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Northern EXPOSURE
Steve Rushin
January 20, 1992
These days you can't win a major sports championship without making a trek to Minnesota
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January 20, 1992

Northern Exposure

These days you can't win a major sports championship without making a trek to Minnesota

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We can't take you out to the ball game, but we can take just about anything else in Minnesota (from the Sioux words minne, meaning "water," and sota, meaning "turning to snow by rush hour"). We can take the weather. We can take responsibility for Tammy Faye Bakker. In addition to turning the world on with a smile, we can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.

So why can't we take a joke? Lord knows, we have a sense of humor—how else do you explain Prince? "People here sat in their living rooms and waved hankies while they watched baseball on TV," notes Patrick Reusse, a sports columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the very paper that inflicted the Homer Hanky on the baseball-viewing public in 1987. "We're funny. I find us very amusing, and I'm a lifetime Minnesotan. And yet, we don't like to be joked about. It's real important to Minnesotans what other people think about them."

We are funny. I find us very amusing too, and I'm also a lifetime Minnesotan, with no chance of parole. Which is a joke. And isn't it time, my compatriots in plaid, that we laughed at ourselves? Turned down our turtleneck collars and laughed, precisely because we are no longer laughable?

Remember that sign (since sold for advertising space) that hung for years in foul territory down the right-field line in the Metrodome? The one strategically placed so as to catch the TV cameras? The sign that said, MINNEAPOLIS: WE LIKE IT HERE. Now it can be told: That was funny. Remember when Minnesotans were so....

"Defensive?" asks Mark (Z) Zelenovich, a Minnesota lifer and a morning jock-jockey on KFAN, Minneapolis-St. Paul's all-sports radio station. "I mean, what other city would have that sign? 'We like it here.' It was like saying, 'Sure, it's cold and snowy and miserable, but we like it here.' "

Remember? Hell, it was only a year ago that there was no all-sports radio, no sporting tsunami in the Twin Cities, no wave upon title wave lapping up "By the shores of Gitche Gumee/By the shining Big-Sea-Water," as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow placed the state, on Lake Superior, in his epic poem The Song of Hiawatha. Minnesota is now flush with scribes describing the state's natural wonders—"The winters are often severe.... The summers are marked by sudden intense heat waves," raves The Encyclopedia Americana—but now almost all of them, remarkably, are filing advance stories for the early sports edition.

In the 12 months stretching from last May to this April, five of the world's most important championships will have been won in Minnesota. In May the Cinderfella Minnesota North Stars lost the Stanley Cup to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Met Center in the southern suburb of Bloomington. In June, Payne Stewart stayed out of the Big-Sea-Water to win a Monday playoff and golf's U.S. Open at Hazeltine in the western suburb of Chaska. On Jan. 26, 13 Sundays after the Minnesota Twins won Game 7 of an epochal World Series there, the Hubert Horatio Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis will host Super Bowl XXVI. Ten weekends later, in the very same Teflon-coated fiberglass house of fun, college basketball's Final Four will culminate with the coronation of a national champion. Sportswriter, radio host, raconteur and local legend Sid Hartman might have been right when he breathlessly proclaimed. "No other place will ever duplicate this thing. Never."

In the 162 days from Oct. 27 to April 6, the Metrodome alone will have hosted three of the biggest sporting events in the world. "As much work as it is, there's a sense of euphoria among stadium workers," says Metrodome executive director Bill Lester. "We're participating in something unprecedented." He's right. Unprecedented. The Metrodome. Hump. Homerdome. Hanky Palace. Roller Disco. Please hold your laughter till we're finished. When not occupied by the world's greatest athletes, the facility is available to the public for in-line roller skating and coed volleyball. A wedding ceremony has been held in the Metrodome. A man threw a surprise 50th-birthday party for his wife there. Minnesota, you aren't laughing. Explains Marilyn Carlson Nelson, who chaired the state task force that brought the Super Bowl to Minneapolis, "We take ourselves very seriously here."

Remember that day in May 1984 when Dave Kingman of the Oakland A's hit an air-rule double in the dome? He popped up high above the pitcher's mound off the Twins' Frank Viola, but the ball flew through a hole in the insulating fabric beneath the roof, and what went up did not come down. Even Kingman didn't think that was funny at the time. "It's nothing to be really proud of," he said.

And remember the next night, when someone thought it would be funny to drop a baseball from a catwalk just beneath the roof just before the start of the game? A plot was hatched in which Twins first baseman Mickey Hatcher would catch the ball, the home plate umpire would signal an out, and Kingman would run from the visitors' dugout to engage in a make-believe argument. Except that as the ball fell from 175 feet, Hatcher lost it, and it drilled him in the thigh, and he had to be trundled away for medical attention before the game even began. Remember that?

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