our three young kids on various combinations of bicycles, tricycles, scooters and strollers.
We trekked up to 4 miles in conditions we never would have during a normal year, when indoor spaces were accessible or at least safer. Even if it felt like it was all we could do at times, we will look back on it as valuable family time we wouldn't have otherwise had.
It is in that spirit, then, that we attempt here to put a bow on sports in 2020: Not by remembering everything bad that happened, but by recognizing the things that were actually good. This year, at its best, has been about making the most of a tough situation.
Here are 20 good things that happened in Minnesota sports and the sports world at large in 2020.
Part I: Pre-pandemic glory
Some of these things feel like they happened five years ago. But all of them happened in 2020 before we were in the grips of COVID-19:
1. Gophers defeat Auburn. One of the signature Minnesota sports moments of 2020 happened on the first day of the year. The Gophers punctuated an 11-2 season with a 31-24 victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl, with the winning score coming on a 73-yard touchdown pass play from Tanner Morgan to Tyler Johnson. Though a trip to the Rose Bowl eluded Minnesota, a Jan. 1 victory over a national powerhouse was a significant program marker.
2. Vikings over Saints. Four days later, the Vikings went down to New Orleans as more than a touchdown underdog and stunned the Saints in a 26-20 overtime victory. Kyle Rudolph's overtime touchdown catch wasn't quite the Minneapolis Miracle when it comes to mayhem, but was the second time in three years the Vikings had ended New Orleans' season in dramatic fashion.
3. D'Angelo Russell trade. The Timberwolves under President Gersson Rosas had been pursuing Russell for months, first losing out in free agency but staying committed to the pursuit. A growing number of Wolves fans had been hoping the team could shed itself of Andrew Wiggins, a talented but chronically underachieving player with a bloated contract. In one February deal, both things happened: Russell was traded to Minnesota, and Wiggins was headed to Golden State. The Wolves had to throw in a 2021 top-three-protected draft pick, which they might come to regret. But shhhh. That's a next-year problem.
4. Austin, Minn. One of the most ambitious projects in recent Star Tribune sports memory was published in late February. Columnist Chip Scoggins and photographer Aaron Lavinsky told the story of changing demographics and shifting attitudes in Austin, with its high school sports programs as a common thread and rallying point.
5. A high school classic. Sometimes the Class 1A boys' hockey tournament takes a back seat to the larger 2A tournament. In March, it produced a classic of its own when Mahtomedi edged Hermantown 3-2 in overtime of the championship game despite being outshot 42-12. Little did we know at the time that the pandemic would shut down sports not long after.
Part II: Talented newcomers
We could not watch them from the stands, but an influx of new talent on Minnesota's top teams was a major story line this year.
6. Kenta Maeda. After arriving in an offseason trade with the Dodgers, the 32-year-old righthander was brilliant for the Twins. He went 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA in the 60-game shortened season, amassing 80 strikeouts in only 66⅔ innings. Maeda finished as runner-up in the American League Cy Young Award voting and proved he is a top-of-the-rotation pitcher on a team that desperately needed one.
7. Crystal Dangerfield. WNBA rosters are such that second-round draft picks often have a hard time even getting playing time as rookies. Dangerfield, an undersized but skilled guard out of UConn, was the No. 16 overall pick in the second round by the Lynx in April's WNBA draft. From there, competing in the bubble in Bradenton, Fla., Dangerfield went on to win the league's Rookie of the Year honors, becoming the first second-round pick in WNBA history to achieve that distinction.
8. Justin Jefferson. It would be nice if every trade worked out like this, wouldn't it? The Vikings dealt productive but disenchanted receiver Stefon Diggs to Buffalo for a first-round pick, which they used to pick Jefferson. Diggs has thrived with the Bills. Jefferson is an absolute gem who has already broken some team rookie receiving records previously held by Randy Moss. He is going to be fun to watch for the next decade.
9. Anthony Edwards. The Wolves' No. 1 overall pick's best days are still ahead of him, but even early in this NBA season, fans have caught glimpses of his talent, tenacity, personality and upside. It's unfair to say the Wolves' future rests on his shoulders, but … it kind of does. You only get so many cracks at the No. 1 overall pick. So far, there's a lot to like.
