The Top Minnesota Sports Moments of the Decade

Written By Zone Coverage Staff (ZoneCoverage.com)

Enjoy our staff’s compilation of the top moments from each local team this past decade.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (Sam Ekstrom)

Was there any doubt about this one?

The team that had perfected the art of experiencing defeat amidst certain victory pulled the unlikeliest of victories from the jaws of defeat.

Two years after their most recent playoff gaffe, courtesy of Blair Walsh’s right leg, and eight years following their NFC Championship Game loss at the hands of the Bountygate Saints, the 2017 Minnesota Vikings had another crack at exorcising their playoff demons against New Orleans.

In front of a deafening crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings led the Divisional Round playoff game for over 50 minutes, which it appeared would only strengthen the potency of the gutpunch that was about to ensue.

Led by journeyman backup Case Keenum, the Vikings built an impressive 17-0 halftime lead with three-phase domination, only to see it dissolve in the second half with blunders from the offense, defense and special teams. Keenum threw an ugly interception, the defense began caving to Drew Brees’ every whim, and the Saints blocked a punt late to set up a go-ahead touchdown.

The final three minutes of the game was its own Shakespearean drama. Four scoring drives were completed in the final 3 minutes, 1 second. Both quarterbacks made clutch throws. Both kickers made clutch field goals. In the end, it appeared as if Minnesota’s 13-3 season was crashing down before the home fans’ eyes as Keenum faced a 3rd and 10 from the Vikings’ own 39-yard line, trailing 24-23. With no timeouts, the Vikings needed at least 25 yards to give Kai Forbath a reasonable chance at a last-ditch field goal.

What happened next was so improbable it ranked as the No. 9 play in NFL history during the league’s Top 100 countdown this fall.

Stefon Diggs’ score was the first walkoff touchdown in NFL playoff history, and it led to a chaotic on-field scene that only enhanced its place in football lore. Both teams flooded the field — half in celebration, half in despair — assuming the game had ended. Stefon Diggs was mobbed by teammates so aggressively, he nearly passed out. Meanwhile, officials embarked on a lengthy (and seemingly unnecessary) review to confirm the play, extending the life of the celebration to nearly eight minutes before the obligatory kneeldown. TV reporters fought through the throng to reach the heroes. Keenum led to an impromptu Skol Chant with the delirious crowd.

Alas, the Vikings’ season came to an abrupt end the following Sunday in a 38-7 loss at Philadelphia. For a select few, the eventual defeat spoiled the drama of the previous week. For most, however, the Minneapolis Miracle stands alone as a glorious moment in time that offered the most exhilarating triumph in Vikings’ fans lives.

MINNESOTA TWINS (Brandon Warne)

  • The date: Sept. 30, 2018
  • The scene: Target Field
  • The inning: Ninth

It’s pretty telling that the most memorable moment of the decade for the Minnesota Twins came in a game between two teams playing out the string on the final Sunday of the season. The teams were a combined 44 games under .500. Nearly all of the Chicago White Sox players who saw action that day are no longer in the organization — just 15 months later! — and a large portion of the Twins roster has seen significant turnover in that time frame, too.

Joe Mauer doubled off White Sox reliever Juan Minaya in the bottom of the seventh. It seemed doubtful the Minnesota legend could have a more meaningful final moment in the big leagues than a hustle double to the opposite field — Mauer’s calling card as a hitter. 

But in the moments prior to the team taking the field for the top of the ninth with a 5-4 lead, it was obvious something was up. An air of anticipation fell over Target Field. “Back in the Saddle” by Aerosmith played over the loudspeaker. Then, public address announcer Adam Abrams echoed a familiar refrain. It was like riding a bike; one that had long been put away but with the seat broken in just right.

“Now catching for the Twins, number seven, Joooooe Mauer!”

Target Field came unglued. Yoan Moncada stepped up to the plate. Matt Belisle, fittingly also playing in his final big-league game, delivered a pitch deliberately off the plate. Mauer called time, walked out to the mound and embraced Belisle before simply taking the moment in. 

Chris Gimenez replaced Mauer behind the plate for the rest of the game. It was his final MLB game, too.

