There was nothing left to do but scream. The pictures of Minnesota North Star hockey players and the mementos of Minnesota North Star hockey past had been taken away for safekeeping. The furniture from the Minnesota North Star offices was on a United moving van, heading south. The team was on the ice, and a sellout crowd of 15,414 was in the Met Center, but already the process of dismantling the franchise had begun, and there was no way of stopping the inevitable and nothing to do. Except scream.
"Norm sucks," a group of fans at one part of the arena would begin chanting during a lull in the action as the North Stars worked toward a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues last Saturday night.
"Norm Green sucks," another group would begin during another lull.
Again and again and yet again the phrase would be repeated. Not pretty words, to be sure, not pretty at all, but direct from the hopeless heart and dipped with the appropriate amounts of vengeance. Norm sucks. The phrase would whirl around the building, picking up steam, only to die when the action began, and then start again at the next pause. During the intermissions, young men would shout the words again in the hallways. The words were printed on buttons, sold by volunteers to benefit Cerebral Palsy. They were printed on shirts, printed on signs. Norm sucks. Norm sucks. Norm...sucks.
"Norm Green is a money-hungry, egotistical, country-club-seeking lizard," a young woman from St. Paul, Wendi Rodewald, said, sitting there in her official North Star game jersey topped by her unofficial NORM SUCKS button. "Wait a minute. Did I say 'greedy'? He's a greedy, money-hungry, egotistical, country-club-seeking lizard. And he looks like Satan."
A love affair—an extreme love affair—was ending with extreme passion. This was the last regular-season Saturday night game in Minnesota North Star history, the next-to-last regular-season home game to be played. A string of bittersweet ceremonies was held before the opening face-off, opportunities to cheer and cry at the same time, and then it was time to return to base-level rage. Had there ever been a sports moment as bizarre as this? The team was moving, is moving, will be moving to Dallas, its offices scheduled to open at 9 a.m. on Monday in Dallas, yet the North Stars were still in the chase for the final Norris Division playoff spot, and the fans were still in their seats.
The perceived villain was clearly Green, the flamboyant 58-year-old millionaire owner who had announced on March 10 that he was taking the team to Dallas's Reunion Arena in search of a better economic situation. A former minority owner of the Calgary Flames, Green arrived on the Minnesota scene in June 1990, in time for the North Stars' late, daffy rush to the '91 Stanley Cup finals. He immediately established himself as a civic whirlwind, shaking hands, making demands, showing up at the Met Center in a black Rolls Royce with his wife and two dogs, leading cheers during the good times. Now he was seen as a carpet-bagging scoundrel, absent from the area since he announced the move to Dallas, living in his well-appointed house in Palm Springs, Calif. The only time he had appeared at a North Star game in recent weeks was on April 3 on the road at the Forum in Los Angeles, where a Minnesota fan found him in the press box and poured a full beer on his head. Not pretty.
"He used to sit up on that railing with his two mutts," Chuck Rogness of Stillwater, Minn., a season-ticket holder, said outside the Met Center. "He'd shake everybody's hand, pose for pictures. I posed for a picture with him. I can't believe I did that. What a hosing he gave us."
The idea that this guy, that anyone, for that matter, could move major league hockey from Minnesota, the American home of hockey, is hard to believe. How could that happen? How could anyone let that happen? This is the state that fills a 16,000-seat arena for the state high school tournament, the state that every four years fills out the roster of the U.S. Olympic team, the state that is the land of lakes, for goodness' sake, all of them frozen during the long winter, all with kids learning to skate. Dallas? A team from Minnesota would move, after 26 years of residence, to Dallas?
"I was just thinking, this is where I had my first date with my husband," Mary Anne Madden of Minneapolis said at the Met Center last Saturday. "A North Star exhibition game: Sept. 28, 1968. He asked me out. I didn't even like him. He didn't like me. He just had an extra ticket, and he said, 'I suppose you don't like hockey.' I love hockey. That's the only reason I went out with him. Now we've been married 24 years."