Yesterday, my beloved Golden Gophers stooped to yet another low by dropping their home opener to the Division I FCS South Dakota Cougars. While I wouldn’t qualify this as a heartbreak, since my expectations are so pathetically low for this particular team, it was still a big disappointment due to the embarrassment of it. So out of this shame, I was brought to the place where I pondered all of my past experiences as a sports fan, and I came up with my worst heartbreaks as a sports fan. I’ve had far worse heartbreaks as an athlete myself, but those are a completely different part of my life, so I’m not going to include any of those stories.
June 26th, 2010 – World Cup Round of 16 – Ghana 2, USA 1
I had all out World Cup fever after the exciting group stage that the USA actually won. It set up perfectly for us to be favored all the way to the final four of the World Cup, but the US stayed true to their colors by giving up an early goal in both regulation and extra time, and didn’t have enough fire power to overcome the deficit twice. My Saturday was a sad one after that.
April 7th, 2008 – NCAA Championship Game – Kansas 75, Memphis 68 OT
This is the only heartbreak that doesn’t involve any of “my teams”, but I was/am such a Derrick Rose fan, that I desperately wanted Memphis to win this game, and somehow I just could not shake the sick feeling I got when they blew that game. All they had to do was foul Mario Chalmers before he could get that shot off. Derrick should have just made both of his free throws.
October 7th, 2006 – Penn State Nittany Lions 28, Minnesota Golden Gophers 27 OT
You’ll find that this won’t be the last time that the Gopher football team will show up in this post, but this one just might be the most ironic. Justin Gianini routinely liked to miss extra points for our team when they usually didn’t matter. So of course the one time he missed an extra point in a tight game, it had to come back and bite us Gopher fans in the collective butt. Our team was trash that year, but we wanted that Liberty Bell. When we went up by a touchdown, we knew the missed extra point would come back to haunt us, but we just hoped it wouldn’t. On Penn State’s ensuing possession, we got a 4th down stop and seemingly won the game, but a phantom PI call gave them the 1st down they needed to go on and score, and you’ll never guess what happened: they made their extra point.
January 17th, 2008 – Indiana Hoosiers 65, Minnesota Golden Gophers 60
If it weren’t for the loss, this would have went down as my favorite night ever in the Barn. I’ve heard that place loud and rowdy, but that night in particular stood out for just how crazy it was even before tip-off. We were a quality team in desperate need of some signature wins over ranked opponents to make the tournament that year, and unfortunately we couldn’t hold on that night.
January 23rd, 2010 – Michigan State Spartans 65, Minnesota Golden Gophers 64
Just this last winter, the Gophers again needed to start getting some quality wins if they had post-season aspirations. Despite leading the entire game, we let Kalin Lucas break our hearts with a deep 3 from straight on to take a 1 point lead, and then couldn’t come up with a quality look at the basket afterward. All I wanted to do was forget that game, and I attempted to sleep it off. It didn’t work.
The Top Ten
10. “He’s Human After All” – May 7th-18th, 1995 – Orlando Magic Defeat the Chicago Bulls 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals
This is the only playoff series that I can recall Michael Jordan losing. I was too young to remember the days before the Bulls were winning titles, and in ’94 Jordan was off playing baseball, so if it weren’t for this series, I would think that Michael Jordan was incapable of losing a postseason series. Clearly, Jordan wasn’t fully back in his best basketball shape, as he had groomed his body to be a baseball player, but when I was 8 years old, I wasn’t smart enough to realize that. I didn’t care that we were the #5 seed and Orlando was #1. I just knew that Michael Jordan was the best basketball player of all time, and my beloved Chicago Bulls weren’t supposed to lose. I think I was more in shock than anything else. I wish I could have that kind of confidence about my teams nowadays, but I’ve seen too much. Let’s move on.
9. “The Un-Retirement” – August 18th, 2009 – Brett Favre Signs With Minnesota Vikings
From May to August, I nervously waited for some sort of definitive announcement about whether Favre would stay retired for the 2nd time, or sign with the Minnesota Vikings. I was against it from day 1 since I’m a big T-Jack guy, and I saw how Favre drove the Jets into the ground, but most of all, I could not accept my least favorite athlete of all time joining my favorite football team. I remember that when I was on a mission trip, I checked ESPN.com and saw what I had been waiting and hoping for: Favre announced that he would stay retired. My level of relief was comparable to this guy. This, of course, only made it that much harder to take when Favre “changed his mind” and signed with the Vikings 3 weeks later. The season saw us go on to win 12 games and get 1 game away from the Super Bowl, but it was tainted by the stench of old beer brats, cheese curds, and Miller High Life that Favre had on him from playing in Green Bay for 16 years. It’s also the reason why you won’t find Saints 31, Vikings 28 on this list, because quite frankly, I saw it coming. And of course, this nightmare isn’t over for me yet.
