Where the game’s always on

Where the game’s always on

In these fours-sport cities, there's never an offseason: Essays from New York to the Bay Area

Published on April 14, 2015

Ten years ago this month, the Nationals played their first game in Washington, making D.C. the 12th North American city with teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. Ten of the 12 cities have had at least one team make its sport’s final, and eight of them have hosted championship parades. The Redskins, Wizards, Capitals and Nats haven’t had much success, though; only teams from Minneapolis/St. Paul have a worse winning percentage in that span.

While sports fans desperately root for our teams to win, dealing with the heartbreak of defeat is very much part of the experience. Losing binds us, creates vivid memories and makes victory that much sweeter. We asked writers and columnists from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Denver, the Twin Cities and the Bay Area to share with us the ups and downs of rooting for their city’s teams over the past 10 years.

Washington’s Nationals begin 2015 as World Series favorites, and this week, both the Capitals and Wizards begin first-round playoff series, just the second time that’s happened simultaneously since 1988.

Boston’s Red Sox fans famously suffered for 86 years between championships, then won three in 10 seasons, giving hope to every sports fan that their day will eventually come. Washington’s four-sport fans await that day, but as you’ll see, so do fans in each of the other cities, where they soothe the pain of each season’s end with the knowledge that a fresh start is soon to come. — Keith McMillan

The Bay Area

Daniel Brown on Giants’ success leading to high hopes for Warriors

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Even years later, Willie McCovey had nightmares about lining out to Bobby Richardson. He’d wake up having made the last out of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series all over again, with Felipe Alou condemned to spend eternity at third base and Willie Mays frozen forever at second.

At long last, the modern-day Giants allowed McCovey — and a generation of San Francisco fans — to rest easy: San Francisco won its first World Series in 2010 then, as if making up for last lost time, did it again in 2012 and 2014.

As for the rest of the Bay Area? Well, keep dreaming.

The other major professional sports teams in this three-city market — San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose — have produced mostly angst over the past decade.

The 49ers own five Super Bowl rings but none since 1994. They came close in the waning seconds of Super Bowl XLVII against Baltimore, but quarterback Colin Kaepernick missed on three straight passes to Michael Crabtree from the 5-yard line — leaving San Francisco fans with another McCovey-caliber “what if?”

The once-mighty Raiders haven’t had a winning season since 2002. Their last Super Bowl win came after the 1983 season — while the franchise was on leave in Los Angeles. Oakland last won it all after the 1980 season, behind the likes of Jim Plunkett, Ted Hendricks and Lester Hayes.

Billy Beane, the general manager of the A’s, inspired “Moneyball,’’ a best-selling book and movie, but Oakland hasn’t produced a truly happy ending since 1989, when it beat the Giants in the earthquake-marred World Series. Wise fans here have learned to buy a jersey without a name on the back, surrendering to the inevitability of their favorite player being dealt for prospects or signing for more money elsewhere.

The Sharks’ streak of 10 consecutive seasons of making the NHL playoffs ended this month, but at least it put fans out of their misery early. For all its regular season success, San Jose has never reached the Stanley Cup finals, let alone win one, since being born in 1991.

That’s the why Warriors’ success this season has a Northern California on edge again. Golden State hasn’t won the NBA title since 1975, when it swept the Washington Bullets. But Rick Barry, the MVP of that series, said recently that this year’s team has chance to put the put that drought to bed.

“This is a special team that they have,’’ said Barry, now 71. “They’re committed to defense, they’re a great offensive team, and they’re selfless. Great combination.”

Daniel Brown writes for the San Jose Mercury News. Follow him on Twitter @mercbrownie.


Ed Sherman on so much to cheer, but, yes, it’s always Bears season

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The White Sox flicker with the occasional winning season, and it took the Blackhawks capturing two Stanley Cups to get back on the local sports radar.

The Bulls still are receiving dividends from Michael Jordan’s magic while waiting to see whether Derrick Rose can regain his form and be one-time form to be MJ’s true successor. Waiting is a way of life for the Cubs, into their second century since their last title.

All the pro teams have their passionate fans, but only one truly rules: It’s always Bears season in Chicago.

