It is compulsory, when writing about Minnesota, to name-drop
natives Prince, Bob Dylan and F. Scott Fitzgerald, none of whom
I've ever seen at a SuperAmerica convenience store, writing a
check for milk and lottery tickets, which makes me wonder how
authentically Minnesotan they really are. ¬∂ Minnesotans write
checks for the smallest purchases and call the state's largest
university "the U" and are still incensed that the Cowboys' Drew
Pearson pushed off, with impunity, against the Vikings' Nate
Wright in a 1975 NFC playoff game. ¬∂ Minnesotans--and I'm one of
them--know their Bombo (ex-Twin Bombo Rivera) from their Lombo
(ex-Twin Steve Lombardozzi) from their Mongo (ex-Twin Craig
Kusick). ¬∂ We know that "ski-u-mah" rhymes with "rah-rah-rah" in
the U's fight song, though we haven't any idea what the phrase
means. But we're confident that if we call The Sports Huddle on
'CCO radio on Sunday morning, host Sid Hartman will tell us the
answer or tell us off, by sarcastically calling us a "genius."
Either way, we'll be entertained.
When you grow up in Minnesota, you learn certain eternal verities
that bind the citizens of the state: that the Vikes have been
soft since moving indoors; that you never take the "crosstown"
freeway, if you can avoid it, after 4 p.m.; and that visiting
Packers fans are to be pitied, not persecuted, for staring in
wide-eyed wonderment at our escalators and electric lights.
Most of all, as a Minnesotan, you learn how to shoot a hockey
puck--or a tennis ball; a rolled-up wad of tape; or anything else
that can be slapped, wristed, backhanded, stocking-stuffered,
top-shelved or five-holed--at a hockey net or a garage door or
between two parkas, whose shivering owners are usually in goal.
When I was growing up in Bloomington, our driveway (in which we
played hockey) led to the street (in which we played hockey),
which led to the Bloomington Ice Garden (in which we played
hockey), which led to the state tournament (where my brothers
played hockey and I played hooky, skipping school for the
Minnesotans, after all, have as many varieties of hockey as the
Inuit do of snow. There's ice hockey, street hockey (played
without ice), boot hockey (played on ice without skates), air
hockey (played on a table), table hockey (sometimes played on the
floor), box hockey (played on the floor, in a box, with a real
puck) and tonsil hockey (played in the past by baseball-owner
bedfellows Carl Pohlad and Bud Selig, who tried to contract the
Twins but instead contracted mono, metaphorically speaking. Not
that we're still angry about it).
My four-year-old nephew, Charlie, who lives in Minneapolis,
recently played his first game of floor hockey--street hockey on
a gym floor--but spent the entirety of his shifts at the YMCA
riding his hockey stick like a witch's broom. Which only means
he'll prefer broomball, which is a lot like boot hockey--played
on ice but with brooms and a rubber ball.
Not playing some form of hockey is simply unthinkable. And so the
Bard of Hibbing (not Bob Dylan but Kevin McHale, who played at
the U and then for the Celtics) only took up basketball when he
outgrew his skates.
It was 12 Minnesotans (and eight other guys) who beat the Soviets
in the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament, giving America the
greatest moment in its sports history, as well as the current
movie Miracle, in which Team USA's practice rink is inexplicably
identified as the Bloomington Sports Arena rather than by its
actual name, the Bloomington Ice Garden.
That acronym BIG aptly describes the goose bumps I'm getting now
just thinking about the blessings bestowed on me as a Minnesota
sports fan. We really are lucky, even if our biggest stadium is a
dump. The Metrodome's roof, under which the Twins and the Vikings
play, is held up by air, which escapes with near-gale force when
you open the doors after games, so that the stadium is in essence
an oversized whoopee cushion, saluting fans with its flatulence
every time we exit.
Of course, there's another way of looking at it: Sports fans in
Minnesota are--every time we leave a game--walking on air.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO
A collection of SI senior writer Steve Rushin's sports and travel
stories, The Caddie Was a Reindeer, will be published this fall.