This is an unprecedented time for those of us who are sports fans. There are no NBA or NHL playoffs starting. There is no Masters Tournament. There was no NCAA Tournament. We are truly in the sports abyss.
Sports talk has gotten pretty desperate. Radio show
s and podcasts are running out of ideas or topics to discuss and sports writers are racking their brains for fun ideas to fill the page.
I wanted to come up with something that has never been done before. I wanted to write about some topics that were so unique, innovative and clever that everyone would be in awe at my brilliance.
I was sitting at home trying to figure it out when suddenly the idea hit me. I swear the room became filled with a blinding light because the “idea light bulb” was burning so bright.
A bracket to determine the Most Meaningful Professional Athlete to play in Minnesota.
I know. I’m amazed nobody has ever thought of this.
I immediately got to work on accumulating the 36 names of athletes who had played professionally in Minnesota in sports history who left a lasting impact on the state. I chose the most famous, skilled, highly regarded, impactful and meaningful athletes I could find and added a few of my own for a personal touch. I also tried to have at least a few players from all five major sports to make it even.
I didn’t want this to just be a popularity contest, meaning the winner would just be our favorite athlete. Being a popular athlete isn’t the only factor in deciding how meaningful a player’s time was while they suited up for the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
I also wanted this to specifically focus on the time that this athlete spent in Minnesota. I didn’t want to reward athletes for their careers apart from Minnesota because that doesn’t matter to us as Minnesotans. I wanted this bracket to reflect how meaningful their time here was – not how they did for other teams.
With those factors in mind, I tried to come up with a system to rank these athletes. During their time in Minnesota, I analyzed how many seasons they spent here, playoff appearances they had here, how many All-Star appearances they had here, how many awards and statistics they achieved while here, how many memorable moments they had, how popular they were and how many Championships they had been a part of. Obviously, this last category was extremely lacking.
After this intensive research, I developed a ranking for all 36 athletes and seeded them accordingly into the four regions of the tournament. The Twins Region, the Vikings Region, the Wolves Region, and the Lynx Region (sorry Wild fans).
Starting on Saturday April 11th, I will be posting four matchups a week on my Twitter account to hold a vote for who should advance. I will post one each day Saturday through Tuesday at 9 am and it will be open for 24 hours.
Each week in the newspaper, I will outline the matchups for the upcoming week along with the results from the previous week. I will also post the updated bracket each week online as well on our Herald Journal Sports Blog page. After 10 weeks, a champion will be crowned as the Most Meaningful Athlete to play in Minnesota.
Without further ado, let’s get into the play-in games.
Twins Region: 8) Ricky Rubio vs 9) Mike Modono
Ricky Rubio: Ricky was one of the most highly anticipated arrivals to the Minnesota Timberwolves in franchise history. The young Spaniard spent 6 seasons from 2011 to 2017 in Minnesota, leading the league in steals in 2013-14 and is still 2nd in franchise history with 747. Rubio is also 2nd in franchise history in assists with 2991 and peaked in that 13/14 season, averaging 9.5 points and 8.6 assists for a 40-42 team, the closest the team had been to .500 since the 2004-05 season.
Mike Modono: Much to the dismay of hockey fans in Minnesota, Modono and the North Stars were ripped away from us, leaving a hockey void. It probably stung in 1999 when the then Dallas Stars took home Lord Stanley’s Cup. Before the move, however, Minnesotans got to enjoy four great seasons from 1989 to 1993, where Modono racked up 31 goals and 47 assists per season starting as a 19 year old. Modono, an All-Star in 1991, was a crucial piece to a team that lost in the Stanley Cup Final and appeared in the playoffs three total times.
Vikings Region: 8) Zach Parise vs 9) Sam Cassell
Zach Parise: Wild fans were elated the summer of 2012 when they brought the Minnesota native in with a large contract. Since then, Parise led the Wild to six playoff appearances, most notably being a part of a franchise record 106 point season in 2016-17. Parise has accumulated 192 goals, good for 3rd in franchise history to go along with 190 assists, good for 8th in history.
Sam Cassell: Cassell’s tenure was brief in Minnesota, just two seasons, but holy moly were they memorable. A 34 year old Cassell came in for the 2003-04 season to team up with Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell and the results were staggering. The Timberwolves finished with a franchise record 58 wins, were the 1st seed in the West and lost in the Conference Finals to the LA Lakers. “The Alien” averaged a career high 19.8 points, 7.3 assists, made the All-Star team for the only time in his career and gave us all the memory of the “Big Balls” dance, where he injured himself in the conference semifinals celebrating.
Wolves Region: 8) Marian Gaborik vs 9) Brett Favre
Marian Gaborik: Gaborik was the face for the brand new Wild franchise from 2000 until 2009. Starting at the spry age of 18, the young Czech would average 59 points per season when healthy, peaking in the 2007-08 season with 42 goals and 41 assists. Gaborik is still the franchise leader in goals with 219.
Brett Favre: Favre brought Minnesotan’s perhaps the most memorable season in Vikings football. The longtime rival suited up for the purple and gold to spite the Packers and had his best statistical season at the age of 40. The gunslinger put up 4,202 yards (3rd highest in his career), 33 touchdowns (4th highest) and only 7 interceptions (lowest of his career by 6). His quarterback rating was 107.2 (his second highest was 99.5). That led to 12 wins and a devastating loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship game where players were essentially paid to hurt him… but we won’t get into that.
Lynx Region: 8) Sam Mitchell vs 9) Case Keenum
Sam Mitchell: Mitchell’s case is all about longevity. Sam never had an elite peak or a super memorable moment, but he was here as a solid role-player and leader on a Timberwolves team that made six straight playoff appearances in his 10 seasons with Minnesota. In franchise history, Mitchell is 2nd in games played and minutes as well as 4th in field goals made and points.
Case Keenum: Another quarterback to make the list for only one season, Keenum’s case is based more on memorable moments than on longevity. Signed in 2017 as a backup, Keenum would finish the year 11-3 as a starter, giving the Vikings a 13-3 record and the 2nd seed in the NFC. Case would put up over 3,500 yards, 22 touchdowns and finish with a rating of 98.3, but will be remembered for one play and one play only. It was impossible for me to leave a guy off the list known for the best moment in Vikings history in the Minneapolis Miracle.