10. Emanuel Reynoso. The dynamic Reynoso didn't even join Minnesota United until September, and already it feels like he has a highlight reel from three years' worth of games. His offensive skill nearly carried the Loons to a berth in the MLS Cup, and it's a good bet that the 25-year-old from Argentina can continue down that special path.
Part III: Equality and voices
Perhaps nothing quite defined 2020 like the merging of sports and social justice, with Minnesota moments and athletes occupying that space front and center.
11. Calvin Griffith statue comes down. In June, as many teams grappled with notions of race and social justice, the Twins made a firm decision and removed the statue at Target Field of former owner Calvin Griffith, acknowledging the racist comments he had made in Waseca in 1978. In announcing the decision, the Twins said in part: "We apologize for our failure to adequately recognize how the statue was viewed and the pain it caused for many people — both inside the Twins organization and across Twins Territory."
12-13. Matt Dumba and Eric Kendricks fill a void. Dumba, a Wild defenseman, and Kendricks, a Vikings linebacker, became integral parts of social justice movements not just within their teams but within their leagues. Dumba became the face of the NHL's racial justice fight, becoming the league's first player to kneel before the national anthem and delivering a speech about racism in hockey before the start of the playoffs. Kendricks pushed the NFL toward an entirely new stance on protest, leading to a still-stunning acknowledgment from Commissioner Roger Goodell that the league erred in how it handled Colin Kaepernick.
14. Circle of Discipline. The boxing gym on the corner of 12th and East Lake Street in Minneapolis became a place where those in need could get supplies — diapers, canned goods, bottled water, you name it — in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the unrest in the area. Two months later, one of its star pupils, pro boxer Jamal James, finally won his belt by claiming the WBA interim welterweight title.
15. Maya Moore creates real change. The star of four Lynx WNBA championship teams put her career on hold in 2019 and again in 2020 as she worked to help free Jonathan Irons from prison. That work came to fruition this summer when Irons, convicted at age 18 of burglary and assault, walked out of Jefferson City (Mo.) Correctional Center a free man after a judge overturned the conviction more than two decades later.
Part IV: The home stretch
As the year grew closer to an end, and the weeks sometimes were hard to distinguish from each other, sports helped us feel at least some sense of normalcy.
16. Jalen Suggs and Paige Bueckers shine in college. It shouldn't be a surprise, but two of the biggest stars to come out of Minnesota high school basketball are thriving as freshmen. Suggs, formerly of Minnehaha Academy and now with No. 1 Gonzaga, is averaging 15.1 points and nearly six assists and six rebounds per game for the Bulldogs. Bueckers, the former Hopkins star, is already UConn's leading scorer after five games at 18.2 points per game.
17. Gophers men's hockey back on top. They don't hand out trophies for the top college hockey teams in December, but it's still a big deal to see the Gophers occupy the No. 1 spot in the rankings after a dominant 8-0 start. It's enough to make fans giddy about the good old days and cause them to stop griping — at least for five minutes, maybe — about the long-ago move to the Big Ten.
18. NBA is underway. As the fall lurched forward, leagues that had finished their seasons in COVID-protected "bubbles" were faced with a new challenge: What happens next season? The NBA forged ahead with an aggressive timeline, wedging the draft, free agency, training camps and the start of the season into about a five-week span, and pulled it off. The season is underway, and I guess we're all getting pretty used to watching sports on TV without fans.
19. Kirill Kaprizov has arrived. Minnesota fans haven't been so eager about the arrival of a foreign-born player since Ricky Rubio mania gripped our state. If Kaprizov is as good as his highlight reel suggests, the start of the Wild season in a few weeks has the potential to be more fun than any in recent memory.
20. The Vikings at least stayed relevant into late December. This was no small feat, after their 1-5 start. It would have made for a lot of long and boring Sundays if they hadn't at least rallied to get as far as they did. Their season won't officially end until Jan. 3, but that leads me to perhaps the best thing of all about 2020: It's almost over, and I have a hunch 2021 will be better.