Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Minnesota: Our 25 Worst Losses, Ever

In case you missed it, on Monday, ESPN.com's Bill Simmons put out an updated version of his landmark "Levels of Losing" column. The readers immediately responded with some other suggestions, two of which were from Minnesota readers.

But folks, we can do better than that. We're Minnesota sports fans! All we know is losing!

Below is my list of the worst 25 Minnesota losses of all time. As a warning, many of these games will dredge up very painful memories, so you may want to stop reading right now. I'm serious. Some of these cause a huge rock to drop into the pit of my stomach, even after all of these years.

HONORABLE MENTION

Three huge collapses by the Gopher football team:
December 28, 2000 - North Carolina State 38, Gophers 30 (MicronPC.com Bowl) - After taking a 24-0 lead, the Gophers gave up 310 yards passing and 30 second-half points, including the game-winning touchdown with 2:10 left to come from ahead to lose what appeared to be their first bowl win since 1985.
October 28, 2000 - Northwestern 41, Gophers 35 - Up 35-21 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Gophers allowed three touchdowns - including a Hail Mary as time expired - to lose on Homecoming.
December 29, 2006 - Texas Tech 44, Gophers 41 - Up 38-7 midway through the third quarter, the Gophers allowed the biggest comeback in bowl history, culminating with a game-tying field goal as time expired, then a loss in overtime. So bad, it got Glen Mason fired.

Two confusing ("How'd they manage that?") Gopher football collapses

September 29, 2001 - Purdue 35, Gophers 28 (OT) - The Gophers led 28-25 with seventeen seconds remaining and the ball on Purdue's 19-yard line, and the Boilermakers had zero timeouts. Unassailable? Sure - until the Boilermakers got two quick first downs, then ran the field goal unit and kicked a field goal with no time left on the clock to tie it. In overtime, the Gophers went second, after Purdue scored, and scored to answer - until a referee, confused by the pattern in which the end zone was painted (really), called the receiver out of bounds.
October 7, 2006 - Penn State 28, Gophers 27 (OT) - After scoring on its first possession in overtime, Minnesota hit the post on the extra point. On the ensuing possession, the Gophers were flagged for a bogus interference call (the conference apologized for the call later that week), on a play which would have ended the game.

Update from comments: Another honorable mention:
March 15, 1998 - Minnesota-Duluth 5, Minnesota 4 (OT) - The Gophers led 4-0 with 14 minutes to play at the DECC, with a trip to the Final Five on the line. Over the next fifteen minutes, everything fell completely apart, culminating in Mike Peluso's game-winner 10:49 into overtime. In a lot of ways, it was the beginning of the end for Doug Woog's time behind the bench in Minnesota.

Another update from the comments: Two more worthy of inclusion:
November 6, 2000 - Green Bay 26, Vikings 20, OT - It was Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field, a game that went to overtime. Brett Favre threw deep for Antonio Freeman, but Vikings corner Cris Dishman was there to knock it away. Or so he - and we - thought; the ball landed on top of Freeman's prone body, and with nothing better to do, he seized it before it rolled off, then got up and ran it into the end zone. The play provoked a fairly famous call from Al Michaels - "He did WHAT?" screamed Al, upon seeing the replay - and also provoked much Packer/Viking strife in mixed gatherings across the country.
March 3, 2002 - Illinois 67, Gophers 66 - Leading by several scores, at Williams Arena, with time winding down in a game that CBS was televising across the nation, Minnesota needed only to hold onto the basketball and make a few free throws to take the win. It would give the Gophers a 10-6 conference record, and virtually guarantee an NCAA tournament berth. But in less time than it took me to type those two sentences, guard Kevin Burleson had thrown the ball away upwards of 43 times, and Illinois had made a miraculous comeback to win. The Illini ended up with a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. The Gophers ended up in the NIT.

