Perhaps the players on our favorite Minnesota sports teams should consider another profession: firefighting. Despite seasons awash in mediocrity, the Vikings, Wild, and Wolves have all been putting out major fires as of late. The burning objects were not houses or forests; they were the hottest teams in their respective sports. Let’s run a fine tooth analytical comb through each over-achievement to see just what happened.
Vikings vs Eagles
Philadelphia strutted into the Metrodome having won their last five games, catapulting themselves to a solid NFC East division lead, becoming media darlings in the process. The NFL’s talking (meat)heads raved about Chip Kelly’s rapid-fire innovative offensive approach, they fawned over Nick Foles’ incredible 20:1 TD to INT ratio, and they swooned over the fact that the Eagles had not allowed more than 21 points in any of their last nine games. The strong defense and high-flying offense prompted Vegas to tab Philly as a five point road favorite, essentially saying they thought the Eagles would win by more than a touchdown. (Home teams are usually spotted three points before the line is even released.)
Not that anyone living outside the walls of a mental institution disagreed with this prediction. The Vikings were without Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Kyle Rudolph, Xavier Rhodes, and a few other starters. So a hamstrung Vikings team was ready to be brought to the slaughter in front of the home fans and would further cement their place in the top five in next year’s draft once the day’s beating was complete.
But the Vikings had other ideas. The purple piled up 48 points, the most since the magical 1998 season, as Matt Cassel dismantled the Philly pass defense for 382 yards and three touchdowns. In the process of this upset, Cassel turned himself into the undisputed favorite to lead the Vikings next season and some are even now wondering if Leslie Frazier’s ability to keep his team playing hard during a lost season will buy him another year at the helm.
It was a thoroughly unexpected, thoroughly enjoyable dousing of a team on fire.
Wild vs Vancouver
Going into Tuesday night’s game, the Canucks were the hottest team in the NHL, having won seven in a row. They were climbing the standings and Roberto Luongo had Vancouver fans thinking they once again had the top goalie in the league. Fortunately for the Wild, the actual best goalie in the league happens to wear a Wild jersey. Josh Harding was his usual brick wall self, stopping 29 of 31 shots and stoning the ‘Nucks on all three of their shootout attempts.
The floundering Wild came away with a huge 3-2 SO victory to keep pace with Vancouver in the standings.
For the second time in three days a Minnesota team had cooled off a flaming juggernaut.
Wolves vs Trailblazers
At 22-4, the Portland Trailblazers were, well, blazing. NBA experts were starting to turn their noses up at the Miami’s and Indiana’s of the league and were now cozying up to the newest latest and greatest team. Local hospitals reported a spike in emergency room visits due to injuries sustained by so many people trying to hop on to the Blazers’ speeding bandwagon. In short, everyone loved Portland and a steamrolling of the scuffling T-pups was a foregone conclusion.
A Wolves team that had just been embarrassed by an awful Boston team pulled a Jekyll and Hyde and came out firing, taking a 26 point halftime lead. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic were unstoppable, combining for 59 points and 24 rebounds, and Love finished one assist short of a triple-double. The Blazers made a late push, but Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin sank their free throws to seal the 120-109 victory.
Yet another team had arrived in Minnesota as a towering inferno and left as a humbled smoking stump.
Despite these inspiring victories, we MN fans are still left with uncertain sports futures to contemplate.
- The Vikings have played well as of late, but who the QB and coach will be next season are still up in the air, and a heavy roster turnover looms with players like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams coming to the end of their contracts. It’s anybody’s guess how good or how bad this team will be next year.
- The Wild have been as bad offensively as they have been good defensively, creating a maddening mix that has them stuck at the low end of potential playoff teams. (A 5-2 crushing at the hands of an injury-depleted Pittsburgh team last night didn’t help.) Unless their young guys start putting the puck in the net, another one and done playoff disappointment is on the menu. They will have some cap space in the offseason, so perhaps the missing ingredient can be brought in should their own prospects fail to emerge.
- The T-wolves still have a terrible bench and Ricky Rubio continues to display a troubling inability to hit open shots. With so little depth and a top player that opposing teams don’t need to guard beyond ten feet from the basket, the Wolves, if they do make the playoffs, will have no shot in a seven game series against Western Conference Goliaths Portland, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. This team needs some scoring off the bench (J.J. Barea doesn’t count), and I don’t see the currently healing Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf providing that when they return.
It is hard to have faith that our teams will find the promised land anytime soon, but given their recent streak of ending other teams’ streaks, there is reason to have at least a microscopic sliver of hope. If these teams can sustain these types of efforts (next season for the Vikes), then noise can be made in the playoffs, and we all know that when team chemistry is peaking and Uncle Mo is on your side, then catching fire is a real possibility.
Let’s just hope there is no one there to put it out.