In sports, when a team looks too far ahead or dwells too much on what has already happened, they often fail in the present. Sometimes it’s off the field issues, sometimes it's injuries, sometimes it's egos and sometimes it is just plain bad luck. A trap season is the perfect storm of all these variables and more. The 2010 Minnesota Vikings defined a trap season better than maybe anybody ever.
Watching the Vikings plod through their last meaningless game today made me realize that Ron Gardenhire better be careful. The 2011 Twins season is heading for the classic Minnesota trap season and Gardenhire could be out of a job. The trap season is defined by four noticeable characteristics.
1. The team has a history of having consistently above average to great regular seasons.
2. The team fails repeatedly in the postseason.
3. The team is coming off a terrific regular season highlighted by a particularly disappointing and or traumatic postseason experience.
4. Fan expectations (the status quo) are at a peak.
Before typecasting this as another “Fire Gardy” column (it’s not), realize there are precedents set here besides the debacle that was the 2010 Vikings.
From 1992 to 2000, Dennis Green took the Vikings to the playoffs every year except once and never had a record below .500. He established a series of teams that we fans would complain about every so often, but for the most part could get behind because they were always competitive, and made the playoffs. This was enough for us as we ignored their penchant for folding under pressure year after year.
Until we stopped winning in the regular season that is. He was fired with one game left in the season in 2001. Why? Let’s look at the list.
1. Established above.
2. Green’s postseason record was 4-8.
3. The 2001 Vikings were coming off a postseason in which they lost 41-0 in the NFC Championship game.
4. It’s hard to remember or even fathom at this point, but Daunte Culpepper was coming off his first season as a starter. He was a Pro Bowler, threw for almost 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. He was thought to be the best young QB in football. Pair him with Randy Moss in his prime and fan interest was through the roof.
Need more proof? Let’s change sports and go to basketball. Flip Saunders took over the Timberwolves in 1995, took a team that never had a winning record to the playoffs eight years in a row, culminating in 2003-2004 season with a trip to the Conference Finals. The very next year Saunders was fired mid-season after an underwhelming start (the infamous Latrell Spreewell "I gotta feed my family" season). Check out the Saunders File.
1. Established above. Eight straight trips to the postseason
2. Seven straight years of losing in the first round.
How will the Twins do this year?
3. The '03-'04 season was the best in Timberwolves history. They won 58 games and received a No. 1 seed in the playoffs, but were upset by a drama filled Lakers squad.
4. Kevin Garnett was coming off of an MVP season, was still in his prime and the Wolves had essentially the same supporting cast as the year before. As hard as it is to imagine now, Garnett owned this state.
It is really pretty remarkable when you start to connect the dots.
Now, do this same exercise with recently ousted Vikings coach Brad Childress and apply it to this season. You could write a book.
Apply all of this and the central idea behind our motives as fans comes to life. If you as a coach don’t deliver in the playoffs, we fans only have the regular season to look forward to.
After years of heart breaking failures in the postseason, we are conditioned place an exaggerated importance on the regular season. Thus, when teams do run into adverse situations, it leads to decisions and opinions that for the better or worse, that are usually made on emotion, rather than on history.
That's the Minnesota sports juggernaut in a vacuum.
Which brings me back to Gardy and his 2011 Minnesota Twins:
1. They are consistently among the upper echelon of teams in baseball, a having won six division titles in Gardenhire's nine years and contended in the other three.
2. Gardenhire’s postseason resume is now rather infamous for all the wrong reasons.
3. The team is coming off one of maybe its best regular seasons ever followed by another first round sweep at the hands of the Yankees. This one stung even worse as the Twins had home field advantage and the Yankees were exposed as an aging fraud of a team by the Texas Rangers.
4. Fan interest, which is always high for the Twins, will be at a fever pitch come spring. With the collapse (literally and figuratively) of the Vikings this year coupled with the complete ineptitude of the Timberwolves and Year 2 of Target field, fans will be pining for something good to cheer.
Sounds like the makings of a trap season to me. After struggling through this Vikings season, I hope I’m wrong.