Two playoff series that were like slow torture

May 21-31, 2004 - Los Angeles 4, Timberwolves 2 (Western Conference Finals)
It was more the sum total of this six-game series that we remember, more than anything: the refs sent Kobe to the line about 40,000 times in this series, often when no Timberwolf was anywhere near him. The Wolves had been the West's best team that year, but in this - the team's only trip past the first round of the playoffs - it couldn't get past the eight-man Lakers (three wore referee gray) to make the Finals. This series was the beginning of the end of the KG in Minnesota era.
May 10-May 16, 2003 - Anaheim 4, Wild 0 (Western Conference Finals)
Wild fans still curse the very name of Jean-Sebastian Gigure, who donned equipment that would have fit Andre the Giant, then went out and held the upstart Wild to exactly one goal in four games. Minnesota was making another underdog run, and had defeated Colorado and Vancouver after being down 3-1 in both series, giving Minnesota fans hope for another Stanley Cup run. Instead - crushing, horrible defeat.

Three guys taken before their time should have been up
May 20, 2000 - Malik Sealy, Timberwolves guard, killed by a drunk driver who was on the wrong side of a divided highway
August 1, 2001 - Korey Stringer, Vikings tackle, died from heat stroke during training camp
January 15, 1968 - Bill Masterson, North Stars forward, hit his head on the ice during a game and died - the only fatality resulting from an on-ice incident in NHL history

THE LIST
25. North Stars move to Dallas following 1993 season
The North Stars, one of the original 1967 expansion teams, were bought by Norm Green (one of the worst owners in sports history) in 1990. Green's shopping mall empire began to fail financially, he was accused of sexual harassment, and so - partially to help him cover himself - he demanded that the city of Bloomington and state of Minnesota, basically, give him money. The city and state refused, and so Green took our team and moved it to a place they'd never heard of hockey. The franchise would win a Stanley Cup within six years of the move, a last stab to the heart of the die-hard North Stars fans.

24. March 24, 2006 - Holy Cross 4, Gophers 3 (NCAA Regional Semifinal)
It'll go down as the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history. The first win by a team from a non-major conference. The first loss by a #1 seed. And perhaps the most embarrassing day in Gopher hockey history.

23. January 13, 1974 - Miami 24, Vikings 7 (Super Bowl VIII)
Miami won the coin toss (as Bud Grant later said, perhaps the turning point of the game), then scored on its first two possessions, running the Vikings out of Houston. Once again, the Vikings had made it all the way to football's grandest stage, and failed.

22. September 28, 1984 - Cleveland 11, Twins 10
Part of the famous 1984 Twins collapse, when the team went into the final week of the season tied for the AL West lead, then lost six straight to end the season. This one was the day after the famous Jamie Quirk game, when Ron Davis gave up a two-out, ninth-inning home run to Quirk to lose to the Indians, in what was Quirk's only hit that season. The Twins took a 9-0 lead in this one, then gave up seven in the seventh, followed by Ron Davis losing for the second time in as many days in the bottom of the ninth and killing any title hopes for Minnesota.

21. March 24, 1996 - Michigan 4, Gophers 3 (NCAA Regional Final)
The Mike Legg game. I don't want to talk about it.

20. January 9, 1977 - Oakland 32, Vikings 14 (Super Bowl XI)
Completing the quadfecta, Fran Tarkenton threw two interceptions in the red zone, and Brent McClanahan fumbled on his way into the end zone, robbing Minnesota of points it desperately needed. It was the Vikings' fourth Super loss in a seven-year span, a shocking total that has yet to be softened with a win.

19. March 27, 1981 - Wisconsin 6, Gophers 3 (NCAA Championship Game)
It was perhaps the best Minnesota team of all time, and they got beat in the final by a Badger team that talked its way into the tournament. The "Backdoor Badgers," they called them, and the Gophers - who beat Wisconsin 6-3 and 8-4 in January - were denied a title.

