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Nathan's column: Finally a reason to be excited

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This is a big week for sports fans. Nearly everywhere you look it seems there is another opportunity to cheer on your favorite team, or at least a team in which you're willing to feign some baseline level of interest as an excuse to sit on the couch while drinking beer and possibly shouting obscenities at people who almost certainly can't hear you.

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What's going on? I'm glad I asked on your behalf.

The National Football League playoffs continue without the Vikings, who last weekend wrapped up a season that was more successful than most reasonable observers would have predicted back in August. The team made the playoffs, and star runningback Adrian Peterson made a remarkable comeback from an injury in which his knee was physically removed by mysterious alien life forms.

It is possible, of course, that the results of this season could be tainted when it is eventually revealed Peterson was replaced sometime last spring by a highly advanced robot sent from the future. Kind of like a Terminator, only programmed to knock over men in helmets instead of killing people and spouting catch phrases.

That's not all, of course. As I write this, the University of Alabama football team is playing for the national championship against what appears to be a mid-tier South Suburban Conference team. And over the weekend, representatives of the National Hockey League's players and owners apparently rediscovered their love of one another.

These are all pretty big deals for the right segments of the sporting population. But I'm not really in any of those segments. The sports situation that has me the most excited involves basketball players who don't get paid to play. And who, let's hope, don't even have anybody to write term papers for them. At least not anymore.

The Minnesota Gopher basketball team is ranked eighth in the country this week. They are arguably among the three best teams in the Big Ten, which at 12 teams continues to be terrible at math but might regardless be the best conference in college basketball.

I've been going to Gopher basketball games for longer than I can remember -- by Big 10 math, it's probably something like seven-fifths of the years I've been alive -- and it's been a long time since it's been this exciting to be a fan. Clem Haskins had some success, but most of his best seasons were wiped off of the record books. Dan Monson was Dan Monson. And Tubby Smith has tended to put together teams of players who broke laws, broke bones or chose to play in other places. Sometimes they did two or three of those things simultaneously.

I've been through seasons where going to games felt like a chore, so this kind of success is a particular thrill. Like skydiving, or bungee jumping or being the guy who gets to change Adrian Peterson's batteries. The team seems likeable, and they've already won a few games where past Gopher teams would have fallen apart.

It's hard to tell what this season will bring. There are a few certainties in sports -- the Clippers are one of the best teams in the NBA this year, for crying out loud -- but not many.

For now, I'm just happy to enjoy the ride. And maybe have a beer. And yell at the TV.

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