I still get goosebumps thinking about it. 

Mauer, who hadn’t caught since a 2013 concussion against the New York Mets, donned his long-dormant gear one last time — and that was for sure the moment of the decade for the Minnesota Twins.

It was that kind of decade for the Twins. One of the greatest players in franchise history leaving the game for good as a player was the highlight. 

The 2020s should be much better.

MINNESOTA WILD (Giles Ferrell)

July 4, 2012. Whether you like it or not now, the Wild’s signature moment of the decade was landing the two premier free agents — forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. On July 4, ironically, the Wild inked the American stars to matching 13-year, $98 million deals in a move that signaled to the NHL that the Wild were coming and would be a playoff mainstay for years to come.

The signings along with the crop of young players the Wild had coming up would almost certainly ensure that they would be a perennial playoff team and would compete for a Stanley Cup at some point.

As it would hold, the Wild have only missed the playoffs once since the arrival of Parise and Suter, while both have made their mark on the Wild history books and made their way up the charts in several offensive categories. However, the Stanley Cup run has yet to happen as the Wild have not gotten any closer to the trophy than the second round, which they reached twice in 2014 and 2015.

 

There have been signature moments and playoff wins, no doubt, but none of them happen without the arrival of Parise and Suter to boost the Wild back into relevance.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (Sam Ekstrom)

Unfortunately, the 2010s began in the same manner the 2000s ended for the Minnesota Timberwolves. A new decade that began with Kurt Rambis as head coach and a handful of exciting young players turned into a mostly-dismal 10-year stretch marked by five coaching chances and numerous draft busts. Tragedy also struck in 2015 when coach Flip Saunders passed away after battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

But for one year, the incompetence that has plagued the Timberwolves franchise since its 2004 run to the conference finals receded just enough to allow for a ray of optimism.

In his second season as head coach, Tom Thibodeau splashed during the 2017 NBA Draft by executing a trade for Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler, who he surrounded with savvy veterans and a young core comprised of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. For at least one season, the Timberwolves were fun to watch again.

A late-season injury to Butler, however, sent the Wolves spiraling and teetering on the brink of the playoff picture. As one might expect, Minnesota’s 14-year playoff drought came down to Game 82 against the division rival Denver Nuggets at Target Center.

With Butler back and the crowd at full throat, the Timberwolves and Nuggets squared off in a win-and-in showdown that likely had longtime Wolves fans covering their eyes, biting their nails and praying to the basketball gods.

The Timberwolves led by 10 in the third quarter and by eight with 4:26 remaining in the game, but the Nuggets climbed back thanks to a series of Jamal Murray shots to tie the contest at 101-101 and send the final game of the season into overtime. But the Wolves wouldn’t be denied in the extra session. Minnesota held the Nuggets scoreless for the final 2:28 of OT and pulled away for a 112-106 win that ended the eternal drought and sent the Wolves into the playoffs.

Their reward? A date with the first-seeded Rockets. Houston would dispose of the Timberwolves in five games, and frankly, things would never be the same. Butler forced his way out of Minnesota early the next season, Tom Thibodeau was fired and the Timberwolves went back into rebuilding mode, where they still exist today.

MINNESOTA LYNX (Mitch Hansen)

When it comes to the Minnesota Lynx, the last decade has been an incredibly impressive one filled with multiple WNBA Championships, a hefty amount of accolades and endless memorable sports moments that Minnesota fans and sports fans around the globe have been able to enjoy.

Behind four WNBA titles in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 – filled with top moments consisting of last-second shots, a hometown icon returning home and multiple championship rings – the last decade for the Lynx not only shifted the mindset and approach for both the organization and an entire league, but established one of the more impressive dynasties in sports history.

With all of that in mind and in an attempt to pick out just one top moment for Minnesota from a decade that has included one of the more impressive stretches in the sports world, there is one moment in the franchise’s historic run that stands out: the 2011 season and the franchise’s first WNBA Championship.

Going into the 2011 campaign, Minnesota came into that season having missed the playoffs in 10 its first 12 seasons as a franchise, but quickly turned things around both for that year and for the upcoming decade.