18. January 12, 1975 - Pittsburgh 16, Vikings 6 (Super Bowl IX)
The Vikings missed a field goal, took a safety after a fumble in their own end zone, fumbled on the Steelers' 5-yard line, lost an interception in the Steelers' end zone... is there a pattern emerging here? Minnesota's only points came on a blocked punt, and even then, they missed the extra point. The offense ended the day with a zero on the board and a grand total of 117 yards in the book, their third Super Bowl failure and their second in two years.

17. October 1, 1967 - Boston 5, Twins 3
The Twins went into Boston needing one win in a two-game series to clinch the AL pennant, but a seventh-inning homer by Carl Yastrzemski put that one out of reach. On Sunday, with the pennant in the balance, the Twins took a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth. Dean Chance - who won twenty that year - gave up four singles and a fielder's choice, Minnesota went behind 5-2, and couldn't close the gap farther than 5-3. The Twins lost the final three games that year, when one win in any of them would have at least tied them for the title, and one win in the last two would have given them the pennant and the World Series berth.

16. October 9, 2004 - Michigan 27, Gophers 24
Up 24-17 in the fourth quarter, Minnesota fans hoped to see the Gophers escape the shadow of the previous year. Michigan, however, had other plans; a touchdown pass with less than two minutes to go was the final nail in the coffin. The dream denied for another year.

15. March 25, 1990 - Georgia Tech 93, Gophers 91 (NCAA Regional Final)
Okay, we're still okay here. We can come back for the win, we've just got to push the ball up the floor and get a good shot, tie it, maybe win it- wait. Wait a second. Kevin Lynch, what are you doing? What are you - no! Don't throw up a wild shot from the corner! Don't - ohhhh....

14. January 11, 1970 - Kansas City 23, Vikings 7 (Super Bowl IV)
Minnesota was a 13-point favorite in this one, with most expecting the team to easily defeat the Chiefs. Instead, the Vikings threw three interceptions and fumbled three times, and lost in its first Super Bowl appearance and first - and maybe best - chance at a title.

13. The 1996-97 Gopher basketball season - NCAA 1, Gophers 0
Hear that, Gopher fans? The best season in Gopher history - Big Ten title, Final Four appearance, etc. - it never happened. Never happened, sorry, please erase your memories.

12. May 25, 1991 - Pittsburgh 8, North Stars 0 (Game 6, Stanley Cup Final)
It was the culmination of one of the greatest underdog runs in hockey history - Minnesota, a team with a losing record in the regular season, had beaten the best in the Campbell Conference to come up against the mighty Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. The North Stars were down 3-2, but were coming back home to Minnesota, in front of America's most rabid hockey fans, to try to even the series.

Instead, the Penguins scored early, then often, then a couple more times for good measure. When it finished, it was 8-0, one of the ugliest deciding games in Stanley Cup history, the exact parallel of the 41-0 loss the Vikings would suffer almost ten years later in the NFC Championship game.

11. October 6, 2004 - New York 7, Twins 6 (Game 2, ALDS)
Torii Hunter homered in the top of the 12th to give the Twins a 6-5 lead, putting Minnesota on the verge of heading back to Minneapolis with a 2-0 series lead. But Joe Nathan, entering his third inning of work, walked Miguel Cairo and Derek Jeter, then allowed a double to A-Rod and a sacrifice fly from Hideki Matsui to lose it. It was always an uphill battle to beat the Yankees, and so this one felt like Ivan Drago coming off the canvas to knock Rocky out for good.

10. October 9, 2004 - New York 6, Twins 5 (Game 4, ALDS)
The Twins, fighting to keep the series alive for a fifth and deciding game, led 5-1 with just six outs to go. Enter super-setup guy Juan Rincon. Five batters later, Ruben Sierra was circling the bases with a game-tying three-run homer; the Yankees would win it in the 11th when Kyle Lohse wild-pitched A-Rod home. Another Ivan Drago moment, and the occasion of the famous Juan Rincon quote, "Nobody wants to be in my pants right now."