The intense connection began with George Halas and Red Grange and runs through Dick Butkus and Walter Payton. At times, it seems as if the clock stopped in 1985, as Mike Ditka and the “Super Bowl Shuffle” crew remain among the most revered sports figures in town.

It doesn’t matter that the Bears only have gone to one Super Bowl since then, losing to Indianapolis and Peyton Manning in 2007. Win or lose, Soldier Field always is filled.

Since the Bears have been mostly losing of late, conversation on sports-talk radio is dominated by non-stop Jay Cutler bashing and complaints about the latest GM’s moves. And that’s in June.

Occasionally, attention is diverted elsewhere. Interest perks up for the Bulls and Blackhawks during the playoffs. The Blackhawks are a remarkable story, as they were a complete non-factor before their recent revival. Now they have become the trendy team, with seemingly every fan wearing their trademark red jersey in a jammed United Center.

Winning still is what moves the needle for the town’s two baseball teams, especially the White Sox. It’s mainly a Cubs town, with the fan base split 70-30. The Sox looked as if they would change that dynamic after winning the 2005 World Series. However, with only one playoff victory since then, the Sox have regressed, as attendance dipped to a 15-year low in 2014.

Five straight fifth-place finishes also saw Cubs fans finally getting tired of supporting their “lovable losers.” TV ratings fell to historic lows in 2014 with large patches of empty seats at Wrigley Field.

The situation, though, will change quickly if Theo Epstein’s rebuild kicks in and Kris Bryant becomes the next Cubs icon. Those fans will come out of hibernation in the hopes of witnessing the title that was denied to previous generations.

If the Cubs win the World Series, it will set off a party that might last into the 22nd century. But until then, Chicago’s focus mainly will be on new Bears Coach John Fox and dreading another season with Cutler.

Ed Sherman spent 27 years with the Chicago Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @Sherman_Report.


Kevin Sherrington on Cowboys out of their rut, overshadowing everyone

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Over the past decade in Dallas, the Mavericks pretty much blew one title and stole another; the Rangers finally found their way to a World Series and came within a strike of winning the next; and the Stars mostly just watched home movies of their ancestors playing with the Stanley Cup.

Meanwhile, Dallas remains a Cowboys town, now and forever, amen.

The Cowboys came first, back when the late Southwest Conference and high school football still ruled, and they remain first in the hearts of fans. Not even a couple dreary decades of Jerry Jones-inflicted mediocrity alters genetics.

Now that the Cowboys are out of their rut, in fact, it makes the fade of the others a little less problematic.

Otherwise, the prospect that at least one of the four pro teams will make a championship run at any given time makes life interesting. Not to mention it’s the only way to survive here, because this is a front-runner’s town.

The Stars are sputtering along on the fumes of back-to-back Stanley Cup runs at the turn of the century. The only fans left these days are diehards ringing the upper bowl of the American Airlines Center in their Modano sweaters.

Feelings for the Mavs and Rangers run deeper. The Mavs’ loss to Miami in 2006 — during which yours truly wrote that the only way they come home from Miami after taking a 2-0 lead in Dallas is on a parade float — inflicted the kind of psychic pain not felt around here since the Cowboys went by Next Year’s Champions in the ’60s and early ’70s.

The shocking upset of the Heat in 2011 didn’t seem like so much revenge as a gift, even a fluke.

Here’s how you know: Mark Cuban basically took that title team apart.

All things considered, it was a heady time to write about sports in Dallas. No sooner had Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd delivered the city’s first NBA title, the Rangers perched on the brink of history, too.

That it turned out to be a cliff instead still haunts the locals.

Here’s how you know: Eric Nadel, witness to more bad baseball as the radio voice of the Rangers than the ASPCA would allow, still has Game 6 nightmares from 2011 in St. Louis.

Of course, the beauty of a four-sport town is that no matter how bad it gets, there’s always another season just around the corner.

And if that season is always football, well, Josh Hamilton won’t be the last to tell you so.

Kevin Sherrington is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Follow him on Twitter @KSherringtonDMN.


Troy Renck on a Broncos town but everyone else wanting a chance

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A dusty ol’ cowtown.

Denver earned the description in its sports infancy, but long bristled at the image. Denver fans take their professional sports seriously, even if outsiders view Colorado as home only of the Denver Broncos and moguls.