After obtaining cornerstone pieces such as head coach Cheryl Reeve, star players Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson to go alongside Seimone Augustus, the Lynx quickly established a winning culture in Minnesota and went on to win the 2011 league title to bring home the first championship in team history.

That moment was not only a milestone for the Lynx, but it set the foundation for what would end up being one of the most dominant runs by any organization in sports history.

MINNESOTA UNITED (Nic Hallett)

What a topsy-turvy decade it’s been for everyone and everything associated with the Loons. The team went from nearly ceasing to exist to becoming a fully-fledged MLS franchise.

There’s been a lot of momentous occasions along the way, and thus its a difficult task to pick just one.

Who could forget March 25, 2015 when Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber and MLS super legend Landon Donovan were revealed at Target Field to announce Minnesota United FC would become the league’s 23rd team.

Even a 6-1 throttling to sister expansion team Atlanta United for the team’s first ever MLS home game on March 12, 2017 has to register in the Top 5 moments. The match, which became known as the “snow opener,” will long be remembered for its sheer historical significance, its drastic one-sidedness and the fact that the weather — in addition to heavy snowfall, at 19 degrees Fahrenheit, it was the coldest ever MLS game at the time — made it the most quintessential way for a Minnesota franchise to debut its home field.

Now onto some more positive notes. The most awe-inspiring individual player performance was far and away on July 4, 2018 when Darwin Quintero netted an incredible hat trick versus Toronto FC. Every goal was better than the last and it was the moment that cemented Quintero as one of the most talented players in the league. It was truly breathtaking. Do yourself a favor and spend less than 60 seconds watching all three.

Humorously, I’m going to put another loss to Atlanta United on this list. But in reality, it’s not the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final loss that is on this list, but the cup run itself. MNUFC’s third season was a turning of the tides in many respects, leaving the team with many feel good moments and storylines. It was the U.S. Open Cup run that truly embodied the franchise’s metamorphosis into a competitive team. The run to the final was fun and exciting, even though it didn’t end in a storybook fashion. It showed for the first time, though, that the Loons truly belonged in U.S. soccer’s top division.

Finally, Minnesota United’s moment of the decade has to be the team’s period in the North American Soccer League from 2014-2016. Now, I know what you’re thinking: How can a three-year window be “the moment” of the decade? But I’m telling you, that’s what made all this possible. Though they never went on to win the playoff title, Minnesota was the best team in the league at that time and were unbelievably fun to watch. The duo of Christian Ramirez and Miguel Ibarra were unstoppable, and made the then-second-division their personal playground.

During that period, Ramirez won the league’s golden boot, aka leading goal scorer, twice. And we’re talking some absolute highlight-reel goals.

Meanwhile, Ibarra was the league MVP in 2014 and did so well in the following years that he became one of an elite few to be called into the U.S. men’s national team while playing in the second division.

This all created a groundswell of fanfare which grew and grew until the Loons began to record multiple sellouts. These were the watershed moments. This was the proof that Minnesota could not only be a successful MLS host city, but a thriving one. Everything that has and has yet to happen in Allianz Field owes a massive amount of gratitude to that era in Loons history.

MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS FOOTBALL (Drew Cove)

Minnesota has had trouble keeping its trophy hardware in recent decades. This decade has been a continuation of those gone past.

Minnesota hasn’t had the Little Brown Jug since 2014 after it was taken back from Michigan (after the Wolverines had it for six games over eight years). The Gophers haven’t had Floyd of Rosedale since 2014 either and haven’t taken the trophy at Iowa’s stadium this millennium.

One trophy is held in higher regard than the rest, though: Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Minnesota’s shining moment of the 2010s came in 2018 when the underdog Gophers stormed into Wisconsin’s home turf and reclaimed the Axe after a 15-year drought.

The morning of Minnesota’s final game of the 2018 season began with the Gophers as 11-point underdogs. The team had seen a late resurgence after changing defensive coordinators a few weeks prior, but the team still limped in with a 5-6 record after losing to Northwestern at home.

