Sunday, January 22, 2017

Wild and Children First, or, Maybe Gonna Give You Up, or, I’m Gettin’ Too Old for This: The Ethics and Adjudication of Taking a Break from One Team to Get Closer to Another

Courtesy of Forbes.

I’ve been hung up on this piece for the last six weeks, mostly because I couldn’t settle on a title. That’s why there’s three of them.

And then the always entertaining Michael Rand kicked me into high gear by posting an article at the Star Tribune Tuesday investigating whether Minnesota sports fans can believe that this year’s Wild won’t let folks down by going on one of their long winter skids that have derailed each of their last 3 seasons. The article’s headline: “Is it safe to go ‘all in’ on the Wild? Yes and no.” Don’t be wishy-washy, Michael—they’re a Minnesota sports team. The answer is no.


One of my first memories involves a bunch of extended family all together at my old house in Waseca, watching the Twins in the 1991 World Series and eating Banquet chicken dinners on TV trays. I turned 30 years old last month. I’ve now been dutifully and unfruitfully cheering for terrible sporting entities to achieve not-terrible outcomes for a quarter century. And in 2016, I, like a first-time marathoner around Mile 24, hit the wall. I, the guy that started this website five years ago to have a fun way to vent at our continued mediocrity, finally started tuning out some of the continued incompetence.

I also purchased Timberwolves season tickets. It was a weird year.

Courtesy of

The only major team that won more games than it lost around here in its most recent completed season is the Gophers’ football team. And rooting for Mitch Leidner’s 3-for-9-for-28-yards first halves all year was an exercise in futility well before the players’ absurdly tone-deaf 48-hour boycott spelled the end for the old coaching staff.

Even the Lynx and the Gophers’ volleyball team—undoubtedly our two most successful teams that receive any kind of publicity—failed in that typically dramatic Minnesotan-gut-punch way. A late, controversial Game 5 finish doomed the Lynx in the WNBA Finals, and the Gophers’ awesome Final Four run was stuffed by a bunch of literal Tree Women from Stanford.

Pictured: A member of Stanford's championship volleyball team, I assume. Courtesy of

So hey, that’s enough recapping of yet another woeful year of Minnesota sports, yeah? We’re here to talk about a team so hot, it’s been difficult for them to finish their games lately because their skates are melting the damn ice! My winter sport of choice has always been basketball, but I’ve really enjoyed watching this year’s Wild team give up the unattractive dump-and-chase style of the Mike Yeo Era and play some prettier hockey under Bruce Boudreau this year. Devan Dubnyk’s returned to his Soup Nazi stylings of two years ago, and Eric Staal’s proven himself to be one of the best free agent values of last year’s offseason.

But to really get invested in hockey, the major pro sport that I undoubtedly know the least about (sorry, Dr. J!), I must divert some of my sporting attention away from one or more of the other local teams I keep pretty close tabs on. It’s always fun to root for a local team’s awesome run, so I think it’s worth spending the time and resources to watch more games and learn more about what makes this team a standout. So which other local team is about to have a bite taken out of their slice of Bruffy’s Sports Attention Pie?


Here are the contenders:


The number-one team for most other Minnesota sports fans, the Vikes offer the largest surrounding community and some of the most vibrant (and gut-wrenching) rivalries in the current market. Even a bad Vikes game gets like a 70 share in the local TV market. But with the evidence mounting regarding the negative health impacts of playing this brutal sport, will American football even exist in, say, 30 years? Would now be a good time to ratchet back on football fandom?

Why follow? The Vikings are a unifying proxy (and a great holiday conversation topic) for my family. And my Dad and I were once in the Hormel Row of Fame at a Bears game at the Metrodome. And I slapped Adrian a high-five after we beat the Packers at Lambeau last year to win the division. Randy Moss, Jared Allen, and the first Favre Year ruled, and I have really high hopes and an even higher opinion of Teddy Bridgewater.

Courtesy of Scoreboard Gourmet.

Why unfriend? Well, Teddy might never play again after his catastrophic knee injury in August, for starters. Our franchise running back for the past decade beat his kid with a branch and never really demonstrated that he understood why he shouldn’t have done that. Packers fans.

There’s also the agony of Gary Anderson. The fruitless frenzy of Peterson’s fumbles and Favre throwing across his body in New Orleans. Blair Walsh missing from 27. Perhaps no team in all of professional American sports can boast the combination of championship-less success and the ability to find a way to get every fan’s guard—which has been reinforced and augmented more than friggin’ Fort Knox—down just long enough to slip the knife of despair in and twist Twist TWIST like the Vikings.

So, you know…a little less of that might be healthy.