9. October 15, 2005 - Wisconsin 38, Gophers 34
The Gophers scored with 3:27 left to make it 34-24. Normal fans everywhere turned off the game. But Wisconsin scored in less than two minutes to make it 34-31, the Gophers couldn't get a first down on the ensuing possession and had to punt. Punter Justin Kucek dropped the snap - just dropped it - and in the ensuing scramble, the punt was blocked and returned for a Badger touchdown. To add a final twist of the knife, the Gophers fumbled the ensuing kickoff.

8. October 13, 2002 - Anaheim 13, Twins 5 (Game 5, ALCS)
Struggling uphill against a red-hot Angels team, the Twins took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh, hoping to send the series back to Minnesota for games 6 and 7. And then...here's the Anaheim seventh: single, single, homer, single, single, single, walk, strikeout, single, wild pitch, single, single, hit by pitch, RBI groundout, strikeout. 10 runs, 10 hits, no errors. The Twins did just enough to give us hope, then Adam F***ing Kennedy trod on us all.

7. April 1, 1989 - Harvard 4, Gophers 3, OT (NCAA Championship Game)
Randy Skarda had an open net but hit the pipe in overtime, a goal that would have given Minnesota its first title in ten years. Instead, a soft backhander got through Hobey Baker winner Robb Stauber, and Minnesota had to wait 13 more years for a title.

6. January 17, 1988 - Washington 17, Vikings 10 (1987 NFC Championship Game)
:56 left in the game, the Vikings had the ball on the Redskins' 6, with fourth down and four yards to go. Wade Wilson found Darrin Nelson open in the flat - he was open, he could have waltzed in! - but Nelson dropped the pass. Washington ran out the clock, and that was the end of Minnesota's run.

5. January 14, 2001 - New York Giants 41, Vikings 0 (2000 NFC Championship Game)
The Giants took the ball and scored. The Vikings fumbled the ensuing kickoff. The Giants scored again. It was 14-0 before the offense even got on the field. It was 34-0 at halftime. Daunte Culpepper threw three interceptions, Randy Moss yelled at everybody, and it eventually ended 41-0, an absolute butt-kicking when Vikings fans were hoping against hope to avenge the pain from just two years earlier.

4. October 10, 2003 - Michigan 38, Gophers 35
Minnesota was 6-0 for the first time in living memory, and actually had a chance to beat Michigan, a feat they had not accomplished since 1986. The Gophers led 28-7 going into the fourth quarter, but allowed four Michigan touchdowns in less than 10 minutes, then lost on a field goal with less than a minute remaining. A dream for me, denied. Too old to cry over a football game, I instead spent a very long night staring at the ceiling, un-sleeping, wondering if I'd ever experience happiness in life.

3. December 28, 2003 - Arizona 18, Vikings 17
Minnesota began the year 6-0, then slumped, but had a chance to make the playoffs with a victory over the Cardinals. The Vikings led 17-6, then gave up a touchdown, failed to recover the ensuing onside kick, then took a bogus pass interference call with the game almost over. With the Vikings now up 17-12, it came down to the final play of the game, with Arizona quarterback Josh McCown heaving the ball into the end zone. Cardinals receiver Nate Poole caught the pass, but was going to land out of bounds; however, he made contact with a Vikings defender, and the referees, inconceivably, ruled that Poole had been pushed out and the catch would stand. Replays showed Poole would not have come down in bounds, but the play was un-reviewable; thirty-eight years to the day from the Drew Pearson game, the Vikings were again out of the playoffs thanks to inept officiating.

Bill Simmons called the game the worst regular-season loss in NFL history, and prompted Vikings radio guy Paul Allen's famous call (SCREAMING the whole time): "Here it is, the season's on the line, two receivers left and right. McCown, takes the snap, he steps up, he's all by himself, fires into the end zone... CAUGHT! (anguished scream) TOUCHDOWN! NOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOO!"