There have been few downhill slides for Denver’s teams. It goes unnoticed since only the Broncos make regular appearances on national broadcasts. This slight angers Denver fans. The city’s teams — Broncos, Colorado Rockies, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche — boast 19 playoff appearances since 2005.

Having four teams legitimizes Denver. Fans believe this. Denver has won Sporting News’s “Best American Sports City” in 1995 and 1997. It reflects attendance, interest and success of the teams, which has continued over the past decade — save for a championship. That last point can’t be discounted, because it remains the Broncos’ annual expectation.

The Broncos define the city, dictate its mood. Stunned fans reacted angrily to the firing of coach Mike Shanahan, who guided the team to its only two Super Bowl wins, and lost sanity over Josh McDaniels’s two-year reign of error. When Hall of Famer John Elway returned as general manager in 2011 official title executive vice president of football operations — he did everything but ride in on a white horse — Broncos’ fans rejoiced. They haven’t stopped. Four consecutive playoff berths followed. Included were a magical run from Tim Tebow, who was easier to appreciate than explain, and Peyton Manning’s breathtaking 2013 season, when he broke records, and ultimately hearts in the Broncos’ crushing 43-8 Super Bowl 48 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Broncos’ winning allows the three other teams to fit in their place with less hand-wringing. It enhanced the Rockies’ 2007 magical carpet ride. No one expected them to make the playoffs. When they won 21 of 22 games to reach the World Series, it captivated fans in a way not seen since the Broncos’ last Super Bowl win.

The Nuggets and Avalanche remain city franchises more than regional draws like the Broncos and Rockies. Yet, they have been arguably the most successful over the past decade. The Nuggets reached the playoffs eight 10 straight years. Good news. The bad? They were bounced in the first round nine seven times, and in the 2008-09 season they missed a chance to advance to their first NBA Finals because of multiple botched inbounds plays. It still stings. Fans wrapped the Avs in a bear hug with their 1995 Stanley Cup championship. The past 10 years brought a cold reminder of how lucky fans were. Only four playoff berths and no sniff of a title. An emerging core of young stars and the hiring of legend Patrick Roy as head coach offers hope.

Perhaps that’s the most salient point of Denver fans. They believe, with the exception of the Rockies’ past three seasons, they have a chance. And as long as the Broncos contend, fans will continue to puff out their chests and win bar-stool arguments.

Troy Renck writes for the Denver Post. Follow him on Twitter @TroyRenck.


Shawn Windsor, on pain of being a Lions fan, even as other teams win

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It had rained the day before — a deluge, really, especially for north Texas, which is where the Detroit Tigers were playing on Monday, Oct. 10, 2011. It was Game 2 game twoof the American League Championship Series, a must-win for a franchise trying to win a World Series for the first time in 27 years.

In other words, the night was a big deal back in Detroit.

And yet it felt insignificant in a way, because the Lions were hosting their first Monday night football game in a decade. Not only that, the team had started 4-0, its best season-opening stretch since the ’80s.

People were beginning to believe. They wanted to believe. Almost had to believe. The franchise had gone 0-16 three years earlier, had won exactly one playoff game since 1957 (still true), had run through coaches and general managers, and had wasted the most electric running back in the history of the NFL in Barry Sanders.

That was being a Lions fan, a Detroit sports fan, so when the rain fell in Arlington, Tex. — home of the Rangers — on Sunday, Oct. 9 and pushed Game 2 of the ALCS to Monday, well, we had a choice.

But not really, because in Detroit, there are sports fans, and there are Lions fans.

Perhaps this is true in most cities with an NFL franchise and at least one team from the NBA, NHL or MLB. Football, for the most part, rules.

Which means that in Detroit, pain rules, because no team induces pain around here like the Lions. Just look at what happened at Dallas in January, when the Lions couldn’t hold a fourth-quarter lead against the Cowboys in a wild-card game.

The refs blew a call.

At least that’s how the game is remembered here, in this place, in this city, with its post-apocalyptic image of all that is wrong in America. So yeah, we’ve got a chip on the shoulder, and that means we don’t expect anyone to understand, or to give us a break with a call.