Why follow? Target Field is gorgeous, and a night out at a ballgame is still one of the nicest ways to spend a summer evening in the Cities. I have dozens of fond memories of things like Soul Patrol outfield roving around the Metrodome turf. Attending this Santana-Schilling duel that I thought the Crain Wreck ruined, but then Kubel hit a grand slam to win it in the 12th inning. Lots of autographs by just sticking my arm over the bullpen ledge and having Eddie Guardado or Joe Mays sign my ball.

They’ve got a super young, talented core in Sano, Buxton, Kepler, Rosario, and hell, count Dozier in there too, that theoretically should be entertaining to watch for the next decade or so.

Why unfriend? They lost 103 games last year. Worst in the league--and it wasn’t particularly close--in ERA+ (ERA adjusted for ballpark effects). They have, essentially, one major league pitcher—Ervin Santana—when most of their contemporaries have at least nine or 10 viable hurlers. They’re 407-565 since their last playoff appearance in 2010. I’ve spent most of this decade doing the same thing I did throughout the 1990s: Checking the box score to see how many games out of FOURTH PLACE IN THE DIVISION the Twins are.

(The counterpoint to all this: How much “Twins attention” even is there to transfer over to the Wild? Who even paid attention last year after mid-April? That’s what happens when you lose your first nine games and prompt someone to create a website and Twitter called “Have the Twins Won Yet?”)


Why follow? We get to watch one of the most talented young cores in the league, and on several occasions this year, Karl-Anthony Towns has been downright transcendent. Plus, he takes pictures like this. We employ a Spanish unicorn at point guard. The new CBA includes provisions that seem (TERRIBLE PUN ALERT) Taylor-made for us to hang onto at least two of our three budding superstars. I still remember all my friends from Waseca getting together for nearly every game of the 2004-05 playoff run and enjoyed the hell out of every one of them (Although those memories are getting fuzzy because, to reiterate, this most recent Timberwolves run occurred when I was in HIGH SCHOOL and I am now a 30-year-old man and am no longer in high school).

Pictured: A unicorn cavorting with a couple of common woodpeckers. Courtesy of

Why unfriend? The Timbas have been “one year away from making a run at the playoffs” for 11 straight seasons. We’re probably a week or two away from trading Ricky Rubio, my favorite Timberwolf since KG, and we’ll assuredly get nowhere near the value he should command. Thibs the Player Personnel Guy brought in a couple free agents this summer and doesn’t even play them. He’s gassing the young starters, just like he did in Chicago. The goddamn owner has “good riddance”d every superstar the team’s ever had once said superstars had migrated to other teams and helped them win goddamn championships.

With those season tickets, I’ve seen a handful of this year’s double-digit meltdowns, each of which has made me want to gouge out my uvula with a rusty screwdriver to keep myself from going angrily hoarse. Would that even work? Who cares! I doubt the guys in the ambulance are listening to the Wolves game.


Why follow? The NCAA Tournament is the best sporting event in the country, and it’s fun as hell when the Gophers are in it. This year’s team is by far their best iteration since Tubby was canned, and I find myself barking many more compliments at this team for smart play than shrieks of incredulity at dumb defense or forced mid-range jumpers. At least until last week’s double disasters against States Michigan and Penn. Amir Coffey rules. And his decision to stay home is the impetus behind a phenomenon known as the Amir Coffey Effect that will undoubtedly result in a killer 2018 recruiting class.

Hell, Rachel Banham had me seeking out women’s games on the Big Ten Network as must-see TV for a stretch there.

Why unfriend? 8-23 last year, including multiple losses to South Dakota schools. One NCAA tournament win in the 20 years since that Final Four team that didn’t happen because scandals. That sex tape thing that popped up on Twitter last year was really weird. A history of weird things happening to committed recruits that keeps them from ever suiting up with us. Ralph Sampson III.


Why follow? I met MarQueis Gray at a Dinkytown bar once and he was an extremely nice guy. Nine victories this year, the most since the Glen Mason Era—including a win in a bowl game that we had no business winning. I’m happy with the decision to fire Tracy Claeys for obvious off-field reasons and, less importantly, less obvious on-field reasons (Jerry Kill was great at making 2nd half adjustments, and Claeys was his polar opposite). And new coach P.J. Fleck eats difficult conversations as part of a balanced breakfast, which sets a nutritious example for the rest of the team.

Why unfriend? Yeah, we won nine games…against what was no doubt the softest schedule we’ve faced in years and will face in the foreseeable future. It should have been 10 or 11. AND we almost lost to friggin’ Rutgers. A history of being yet another Minnesota team that just can’t handle being thought of as a good team in the rare instances when they are actually good. We just watched Mitch Leidner, Senior Leader, go like two months without throwing a TD pass after some NFL draft goobers thought he might be a legitimate pro prospect before this year started.