8. “The Collapse” – December 29th, 2006 – Insight Bowl – Texas Tech Red Raiders 44, Minnesota Golden Gophers 41
It’s funny how expectations can change so many times within a season, and even within a game. Those shifting expectations then, can also reflect the instability of someone’s job security. Glen Mason signed a contract extension before the 2006 season, and since Laurence Maroney had just left the program, his job would be safe as long as he had an average season with 5-7 wins. Check out the Gopher’s season schedule and results from that year. We took care of the easy non-conference opponents and lost a game on the road against a preseason #9 Cal team, so typical Mason team so far. We then lost 4 straight conference games, and when the up and coming North Dakota State Bison came to town, the entire student section was shouting “Fi-re Ma-son”. After we squeaked out a 10-9 win, we had to go to Columbus to get embarrassed 44-0 and be 3-6 on the season, and at this point, Mason’s job had to be in serious jeopardy. Somehow, Mason rallied the troops for 3 straight victories, including a 34-24 win over rival Iowa and a trip to Tempe, Arizona for the Insight Bowl. Surely, he had saved his job at this point. And now, Mason had zero expectations, as nobody thought our traditionally terrible pass defense could hope to contain the high octane Red Raider passing attack. But when the Gophers led 38-7 with 7:47 remaining in the 3rd quarter, it was assumed we would win. When our team went on to allow the biggest comeback in college football bowl game history, I was a mixture of angry, sad, shocked, and just empty. The next day, Mason was fired, and a new chapter of Golden Gopher football was weeks away from starting: The Tim Brewster Era.
7. May 21st-31st, 2004 – Los Angeles Lakers Defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals
Despite growing up a Bulls fan, after Jordan and Pippen left the Bulls and were no longer on national TV, I couldn’t really follow my favorite team anymore. So I adopted the Timberwolves as my second team, and since they’re in the Western Conference, I figured this wouldn’t really ever cause any Sophie’s Choice type scenarios. So by 2004, I was all in on the Wolves. Kevin Garnett was by far my favorite active player, and I was convinced that he was the best player in the world. I watched every single game that I could, and truly believed that our team was good enough to finally beat the hated LA Lakers. Despite the mismatch of Shaq against any one of our lousy centers, what hurt the most was that when we lost game 6 and were eliminated, reserve shooting guard Kareem Rush hit every big shot down the stretch, including 6 3-pointers, and was the guy that beat us. Kobe, Shaq, Malone, and Payton all were effective against us, but we let one guy who never seemed to be relevant before or after that series decide the outcome in the elimination game. It was devastating, and the Wolves never seemed to recover, as they haven’t returned to the postseason since.
6. “The Pick-6” – November 1st, 2008 – Northwestern Wildcats 24, Minnesota Golden Gophers 17
Tim Brewster fell flat on his face in his first season by going 1-11, including a loss against Div. I FCS North Dakota State, after promising so much that some fans actually thought he could take us to the Rose Bowl in year one. But in year 2, Brewster had seemingly turned things around. We beat the cupcake non-conference opponents, and besides losing by a couple scores to the powerhouse Buckeyes early in Big Ten Play, we were taking care of business. We were 7-1 on the year, including 3-1 in conference, and we brought a #20 ranking into what seemed to be a loser-proof game against the Northwestern Wildcats. Things didn’t go quite as planned, as backup quarterback Mike Kafka ran for some 200 some yards on us, and just made our defense look like fools. But by the end of the game, we were finally stifling the Wildcat attack, and had all the momentum to take into overtime. We got the ball deep in our own territory with under a minute left, but Brewster wasn’t content to play for OT, he wanted the win. Our quarterback threw a deep pass down the middle of the field to his go-to receiver, Eric Decker, and the normally reliable Decker let the ball bounce off his hands, and into the grasp of the Northwestern defender, who took it back all the way to end zone, with 12 seconds remaining. You have got to be kidding me. Much like many other years, the Gophers couldn’t come back from this type of loss, and they went on to lose the next four games after to finish the year 7-6. So much for Brewster turning the program around. By the way, that was my senior homecoming game, and I brought my parents, brother, sister, and another friend to the game that day. I simply said to my family after the game, “Welcome to the life of a Golden Gopher football fan.”
