2011 will be best remembered from the sports scene locally as a year to forget, and indifferent at best. The Twins were just awful to watch, finishing 63-99 — dead last — in the American League. Mega-stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau both were far from normal previous MVP form. Health, injuries and uncertainty were just a huge part of the story. Bill Smith, general manager since 2007, paid the price and was fired.
The Vikings, after the long, hard-fought NFL owners’ lockout, wiped-out mini-camp and OTA’s, were just as bad. They are 3-12 currently, last in the NFC North for the second year in a row, with one game left on Sunday versus Chicago. The team took on a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality with Donovan McNabb as starting quarterback. Building big first-half leads like 17-7 vs. San Diego, 17-0 vs. Tampa Bay and 20-0 vs. Detroit and then losing all three set the tone for the season.
After a 1-5 start, Head Coach Leslie Frazier benched McNabb and went with rookie QB Christian Ponder. The team has fallen on tough times, and lost its identity in the last year of its Mall of America Field at the Metrodome lease. The Arden Hills stadium site issue again has met lack of state support politically, and the team’s future is very much up in the air. There’s much uncertainty on what’s next and if the Vikings even will be in Minneapolis in 2012.
This season got even worse when franchise star running back Adrian Peterson suffered a serious season-ending knee injury Sunday in week 15, tearing both his left ACL and MCL while playing against Washington. Peterson will have surgery performed soon by famed Dr. James Andrews in Georgia. Peterson signed a $100 million contract in 2011.
University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football was consistent with everyone else: last place under first-year Head Coach Jerry Kill, who battled health issues with seizures to stay on the sidelines. The Gophers finished last at 3-9.
Gopher basketball slipped big under Tubby Smith last year, losing six straight to end the season. Tubby’s great 14-year consecutive 20-win streak ended. The team missed post-season NCAA and NIT and had key injuries, and Smith battled serious health issues with successful surgery also, overcoming cancer.
The 2010-11 Wild were the best team in town under coach Todd Richards. They missed the Stanley Cup playoffs again, however, going 39-35 with 86 points. They then fired coach Richards and hired young Mike Yeo from Pittsburgh for 2011-12. Until a recent tough seven-game losing streak, the team led the Northwest Division.
The Timberwolves were the Timberwolves last year: At 17-65, they had another horrendous season and improvement of just two games over the previous 15-67 season. It was not enough to save coach Kurt Rambis’ job. He was fired and replaced by Rick Adelman, one of the league’s longtime best coaches. Things look promising for now —after the long NBA lockout wiped away 16 games in the bitter fight between owners and NBA players — for the Timberwolves in the rugged Western Conference. Everybody is good, it seems, in the West.
With number-one pick Derrick Williams from Arizona at forward, highly anticipated guard Ricky Rubio has arrived and brings his excitement, international open-court flair, style and sparkle. J.J. Barea, the quick, long-range shooting point guard from Dallas, should help. He played a key role for NBA Champion Dallas. All-Star forward Kevin Love, the league’s number-one rebounder and most improved player, teams with Michael Beasley, who is talented and has a lot of game.
The T-wolves will be better. I promise they won’t lose 60 games this year; I guarantee it.
One 2011 sports story to remember: Thanks to the Minnesota Lynx winning the franchise’s first WNBA title, Minnesota is number one again. The team displayed true grit and court excellence and showed all the other sports teams in town how great teamwork can lead to a championship. It was the first championship in Minneapolis since the 1991 Twins.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2), and you can follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.