It wasn’t supposed to end like that for the University of Minnesota softball team.
The Gophers program entered the national spotlight last week after, despite winning the Big Ten Tournament and having a 55-4 record, they didn’t receive one of the top 16 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. They had the best record in the country, but the NCAA selection committee didn’t feel they were one of the 16 best teams, and therefore, didn’t host a regional.
After breezing through their opening game 11-3, the Gophers ran into a tough Alabama pitcher in a 1-0 loss. Minnesota recovered Sunday at beat Louisiana Tech to keep its season alive, but they would need to beat the Crimson Tide twice to move on. The Gophers were shut out 1-0 again, leaving us to wonder what might have been after a 56-5 season.
The playoff disappointment was nothing new for Minnesota sports fans. But for a week, we cared about a program that was otherwise under the radar this spring. Here are four other examples of Minnesota playoff disappointment with high expectations.
Minnesota Wild Eliminated By Mike Yeo, St. Louis Blues
The Minnesota Wild had one of the best regular seasons in franchise history in 2016-17. The Wild finished second in the Western Conference with 103 points. The momentum is good to have, nothing in the regular season matters when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. Unfortunately for the Wild, they were eliminated by a division rival and their former head coach in five games.
Mike Yeo consistently said the series against the Wild wasn’t about revenge, but he had to have cracked a bit of a smile after beating the team and organization that let him go in February of 2016. The Wild couldn’t generate much offense against the Blues, and Jake Allen stopped nearly every puck he saw.
Expectations were for the Wild to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead, it was another massive disappointment. Wild management has said there will be changes, now we have to wait and see what those changes are.
Minnesota Twins Swept By Yankees 2 Straight Years
The New York Yankees were a thorn in the side of Ron Gardenhire and the Minnesota Twins for many years, especially in the playoffs. The Twins opened Target Field in 2010 and used a historic second half to run away with the AL Central title. The Twins were promptly swept by the Yankees.
The year before, the Twins beat the Tigers in Game 163 to win the AL Central. Next was the division series against the Yankees. The result? A 3-0 sweep for New York. Sound familiar? In 2006, the Twins won 96 games to take the division title, then got swept by the Oakland Athletics.
Truth be told, the Twins have a horrible playoff record since getting to the American League Championship Series in 2002. They’ve been to the playoffs five times in 14 seasons since 2002, and their playoff record? 2-15. They’ve done the work to get to the postseason, but lack what it takes (dominant pitching, timely hitting) to win in the playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings 1999, 2009… Enough Said
Perhaps the most heartbreaking playoff disappointment comes from the Minnesota Vikings. Twice, they had trips to the Super Bowl virtually locked up. And twice, Vikings fans had their hearts ripped out.
In the 1999 NFC title game, it was wide left from Gary Anderson. He hadn’t missed a field goal all year, and if he makes the infamous fourth quarter kick, the Vikings take a 10-point lead over the Atlanta Falcons with 2:18 left in regulation. Instead, the Falcons tied it and won the NFC title in overtime. The Falcons lost in the Super Bowl to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. But none of that really matters, because the best offense in the NFL that year, with the best rookie in Randy Moss, didn’t play in the Super Bowl.
Now that we’ve ripped open that wound, might as well go back to the 2008 NFC title game debacle in New Orleans. Yeah, there were plenty of mistakes in that game, but two stick out the most. It started with the Vikings calling a timeout to set up a play to get the ball in the middle of the field for Ryan Longwell to kick a game-winning field goal. Then, the inexplicable happened. The Vikings had 12 players take the field out of a timeout. Penalty. The next play, needing yardage to kick that potential field goal, Brett Favre threw over the middle of the field across his body, looking for Sidney Rice. He was intercepted by Tracy Porter. Favre had the option to run for a few yards, and had a receiver open on the sideline. But he took a gamble, and lost.
Yes, Vikings fans are still bitter. The Saints went onto win the Super Bowl.
Minnesota Lynx 2016 WNBA Finals Loss
The Minnesota Lynx have been one of the best teams in the WNBA the last five years. They’ve won three championships in the last five years, and they were poised to win their fourth last season. The Lynx finished the regular season 28-6 and won the Western Conference. They got to the WNBA Finals and had a five-game battle with the L.A. Sparks.
The Sparks got a rebound and put-back in the closing seconds to outlast the Lynx, 77-76. Instead of planning their fourth title parade, the Lynx were left wondering what happened and probably staring blankly at the ceiling that night. It’s another gut punch in a list of several playoff disappointments.
The silver lining here is that you’re at least giving yourself a chance by getting to the playoffs. But at some point, a team has to break through and end the curse.