The most indelible teams around here, then, win not just by beating an opponent, but also by beating back a perception of our home . . . or maybe by reinforcing it instead.

Remember the Bad Boys?

The Pistons won titles and told us it was okay to be from Detroit. The 1984 Tigers ran off the World Series the same way. The Red Wings? The Cup teams of the ’90s won with skill and guile and elegance but didn’t become champs until they beefed up the enforcement behind the blue line.

Pro sports are important everywhere, obviously, and in most places they provide fans with an expanded sense of self. Here in Detroit, though, the four teams can fill a hole in our delicate psyche, and when they win, they project something other than stories of post-industrial demise and anarchy.

Shawn Windsor is a sports feature writer for the Detroit Free Press. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.


Joseph Goodman, on an NBA town with plenty of circus like sideshows

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Finkle is Einhorn.

You want to know what it’s like being a fan of the Miami Dolphins for the past 10 years? Finkle is Einhorn. Google it.

For Miamians, that one phrase represents all the cynical, punch-drunk, browbeaten emotions evoked during this decade-long tragic comedy we’ve come to know as NFL football in South Florida. Ray Finkle, a disgraced place kicker for the Dolphins, stole the team’s mascot and kidnapped quarterback Dan Marino way back in the 1994 movie “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” Along the way, Finkle also had a sex change and became Lt. Lois Einhorn of the Miami Police Department.

It took about 20 years for the significance of that plot twist to fully mature into a representation of fandom, but here we are, sitting in the South Florida sun, drinking mojitos, completely emasculated if not for the Miami Heat.

What’s it like being a four-team town? In Miami, the four professional franchises — Dolphins, Heat, Marlins and Panthers — are a metaphor for life in this unique paradise. There’s the Heat, which is ever-present and the pride of South Florida. There are the Dolphins, who offer us proof through calculus that Finkle is Einhorn and thus perfectly explaining the distinctly confusing weirdness of this place. There are the Marlins, who represent chintzy pop art and political graft. And then the Panthers, the suburban hockey team encroaching on the Everglades.

Old Miami is the Dolphins. New Miami is the Heat. It’s a basketball town now. See, there was another culturally significant professional sports theft in Miami back in the mid-1990s shortly after actor Jim Carrey played that lunatic pet detective. In 1995, billionaire Micky Arison, the Carnival cruise boat mogul, took over the Heat franchise and stole Pat Riley from the New York Knicks.

As Miami native and sports journalism icon Dan LeBatard likes to say, Riley is the Mafia Don of South Florida sports. Kiss the rings. Like so many New Yorkers, he has made South Florida his new home. Since then, the Heat has become one of the signature franchises of the NBA, and a destination for the sport’s biggest stars. Dwyane Wade is the face of the franchise, and Udonis Haslem is the heart and soul. Those guys, along with the help of Shaquille O’Neal (2006) and LeBron James (2012 and 2013), have won three championships and earned the undying loyalty of young people in Miami — not to mention Central and South America and the Caribbean islands.

Meanwhile, the biggest win for the Dolphins in the past 10 years was Jason Taylor on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Finkle is Einhorn.

Joseph Goodman covers the Heat for the Miami Herald. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.

New York

Bill Sweeney, on the city that never sleeps on its so many pro teams

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There it was, above the Barclays Center rafters, Julius Erving’s No. 6 flying high, back in New York with his travel-weary Nets.

But wait, what’s this? Also up there are the four Stanley Cup banners of the Islanders, who are still playing — and competitively thriving — out in on my homeland of Nassau County.

Yes, Brooklyn had jumped the gun, firing up the rivalry with the Rangers even before the hockey team leaves Long Island for the city this fallthe move is made. That’s what it is all about in New York: a four-sports spot since 1946 and now home to nine pro teams — Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Knicks, Nets, Rangers, Islanders and Devils. They battle for fans, notice and turf.

Even within the area, the teams won’t stay put. After the Isles move, six of the nine will have changed locations or stadiums within the past six years. While the two hockey teams might face off this postseason, it is baseball where the battle roils. On and off the field, on the streets and in the papers, the Mets and Yankees are the players in the War for New York.

