Being a Minnesota sports fan means losing games but gaining perspective

Brett Favre (right) experienced his share of highs during the 2009 NFL season -- particularly against his old team in Green Bay. But the ending? Pure Minnesota heartbreak.
Photo By: Wikimedia commons
I vividly remember watching from my basement couch as Saints kicker Garrett Hartley’s attempt sailed through the uprights. I also remember sobbing my eyes out, a 12 year-old shocked and heartbroken by how close his favorite team had come to the biggest stage.

My heart was broken on January 24, 2010.

That was the day of the 2009 NFC Championship Game between my Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. That’s right. My Minnesota Vikings.

We were coming off an incredible season that saw 40-year-old quarterback Brett Favre lead the team to a 12-4 regular season record. The men in purple thrashed the mighty Dallas Cowboys by a score of 34-3 in their first playoff game.

I was loving every second of it.

If the Vikings could get past Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, they would make it to their first Super Bowl since 1976—and the first of my lifetime. I was already looking forward to Miami, site of Super Bowl XLIV.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 28, the Vikings drove into Saints territory and appeared set to run out the clock and kick a game-winning field goal. There was no doubt in my mind that the game was over. I even started thinking about what it would take to beat the Indianapolis Colts, who had won the AFC championship earlier that day.

Then, as Vikings fans already know, it all fell apart.

A crucial penalty and an awful interception from Favre sent the game to overtime. New Orleans won the coin toss, marched down the field, and squashed the Vikings’ dreams of a Lombardi Trophy with a 40-yard field goal.

I vividly remember watching from my basement couch as Saints kicker Garrett Hartley’s attempt sailed through the uprights. I also remember sobbing my eyes out, a 12 year-old shocked and heartbroken by how close his favorite team had come to the biggest stage.

HEARTBREAK CITY

That game exemplified what it means to be a fan of professional sports in Minnesota.

If you’re lucky enough to get regular season success, you inevitably get postseason failure. It has become all too familiar to me.

The Minnesota Twins are awful these days, but during my elementary school years, they were one of the most consistent teams in Major League Baseball. They won their division six times between 2002 and 2010 and played at a remarkably high level every season. I attended countless games at the Metrodome, cheering on players like Jacque Jones and Michael Cuddyer.

However, during those six visits to the playoffs, they made it out of the first round only once—in 2002. They lost the other five first round series by a combined 15 games to two, four of them at the hands of the New York Yankees.

In both 2009 and 2010, at the height of my fanhood, they were swept 3-0 by the Yankees. I remember coming home from school, excited to watch my team in the playoffs, and then being crushed by loss after loss. It was like waking up on Christmas morning, rushing giddily downstairs to get my presents, and then receiving nothing but socks and underwear.

Of course, this is a theme that began well before I became a fan. The Vikings made it to four Super Bowls between 1969 and 1976—and lost all four. In 1998, they went 15-1, but shockingly failed to reach the Super Bowl when kicker Gary Anderson missed his first field goal of the season in the NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Twins won Minnesota’s only two championships in 1987 and 1991, but from 1971 to 2001, those two World Series victories were their only playoff appearances. As for the area’s two other professional teams, the Wolves—the embodiment of mediocrity—have the longest active postseason drought in the NBA, while the Wild have never appeared in a Stanley Cup final.

JUST A GAME

As a teen, I suppose I have a different perspective than most since I can personally relate to the failures of my favorite professional sports teams. I have played baseball my entire life, yet have never really won anything.

I’ve been on some pretty good teams, but coming from Minneapolis, we have always struggled to beat the big suburban squads. In middle school, my traveling team was composed of the best kids from the city, yet we still were routinely thrashed by the Eden Prairies and the Wayzatas of the world. In my most recent high school season, we were kicked out of the playoffs right away.

My experience with baseball has taught me a valuable lesson about sports, though: Winning is always the goal, but losing does not equal failure. As a competitive person, I do everything I can to help my team succeed, but I recognize that baseball is still just a game. Win or lose, I love being with my teammates and always have fun playing, regardless of the outcome.

Not so when I was little. I would cry every single time the Vikings lost. It was like the world had ended.

I cried in 2003 and 2004 when the Twins lost in the playoffs. I cried hardest during that dark January day in 2010. My experience as a fan depended entirely on the outcome.

However, as I’ve matured, I began to apply the same things I learned from losing baseball games to rooting for my favorite sports teams. I realized something: Just because the Vikings lost, does that ruin the three hours I spent watching the game?

Not at all. I still enjoyed cheering and spending quality time with my friends or my dad.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM?

Despite the mediocrity and heartbreak, I’m glad I’ve been a Minnesota sports fan all my life. The large number of collapses and failures I’ve watched have made the minor triumphs that much sweeter. This isn’t Boston, where all four major teams have won titles in the last decade. This is Minneapolis, where I have learned to appreciate success when it comes. Some of the happiest moments in my life include the aforementioned Vikings playoff victory over the Cowboys, the Twins’ miraculous rally to make the playoffs in 2009, and the Wild’s comeback playoff series victory over the Colorado Avalanche this year.

True, I have yet to experience a championship during my lifetime. But that hasn’t lessened my fanhood. It simply means that when a Minnesota team holds up a championship trophy someday, I will savor it, bask in its glory, and enjoy the hell out of it.

Since I’m going to college next year, this is also the last chance I have to see championship glory in my childhood.

What if it doesn’t happen this year? Well, I’ll remain optimistic and keep cheering on my Minnesota teams from college.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll return to the Land of 10,000 Lakes and raise some little fans of my own. They might even get to see their team win the big one.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Ragatz, a senior at Southwest High School, is a 2014 graduate of ThreeSixty’s Intro to Journalism Summer Camp. This is his first byline for ThreeSixty’s magazine. Outside of school, Will enjoys playing baseball, hanging out by the lakes and impressing everyone with his incredible spelling skills (FYI: He’s a a spelling bee champion). He’d like to pursue a career in sports journalism.

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