Back to Simmons, for the final commentary: " More importantly, that was the fourth Stomach Punch game for the Vikes in less than 30 years. Even the Sox didn't have that many over that same span. And yet you would never see a documentary about Vikings fans, a passionate group who have to rank among the most tortured fans in sports."

2. December 28, 1975 - Dallas 17, Vikings 14 (NFC Divisional Playoff)
Perhaps the greatest of all of the Bud Grant Vikings teams, and it was defeated by blatant pass interference. Trailing 14-10, Dallas drove to midfield, then Roger Staubach launched a pass downfield for Drew Pearson, who pushed Vikings cornerback Nate Wright to the ground, then caught the ball on his hip - his hip! - and waltzed into the end zone. This play coined the term "Hail Mary," and - I don't think I'm being hyperbolic here - was the worst call by an official in the history of organized team sports. The '75 Vikings were the NFL's best team, and could have been the team to end the team's Super curse. Instead, we got a new football term, and more heartache.

1. January 17, 1999 - Atlanta 30, Vikings 27, OT (1998 NFC Championship Game)
The Vikings were 16-1 going into this game. They were the best offensive football team in the history of the NFL. After four Super Bowl losses, this was the team to end Minnesota's football woes. And with 2:10 remaining, Vikings kicker Gary Anderson - who had not missed a kick, extra point nor field goal, ALL SEASON - trotted on to seal it, with the Vikings up 27-20. It was a 38-yard try. And the kick sailed and...

No good.

If you wrote it in a movie, it'd be too unbelievable, and you would be berated for crushing people. But there were final twists of the knife to go; Dwayne Rudd had an interception in his hands on the ensuing Falcons drive and dropped it, the Vikings got the ball first in overtime, and none of it was enough.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the walk down memory lane. Excuse me while I go slit my wrists.

Chris said...

RE: Simmons

That's because you'll never see a Minnesota writer shameless enough to bring up in the Vikings in a discussion of a Red Sox/Yankees game.

I was surprised Mike Legg trumped the Holy Cross game. I would have thought Holy Cross would have been worse since Minnesota was a heavy favorite to win the title that year, while the Gophers would have been the underdog in their last three tournament games in '96.

Stu said...

Every word, every letter, every punctuation mark of this entry hurt, Marthaler. I don't know how you managed to write it without hanging yourself from your shower curtain rod. Hockey season must be close.

Jon Marthaler said...

Chris -

The only reason that the Mike Legg game is that high, is that we're forced to relive the shame over and over and over and over again. Nobody mentions the Holy Cross game anymore (except for UND fans in college hockey-specific communities), but that damn Legg goal still gets national airplay.

And every time, I think the same thing: "Steve! Look behind you! NOOO!"

P "N" K said...

I should have listened to the warning up front.

What a mistake.

Dave MN said...

The Michigan/Gopher game in 2003 will always be number 1 in my mind. That was a total disaster.

I lost my voice in the first quarter of that game and I was absolutely overwhelmed by the noise in there that night...and just as fast...it was gone...

I remember people walking out of the Dome and no one really knew what to do. I didn't know what to do..."should I just go...home?"

Anonymous said...

Sadly, these losses had a direct upside for Wisconsin (on top of MN losing of course):

24. The loss to Holy Cross made the NCAA Championship easier for the Badgers who later won it.

19. Badgers get an HCAA Championship

9. Badgers

3. This loss to ARI allowed the Packers to go to the playoffs

Keith said...

As someone who has been married to a Minnesotan for some time but just recently moved here I never understood what she was talking "about". Now I get it. Wow!

I must add that I will be at the XCEL tonight screaming my lungs out for the Wild.

As a huge sports fan who moved here from a town that had no pro sports within 180 miles I am so thankful that the Twin Cities has what it has. Can we say better to have loved and lost than to have never loved?