It started slowly with a field goal, but before any fans had a chance to notice, Minnesota was up 17-7 at the half, but a late touchdown from Wisconsin gave it some momentum going into the intermission.

The second half, though, was all Minnesota with two Emmit Carpenter field goals (for three in the game) and two Bryce Williams touchdown runs of 23 and 16 yards. At that point it was 37-7 and the usually cautiously optimistic Gophers’ fans were ready to burst. They saw the ever-important border battle finally ending in their favor.

After a garbage-time touchdown and two-point conversion from Wisconsin made the score 37-15, the eventual final. Minnesota nearly resurrected its entire season with one game.

The victory set off a frenzy of belief in the newest direction of the program under head coach P.J. Fleck, including a very impromptu rally at Athletes Village when the team’s bus got home after the game that evening.

That moment stands as the greatest for Minnesota’s football program, as it seems to have ushered in the 10-2 2019 season and a new decade with more of those same successes to come.

MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS HOCKEY (DREW COVE)

Minnesota men’s hockey didn’t accomplish its ultimate goal this decade. While it did so in back-to-back years in the previous decade, only one team made it to the national championship game in the 2010s: the 2013-14 Gophers squad.

The moment to get them there has been the most celebrated moment among Gophers’ hockey fans since Grant Potulny’s goal in overtime of the 2002 national championship game.

‘0.6’ is really all Gophers’ fans need to hear to be reminded of the day Justin Holl scored with less than a second left in the Frozen Four semifinal against rival North Dakota to play in the 2014 national championship game.

Minnesota and North Dakota were on the verge of overtime after each team exchanged a goal in the final period for a 1-1 tie. A faceoff deep in the Gophers’ own zone while on the penalty kill would really make for a ‘just don’t get scored on in the last 10 seconds’ approach to defend and get a soft clear to get to overtime.

Former captain Kyle Rau won the faceoff, then it was cleared to Holl almost below the goal line, but he took it and kept skating with it. He dished it off to Rau for a deflected shot. Most thought that might be the last chance of the game with two seconds left.

The deflection went right to Holl and, with a fortunate screen, he beat goaltender Zane Gothberg with 0.6 seconds remaining to send Minnesota to the final game of the college hockey season.

Minnesota was a force that year, having lost only six regular season games. The Gophers lost three conference games en route to their first of four consecutive Big Ten titles. That regular season success earned them the No. 1 seed overall.

Ultimately, they didn’t reach the highest of plateaus, falling to Union 7-4 in the national championship game.

MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS BASKETBALL (Sam Ekstrom)

In a decade marked by four NCAA Tournament appearances and just two March Madness victories, there aren’t many Gophers basketball high points from which to choose. The Richard Pitino Era has featured a handful of underachieving teams, a couple overachieving groups and one team that simply bottomed out. But along the way, there have been several quality home wins that brought the best out of Williams Arena, like their win against No. 1 Indiana back in 2013, or even their victory against No. 3 Ohio State just two weeks ago.

The best moment of the decade, though, didn’t take place at home — even though it felt like a home atmosphere.

Thanks to a late-season surge and Big Ten Tournament run, the Golden Gophers secured a 10-seed in the 2019 East Regional, which sent them to nearby Des Moines, Iowa to play seventh-seeded Louisville, the school where Pitino’s father coached for 17 years before resigning amidst scandal.

The Gophers were underdogs to the Cardinals but didn’t play like it. Minnesota led by as many as 19 points in the second half and eased their way to a 10-point win thanks to 24 points from freshman Gabe Kalscheur. All the while, the thousands of Gophers fans that made the trek down I-35 stood most of the game, roared with every big shot and propelled the Gophers toward the upset. That 21-win Gophers team was beloved by fans thanks to a familiar starting five that included Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer — all three- or four-year starters that were concluding their Minnesota careers.

If there’s a theme to many of these Minnesota sports memories, it’s that most were fleeting. The Gophers were blown out two nights later against eventual Final Four qualifier Michigan State.

In a decade with so many fond memories, only one of the teams above, the Lynx, managed to bring home a title (and they brought home four of them!).

Will 2020 have more in store? The beauty of sports is you can never guess.