5. “The Trade” – March 2nd, 2005 – Minnesota Vikings trade Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for Napoleon Harris and #7 Overall Pick
I remember being in our family’s living room and I turned on Sportscenter. The news was announced that we had just traded our franchise player, and my favorite Viking of all time, to the Oakland Raiders. Never mind that it was a horrible trade since we ended up getting a pick that was wasted on Troy Williamson and linebacker Napoleon Harris, who never amounted to anything, but the fact that our organization would trade away a fan favorite, once-in-a-lifetime talent like Randy Moss is beyond any amount of certifiable insanity. I will never forgive our franchise for that. I felt so betrayed that day, but the feelings of betrayal truly came to fruition when the next season came and our offense no longer could move the ball at all. That trade killed Mike Tice’s coaching career, and Daunte Culpepper’s career as a quarterback. You can preach Herschel Walker, Pau Gasol, Babe Ruth, or whoever you want, but giving up Moss like we did, over a couple of stupid, blown out of proportion stunts, is the worst trade in the history of sports in my book.
4. “No!” – December 28th, 2003 – Arizona Cardinals 18, Minnesota Vikings 17
Sure, the 2003 Vikings weren’t going to win the Super Bowl, and you could say we got what we deserved for not wrapping up the division weeks before, but when the Vikings choked this game away, it was absolutely surreal. It looked like it was out of a movie. You couldn’t make it up. I distinctly remember not being able to sleep that night, and neither could my brother, and so we decided the only way we could possibly attempt to forget about the loss was to watch Dumb & Dumber. It didn’t work.
3. “41-Donut” – January 14th, 2001 – NFC Championship Game – New York Giants 41, Minnesota Vikings 0
Only 2 years removed from the best Vikings team I’d ever seen, this team stumbled to the finish and held on to the 1st round bye by finishing 11-5. They looked sharp for the first time in over a month by dominating the Saints in the divisional round, and so all of sudden I, along with all the other Viking fans, were supremely confident that we could go into the Meadowlands and push the Giants around. Things didn’t go quite as planned. We didn’t even need to make the trip to New York. To not even manage a single score was just embarrassing, and I just want to forget it. Why did I decide to write this post again?
2. “The Muffed Snap” – October 15th, 2005 – Wisconsin Badgers 38, Minnesota Golden Gophers 34
Once upon a time, I was a wide-eyed freshman who knew nothing about the heartbreak that would come hand in hand with being a Gopher football fan. I already knew that I didn’t like the Wisconsin Badgers because they are our biggest rivals, and I already hated the Packers, so I figured they had a lot of the same fans. I was going to learn what it meant to truly be a Gopher fan that day, and it would only fuel the fires of disdain for the University of Wisconsin. Our team built a 10 point lead with about 2 minutes to go despite missing our starting quarterback that day, and then went on to purely choke it like only the maroon and gold could. It was all capped off by a perfect snap being muffed by our punter Justin Kucek, and then his attempt at a punt was blocked and just barely stayed in the end zone for the Badgers to recover for the game winning touchdown with under 30 seconds to go. Just like the Northwestern loss in 2008, my team never recovered, and finished the year 7-5, when before that late game collapse, we were 5-1 and ranked in the top 25. As I left the stadium that day, I felt so miserable that I just went home and took a nap. The hundreds if not thousands of Badger fans all around our campus were constantly flashing choke signs at us, and just couldn’t contain themselves. I was scarred that day, and have said many foolish things about Wisconsin since that I’ve learned were wrong and have come to regret. Okay, just one more to get through.
1. January 17th, 1999 – NFC Championship Game – Atlanta Falcons 30, Minnesota Vikings 27
There’s no cute little nickname I could give this game. It really doesn’t need one. I am far too young to have seen any of the Vikings’ 4 Super Bowl losses, so this game is the standard all other heartbreaks are measured against for me. I always thought of this team as the greatest team to not win the Super Bowl, but perhaps you could say the 2007 Patriots have taken that title now, so we’ll easily give the Vikings the greatest team to not even make the Super Bowl. When I think of that team, I just smile because of the joy they gave me. I remember even in the preseason, that I was certain it was “our year”, and that nobody could stand up to us. Randy Moss was that final, essential piece of the puzzle that would transform our offense from a good one, to a top 3 offense of all time. I can play the “ifs and buts” game all day for that game, but that just hurts even more. Gary Anderson gets an unfair share of the blame, but that being said, there’s no excuse for missing a 38 yard field goal, and keep in mind the guy didn’t miss a kick all year! We won the toss and had the ball twice in OT. I guess we just tightened up under the pressure or something like that. If you’re a Vikings fan, and you want to remember the good old days of ’98, check this out. But I’m warning you, it might make you cry. (I’m not a crier, but I get really emotional when I watch it.)
Well, there you have it. Those are my heartbreaks. But don’t feel too bad for me. I have seen my favorite basketball team win 6 NBA Championships (4 of which I can actually remember). Even if I don’t have any other titles to my name as a fan, I’m so blessed to have seen the number of great games that I have. Some day, I’ll write about my greatest sports memories, but that will have to come after a team of mine takes me to that place. We could be waiting a while.