Basically only interested in rock music and spy movies, I came to sports’ wide world late, in Gotham’s glory year of 1969. By the time the calendar had turned, I liked the Knicks, loved the Jets and hated the Mets. Since I was not yet a follower of the one true team, the disdain for the Flushing franchise must have been something deeper, like the sewing needle that had accidentally lodged in my foot and put me in the hospital bed from which I watched the Amazin’s celebrate. Or maybe it was just that I had been born in the Bronx, a rarity on an Island of Brooklyn exports and their National League tendencies.

It is said that in New York, there are only two kinds of baseball aficionados, Yankees fans and Yankees haters. I am here to attest that is true. The “Bill Buckner” World Series championship of 1986 topped the Mets’ earlier rise and stands as perhaps the greatest moment in the history of pro sports, if not mankind. Yet all we hear about is Derek Jeter, who is retired, and Alex Rodriguez, who should be. And while I now live in the Yankees stronghold of Manhattan and not Metville, the Internet has a way of rewarding the annoying.

I try to stay out of it, believe me I do. Like every Yankees fan, I am above these petty tendencies. The Beloved Bombers are now only a subway ride away. The Nets are here. The Islanders are coming. Rex Ryan is gone.

Sports is good.

Bill Sweeney is a former New York Daily News copy editor and writer. Follow him on Twitter @kingpenguinrock.


Sheil Kapadia, on Philly relying on hope between rare world titles

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Fans had waited 25 years, so two more days shouldn’t have been a big deal

In 2008, with the Phillies needing one win for a World Series title, bad weather forced a postseason game to be suspended mid-game for the first time.

Forty-six hours later (it stormed the next day, too), the Phillies and Rays returned to the field. And after three-plus innings, Philadelphia began to plan a parade for the first time since 1983. The rain had destroyed the celebration, but the drought was over.

In a four-sport city, when things look grim, there’s the promise of a new season around the corner. The past 10 years have offered ups and downs, but unlike the previous two decades, a Philadelphia team was crowned champion.

Hope gets fans from one month to the next, and the belief in a vision keeps them coming back.

The Phillies won five straight division crowns from 2007 to 2011. But ask any fan and they’ll tell you there should have been one more title.

When there’s no vision, hope is lost. The Phillies now have one of the worst lineups in baseball, and there’s a shortage of young talent in the pipeline. That means long summer months ahead, which will be easier to deal with if the football team can provide some optimism. In Philadelphia, it often feels like everything else is an appetizer to the main course, the Eagles.

Under Andy Reid, they made a run to the NFC title game after the 2008 season, but that was the last time the franchise won a playoff game.

Chip Kelly is entering his third season, and regardless of whether fans believe in it, he has a vision. That, of course, comes with no guarantee of a Lombardi Trophy.

The Sixers have focused on figuring out life after Allen Iverson. They made the playoffs four times in five seasons during one stretch, but they advanced past the first round once. The mediocrity convinced ownership to try a new approach.

In came polarizing GM Sam Hinkie to run the show. The Sixers have missed the playoffs three straight years, but fans are trying hard to embrace the plan and convince themselves a competitive team with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid is on the horizon.

The Flyers cycle through coaches every few years and haven’t won a Cup since 1975. There’s little reason to believe they’re headed for sustained success.

On Oct. 26, 2008, the Eagles beat the Falcons, 27-14. That night, across the street, the Phillies took a 3-1 World Series lead against the Rays.

Fans in four-sport cities get the benefit of more chances for memorable days like that one, but more often than not, the same can be said for the disappointing ones, too.

Sheil Kapadia covers the Eagles for Philadelphia Magazine and its blog, Birds 24/7. Follow him on Twitter @SheilKapadia.


Dan Bickley, on only one pro title to celebrate in the Valley of the Sun

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Arizona has a spotty national reputation. Our sports teams haven’t helped our condition.

We are proof it can always get worse.

The Valley of the Sun — a term encompassing Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs — has one major professional championship in 17 years as a big league market. The Diamondbacks filled out our four-sport lineup card in 1998, and just three four years later, they beat the Yankees in a historic World Series.

