It's a good time to be a Minnesota sports fan

The Gophers football team is 5-0. The Vikings are 4-0, and the American League Central champion Twins are in the playoffs. Yes indeed, now is a good time to be a Minnesota sports fan, and plenty of Gophers teams are about to make it even better.

It's a good time to be a sports fan in Minnesota.

The Twins clinched the American League Central title for the second straight year and will play the New York Yankees in the divisional playoffs starting Tuesday. The Vikings crushed San Francisco 35-7 Sunday to move to 4-0 on the season. And Saturday the Gophers went in to Happy Valley and defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 20-14 to move to 5-0 overall (1-0 in the Big Ten). With the win the Gophers are ranked No. 16 in the latest ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll, and No. 21 in the Associated Press rankings. It's the first time since 1987 the Gophers have been 5-0, and with Northwestern on the schedule Saturday, there's a very good chance the Gophers could move to 6-0 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten heading into that vaunted Friday night game with Michigan.

Why else is it a good time to be a sports fan in Minnesota?

Let's not forget that a revamped Minnesota Timberwolves team opens training camp this week, and the upstart Minnesota Wild are preparing to open the season after last year's magical playoff run. Add to that that the fact that in a little more than two weeks the Minnesota Gophers men's and women's hockey teams open the 2003-2004 season, and you don't have a bad team in the bunch. Let's not forget the Gophers wrestling team. The three-time defending Big Ten wrestling champions are preparing for a shot at its third title in four years.

Indeed, now is a good time to be a Minnesota sports fan. Whether it's the clutch hitting of Shannon Stewart, the magical motion that is Randy Moss catching a pass, or the powerful running of Marion Barber III, Minnesota fans are pretty spoiled right now. The Timberwolves revamped lineup could be the best in team history, and the Gophers men's and women's hockey teams both return numerous key players and are primed to make title runs.

The only negative on the Minnesota sports scene is the Marian Gaborik holdout. And if you are an Eden Prairie High School football fan you probably aren't happy about the Eagles' 34-26 loss to Lakeville High Thursday that ended the Eagles' 59-game Lake Conference winning streak. Then again, stories like that just add to what is turning out to be a memorable Minnesota fall.

Not everyone won over the weekend. The Gophers women's soccer team fell 1-0 to Michigan Sunday, and the 18th-ranked Gophers volleyball team lost in four games (30-25, 25-30, 31-29, 30-24) Saturday at Purdue. The loss gave Minnesota (7-7) its first 0-2 Big Ten start since 1993. There was a bright spot on the women's side though, the Golden Gopher women's tennis doubles duo of Angela Buergis and Nischela Reddy took second place Sunday at the 7th Annual Cissie Leary Invitational in Philadelphia, Pa. The sixth-seeded Minnesota team upset the No. 1 and No 3 seeds along the way, but fell to No. 2 seed Ivanov/Smekodub of Tulane, 8-6, in the championship match.

The best part is that Minnesota fans are finding new heroes and new people to cheer for. Stewart and Johann Santana with the Twins, Moe Williams and Gus Frerotte with the Vikings, Laurence Maroney with the Gophers football team, Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and Michael Olowokandi with the Timberwolves. But at the same time, the usual suspects are enlightening Minnesota fans everywhere. Doug Mientkiewicz's defense, Moss moving downfield, Barber's bursts, and what could be the key to all Timberwolves fans hopes – the word that Kevin Garnett could be coming close to a contract agreement.

Sports are a series of roller coaster rides, highs and lows, exciting wins, agonizing defeats, fantastic finishes, the list goes on. Right now Minnesota sports fans are riding pretty high. Look back at the weekend and savor the moment, look forward to what could be – the Twins in the World Series, the Gophers fighting for the Big Ten football title, and the Timberwolves making it out of the first round of the playoffs (hey, you gotta believe don't you?); and the Wild continuing to capture the hearts of Minnesota hockey fans everywhere. There is so much good in Minnesota sports right now, it's hard to find a bad.

That's why indeed, now is a good time to be a sports fan in Minnesota.

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