Man, I feel like I’m forgetting something. Some giant incident that cast an inescapable pall over the entire program and made me scream “HOW THE HELL COULD YOU THINK THIS WAS ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR” at some players and “WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU MAKE THIS YOUR HILL TO DIE ON” to the rest of the team. Boy, I just cott think of it.

Courtesy of American Public Media.


Why follow? I’ve written before about my love of tennis, and of rooting for the U.S.’s best and brightest players. I caught every second of every major I could when greats like Sampras, Agassi, and Courier, the Williams sisters, Capriati, and Davenport would storm into the late rounds on a regular basis. I cheered as loudly for the improbable runs to Grand Slam finals from guys like Todd Martin and MaliVai Washington. Andy Roddick was one of my favorite athletes of all time. I gained a new appreciation for current top U.S. player John Isner after being fortunate enough to visit Wimbledon this year and seeing their exhibit on his incredible 3-day match with Nicolas Mahut several years ago.

And there’s a new generation of young guns, led by players like Francis Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz on the men’s side and Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens on the women’s side, that could start making noise soon.

Why unfriend? Because Roger Federer still exists, and I will never forgive him for what he did to Andy’s career. Because outside of Sam Querrey’s upset of #1-seed Novak Djokovic at last year’s Wimbledon, none of the current crop of top U.S. men have ever really made much noise or threatened to climb far into the top 10 to challenge tennis’ “Big 4.” Because one of the Grand Slams is the French Open, and clay is stupid and Americans suck playing on it.


Back in 2009, I came down with an acute case of “Soccer Fever.” The cure, according to definitely licensed physician, was to pick a team from one of Europe’s top league to start following. As previously discussed, I am a large Timberwolves fan, and my alma mater’s colors are black and gold. So this squad from west central England that had just been promoted to England’s top league really spoke to me. Plucky underdogs! A history with a little success and a lot of middlin’ performances! A coach named Mick McCarthy and a goalie named Wayne!

Why follow? Wolves spent three years barely surviving in the Premier League before being relegated to the “Championship League,” which is confusing because it is not full of champions. Then they did the insidious double, finishing in the bottom-3 of the Championship League and falling down to League One, which is also confusing, because it’s the third-best league in England. Which is not good.

They were quickly promoted back to the Championship League, where they’ve toiled for the past few years. They are okay, and are not close to being good again any time soon.
I am now realizing that this description doesn’t come across as much of a reason to follow Wolves.

Why unfriend? …I mean, it’s not like I’ll be ordering Wolverhampton season tickets any time soon. It’s fun to hear friends who root for top English teams debate who’s going to win the Premier League, and then see their confused faces when I chime in with a, “Yeah, um, I root for Wolverhampton.” But it also makes me feel like the hipster who snootily tells his colleagues about the band he saw at the VFW Annex with like 30 other people before they really blew up, without much chance that my team is ever going to “blow up” given the current economic realities of worldwide soccer. So, do I really need to be that guy?

"Yeah, I saw the Wanderers open for the Cheese Cloths in my buddy Occam's basement back in '06. They were okay." Courtesy of PBS.



Maybe Rand is right. Especially after last night’s lightning-quick 3-goal 3rd-period turnaround comeback victory against a good Anaheim Ducks team, maybe this team is worth the extra attention it would take to add another horse to the ol’ Sports Stable. And really, enough of these teams are mediocre enough where I could probably just take the next few months off for a Wild sabbatical and not miss much.

I guess what I’m proposing is a trial period, or a sort of “sign then drive” policy for when a fan starts to have an interest in a new sport, or in following a local team in an “acquaintance” sport more closely. 

My reading assignment for this week. Courtesy of Amazon.

If it turns out that the actual motion of watching the sport, either on TV or in person (and I think, to really give the new team a chance, you have to try both), doesn’t strike your fancy, then no harm, no foul. You’ve at least got a story for conversations with friends, who may try and convince you to give a team a second shot—in which case, you can do your own personal inventory like I just did above! But if the trial period is successful, the mechanics of how closely you follow the rest of your “preferred teams” will naturally work themselves out.

I’m curious to hear how other fans of multiple teams deal with their simultaneous fandoms, so if you’ve got any ideas, I’m all ears.

But for now, here I go, diving in to the highlights and box scores of last night’s Wild game. And in a few hours, you can find me in the upper deck seats of the Target Center, rooting on the Wolves. Later this week, I’ll be watching if the Gophers basketball squad can turn around their current skid in a big game at Ohio State.

Let’s go team(s).


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