Minnesota Sports Fans: a Nice Six-Month Run

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Minnesota Sports Fans: a Nice Six-Month Run
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Sports fans of Minnesota teams just finished one of the most exciting six-month stretches in recent memory.

Between the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings, we were treated to some great action on and off the field by both teams.

The Twins made a late-summer, early-fall run in the Central Division, the Vikings signed Brett Favre, the Twins played a first round playoff series against the New York Yankees, and the Vikings played like a Super Bowl contender for most of their season.

Overall, there were great moments, and fans had every reason to be engaged and optimistic for their teams from mid-August 2009 to late-January 2010.

Aug. 18, 2009, began with the Twins six games under .500, playing in Texas against the Rangers who were 17 games over .500.

That night, Joe Mauer hit two home runs in a 9-6 come-from-behind Twins win. Oh, and earlier in the day, the Vikings officially signed Brett Favre, turning them into an immediate Super Bowl contender and media obsession.

August, September, and October put Minnesota in the middle of the sports world, as the MLB season came to a close and the NFL season started to heat up.

The Twins win against the Rangers was the beginning of a great stretch of baseball to end the season, where they won 31 of their last 45 games.

They survived losing Justin Morneau and being three games out of first place with four games left, finishing tied with the Detroit Tigers atop the Central Division.

This set up a one-game playoff at Metrodome.

Game 163, on a Tuesday night, achieved instant classic status, lasting 12 epic innings. The Twins won on a single by Alexi Casilla in the bottom of the 12th that scored Carlos Gomez, who slid head-first at home plate and leapt high into the air, expressing the joy of 55,000 screaming fans.

The noise from the Twins-Tigers game was just a carryover for what had happened the previous night in the same building.

Brett Favre led an undefeated Vikings team on Monday Night Football against his former team, the Green Bay Packers.

Favre had joined the Vikings and immediately made them his team, leading them to two road victories against inferior teams and two hard-fought home victories, including the dramatic game-winning touchdown with :02 seconds left against the San Francisco 49ers.

Minnesota fans collectively settled in for the fall, believing in the team and Favre, all building up to his first appearance against the Packers.

The build-up was huge, but even more so since it was Monday Night Football on ESPN (as though they needed an extra reason to pump up Favre wearing purple).

The Twin Cities were electric.

As you know, Favre performed well, leading the Vikings to a 30-23 victory. In the two games against the Packers, he finished with seven touchdown passes, zero interceptions, and two victories, which proved to be huge in leading the Vikings to the NFC North Division title and earning a first round bye in the playoffs.

There was a lot of optimism for a nice Super Bowl run for the Vikings, which was not matched when the Twins met the Yankees in the fall.

The Twins did not fare that well against the Yankees, getting swept out of the playoffs.

At least they gave us some exciting moments.

They scored first in the series opener, only to see the Yankees score the final seven runs, losing 2-7.

Game Two was the one that really hurt, as the Twins had a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Joe Nathan, Minnesota’s great closer, gave up a lead-off single to Mark Texiera, before facing Alex Rodriguez.

On cue, in a new Yankee Stadium, Rodriguez tied the game with a two-run blast to right center. The Twins had a chance to take the lead in extra innings, but could not score with the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the 11th.

The Yankees then won it in the bottom of the inning. Down two games to zero in the series, the Twins returned to Metrodome for one last game, but fell 1-4, ending their season much later than anyone thought.

They played great baseball down the stretch and now move to their new home at Target Field.

MLB returns to the outdoors in Minneapolis.

But, not before the Vikings had the whole state buzzing.

The Vikings went 10-1 in their first 11 games before stumbling late in the season.

They lost three of their final five games, all on the road. Their last lost was against the Bears in Chicago, when they still had homefield advantage in the playoffs on their radar. They went down 0-16 at halftime, but began the second half of that game with perhaps their best stretch of football of the season.

They scored 30 points in the second half, before falling in overtime, ending their bid at homefield.

The final week of the season, they rolled over a New York Giants team who had mailed in their season, since they had nothing for which to play. However, the Vikings still put 44 points on the board, giving them some confidence heading into the playoffs, where they had a first round bye.

Fans were excited and looked at the long shot possibility of hosting the Packers in the NFC Championship game.

We watched as the Packers lost a thriller in Arizona, and we moved on. The Vikings second round opponent was the Dallas Cowboys, whom many had jumped on as possible NFC favorites.

The Vikings thoroughly outplayed the Cowboys in all phases of the game, winning 34-3, putting them in the NFC Championship game in New Orleans. We were very confident the Vikings could go to the Big Easy and win the game.You could see purple on Bourbon Street for days in advance of the game.

The Vikings and Saints played a great game, another instant classic involving a Minnesota team.

The Vikings could not close it out, losing in overtime after having a great chance to win the game with a field goal in regulation.

They proved they were a really tough team, moving the ball against the Saints all game, stopping the Saints’ potent offense, and putting themselves in position to advance to the Super Bowl. In the end, turnovers by Favre, Peterson, and the receivers were too much to overcome.

After a great season, the Vikings ended their playoff run with a “Stomach Punch” loss – that fans might still be feeling.

The last six months have been very exciting for Minnesota sports. I put it on par with a stretch in 1991-1992, when the Twins won the World Series, Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl and the Final Four, and the Minnesota North Stars made it to the Stanley Cup (they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins).

I was only 13 or 14-years-old at the time, but I remember it as an unbelievable time to live here.

The Twins and Vikings provided memories for fans young and old with timely plays, clutch performances, exciting finishes, and playoff baseball and football.

For those two days in early October 2009, Minneapolis was the center of the sporting world, and those of us cheering for Minnesota wins were rewarded with great performances.

The teams couldn’t “get the money” in the end, but no one will say it wasn’t worth the ride.

With an impending contract extension for Joe Mauer, Francisco Liriano throwing darts in Winter League, and pitchers and catchers reporting for the Twins in a few weeks, we’re about to start all over again.

Many Vikings’ fans are hoping Brett Favre will announce he will return for one more season, as the pieces are mostly still in place for another run to the Super Bowl next year.

As great as this time has been, we’re ready to look forward.

I think there are good things to come in 2010 for Minnesota sports fans. The Twins and Vikings will be the teams that provide the excitement.

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