That was our one shining moment. Except we had no sense of perspective, no suffering to cleanse. Our inexperience showed in the ensuing parade, when a team executive held the Commissioner’s Trophy atop a double-decker bus, only to have it smacked by a low-hanging tree branch.

Since then, we’ve lost one of the greatest Super Bowls ever staged; been left heartbroken by one of the best NBA teams to never win a championship; and nearly lost our NHL team to Portland, Ore.; and endured an epic show of incompetence from our NFL franchise.

We have only one major franchise with any real history, and for most of their 47 years, the Suns have been a source of pride. They’ve had two of the most compelling, entertaining players in history: Charles Barkley in his prime, and Steve Nash as a revolutionary point guard.

They are also 0 for 2 in NBA Finals. When they first arrived in Phoenix, they lost a coin flip for Lew Alcindor, better later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It’s been buzzard’s luck ever since.

Our NHL team is testing our patience and our reputation. The Coyotes have declared bankruptcy, flirted with relocation and made us the subject of Canadian derision. Our perceived lack of support has painted us unworthy of big league status, even though the hockey team is wholly to blame, advancing in the playoffs just once in 18 seasons.

They still have an out clause allowing the Coyotes to leave in three years, if the team accrues $50 million in total losses over a five-year period. It makes our relationship very complicated.

But things are changing for the better. For decades, our NFL team was an embarrassment. The Cardinals were so irrelevant that the league once gave them a bye — in the first week of the season.

They went almost a decade without a playoff berth, losing 95 games in a nine-year span.

Then Kurt Warner came along. And Larry Fitzgerald. And Bruce Arians. And a gleaming stadium that seems to create magic on demand, site of two historic Super Bowls.

At a time when football defines America, a good NFL team connects the community and boosts the civic morale. Meanwhile, a bad football team can ruin everything, trampling the collective spirit.

But you don’t need any reminders about that.

Dan Bickley is a sports columnist for the Arizona Republic. Follow him on Twitter @danbickley.

Twin Cities

Chip Scoggins, on individual MVPs but no team champions to celebrate

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Being a fan of professional sports in the Twin Cities requires a heavy dose of patience. A sense of humor usually helps, too.

Minnesota has 10,000 lakes — actually more than that, but who’s counting — but as a big league sports market, we’re bone dry in terms of recent success.

To paraphrase, the Twins stink, the Timberwolves stink and the Vikings usually make more news for off-the-field drama. The Wild made the postseason for a third consecutive season, but the organization has won one playoff series in the past 10 years.

Face palm is our preset button.

Any hint of optimism usually is followed by heartache or frustration. The latest example: Ervin Santana, the Twins’ prized offseason acquisition, got nailed with an 80-game suspension by Major League Baseball a few days before opening day after testing positive for an anabolic steroid.

His drug of choice — stanozolol — made for an easy punch line for calloused fans. Notice the last three letters, lol. Gallows humor, indeed.

The Twins have lost 90 or more 90-plus games for four consecutive seasons, which, if my math is correct, calculates to four summers of miserable baseball.

The Timberwolves have not made the playoffs since 2004 and are in the midst of yet another rebuilding project.

The Vikings experienced temporary ecstasy after enticing Brett Favre to put off retirement and play for the Packers’ hated rival. Favre had a magical 2009 season, leading the Vikings to the NFC championship game. But the joyride ended on a Favre interception and an overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The past decade hasn’t been easy, but this market has been treated to some superb individual performances. Kevin Garnett won NBA MVP honors in 2004. Justin Morneau claimed the American League MVP award in 2006. Joe Mauer received the same award in 2009. Adrian Peterson was named NFL MVP in 2012.

Team championships, however, remain a foreign concept.

The frustration of constant losing has been compounded by the departure of a few superstars who were groomed here.

Garnett left, won a championship in Boston and has returned to finish his career on aging legs. Kevin Love forced his way out of town. Peterson currently is trying to do the same. Randy Moss wore out his welcome twice.

Meanwhile, teams continue to peddle hope.

Andrew Wiggins, acquired in the Love trade, looks like a future superstar. The Vikings finally seem to have found a franchise quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. And the Twins have two of baseball’s top prospects in Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.

The sun has to appear at some point, right?

Chip Scoggins is a columnist and feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @chipscoggins.