Blowsoft said...

No, we cannot, Keith. Take your cheery attitude and get the heck outta here.

Jon Marthaler said...

Keith - sadly, he's right. Most fans you meet will view the Vikings - especially the Vikings, who've given nothing but pain - as more of a cross to bear than a game to be enjoyed. Myself included. Zygi was half right the other day when he said that there was "a lot of patience" among Vikings fans - he's wrong in that we all want Childress fired tomorrow, but he's right in that we're used to failure, and will wait it out if necessary.

Kirk said...

This was a well-thought out list, and honestly, I don't know how you can't put MN as one of the three most tortured fan bases in sports (I guess right there with Philly and Cleveland). Remember when ESPN did the "Most Tortured Sports Cities" list back in 2004 and the Twin Cities were SIXTH??? Love that East Coast Bias....

Anonymous said...

We're used to failure, but it's failure on a high level. The Detroit Lions are failure. The Vikes represent exquisite, epic failure. Good enough to instill hope, then helplessly shred those hopes to pieces.

I fear that the Twins' World Series wins did terrible harm to Minnesota. Now we elect Republicans, our architecture blows, our TV news is as dim as LA's, our bridges fall down. We lost our Minnesotaness.

nalts said...

The only thing you forgot? Salt to rub in our wounds.

@ Anonymous"
October 05, 2007 11:35 AM

Whoa there a minute. You blame the republicans and bridges falling down on the Twins winning the World Series? That's a stretch.

Then again, maybe your right.

You seem to insinuate that the Dems win when life is all doom and gloom (and our sports teams suck), and the repubs win when life looks up (and our sports teams don't suck). If that's the case, then I'm with ya, brother! ;-)

Maybe this explains why half of our sports teams suck and the country is split half Dems and half Repubs?

ben said...

Your list is great. Except college hockey isn't really a sport. Pro hockey? Maybe. College basketball and football? Yes. College hockey? As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't exist. and what about Kirby's death?

Jon Marthaler said...

ben - when I was listing deaths, I was focusing on the guys that died during their careers. There are many - including Kirby - that could be listed as well.

Craig said...

This may be worth an HM, but back in '02 or '03 the Gopher b-ballers were playing Illinois at home. A win would likely have put us in the tourney. The game was on CBS. We were up by 4 with 30 seconds left and we had the ball. Twice we couldn't get the ball past half court, and they beat us. Ugh.

Jon Marthaler said...

Craig - oh, my goodness, the Kevin Burleson game! I threw lots of stuff during that one. Good call.

Matt said...

Nice encapsulation of the masochism of MN fans.

How about an honorable mention for the miraculous Antonio Freeman catch over the Vikings on MNF, winning the game while Chris Dishman celebrated thinking that it was an incompletion? Another instance where me and friends were left utterly speechless, not knowing what to do afterward.

Agreed there is a difference between teams like the Vikings and teams like the Lions and Saints. The Vikings are constantly good enough to give fans hope, then mercilessly crush it.

Pcentrist said...

Awsome. I was mentally writing this column after reading Simmons' story.

You left out the Eric Fox home run against the Twins in the 1992 regular season. The Twins were in first and headed to the playoffs when the wheels game off. Six weeks of grueling agony after that.

And how can you not mention Robert Smith in the No. 1 loss? On the final drive before the missed FG attempt he twice RAN OUT OF BOUNDS. Take a hit just once Roberta. That cost 50 seconds. Even after the miss the Falcons would have had like 15 seconds. It was all about the clock, not scoring any points. It was a inexcusable mental error and he did it twice. And you forgot to mention Denny Green took a knee with 60 seconds on the clock and the greatest offense of all time with the ball.

But I'm not bitter or anything.

Again, this column ruled.

Anonymous said...

Darren Nelson was horizontal to the ground and at the 0.5 yard line.