Minnesota: Center of the Sports Universe

Thanks to a late 20th Century population explosion, by the early 1990s the Twin Cities was ready to show the country, even the world, it had come of age. Good timing, a group persuasive local lobbyists and a sprinkling of luck from the fickle hand of the sports gods combined to create a year when the entire sports world fixated on our hometown.

It’s hard to fathom now, but multipurpose stadiums were still chic during the 1980s and when Metrodome opened in 1982, the idea of a futuristic domed stadium was still cool. In a Sports Illustrated feature on Kent Hrbek from that inaugural season, Twins pitcher Ron Davis proclaimed the venue “the prettiest place I’ve ever seen to watch a game.” Still in its prime, the $55 million Dome provided the perfect setting for the multitude of major sporting events the Twin Cities would attract.

The magic began however, at Met Center in Bloomington during the spring of 1991, when our beloved North Stars made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals before falling to Mario Lemeiux’s Penguins in 6 games. Rookie wing Jaromir Jagr suited-up for Pittsburgh and remarkably, remains active today with the Calgary Flames.

In June, the world’s top golfers descended onto Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska for the US Open. The standard four-round, 72-hole format wasn’t enough, however. Payne Stewart defeated Scott Simpson in an 18-hole, Monday playoff, capturing his second major championship.

The Twins, of course, went from worst to first in the AL West and rode the October heroics of Hall of Famers Kirby Puckett and Jack Morris to another 7-game World Series victory, their second in five years. The homer hanky waving, Metrodome fans provided the back-drop for the Twins four home victories.

The following spring, in April 1992, Cincinnati, Michigan, Indiana and Duke joined the party at the Dome for the area’s first Final Four. Christian Laettner led Duke to their second straight NCAA title over Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and the “Fab 5” of Michigan.

And, there was the Super Bowl. Awarded to Minneapolis at the May 1989 NFL owner’s meeting, the 1992 Super Bowl marked only the second time the game would be played in a cold weather city (Detroit, 1982) and is still the northernmost Super Bowl of all time. Soon to be tied, of course.

The 14-2 Washington Redskins met the 13-3 Buffalo Bills in the Metrodome for Super Bowl XXVI on January 26, 1992. The matchup featured the two highest scoring teams during the 1991 regular season. 63,130 fans packed into the Dome while another 79.6 million watched on their analog televisions. A 30-second commercial was priced at $850,000. The cost will exceed $5 million for Super Bowl LII. The legendary tandem of John Madden and Pat Summerall called the action for CBS.

The game itself, not among the most memorable of Super Bowls, is probably most famous for a missing helmet. Bills running back Thurman Thomas was on the sideline searching for his headgear during the contests’ first two plays. Back-up Kenneth Davis got the start.

After a sloppy, scoreless, 1st quarter, Washington began to assert itself, racing out a 17-0 halftime lead thanks to a 34-yard field goal by Minnesota native Chip Lohmiller, Mark Rypien’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Ernest Byner, and 1-yard rush by Gerald Riggs. The lead ballooned to 24-0 when linebacker Kurt Gouveia intercepted a Jim Kelly pass early in the 3rd quarter and returned it 23-yards to the Bills 2-yard line. Riggs finished off the drive with his second touchdown.

A Scott Norwood field goal and Thomas touchdown run cut the lead to 24-10, but Washington answered with an 11-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Rypien to Gary Clark late in the 3rd quarter. Two more Lohmiller field goals in the 4th quarter stretched the lead to 37-10. Buffalo scored two cosmetic touchdowns late, making the game a 37-24 Washington victory. Mark Rypien, who quickly faded into obscurity in the following years, was named the games’ MVP with a 292-yard, 2-touchdown pass performance.

It was Buffalo’s second of four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Heading into the game, they were still viewed by some as a potential dynasty, having lost 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV on last second, missed 47-yard field goal attempt by Scott Norwood. Thanks, in large part, to Kelly’s four interceptions, there would be no redemption for the Bills in Minneapolis. The day was better for Norwood however, who was perfect on 3-extra points and a field goal. It would be his final NFL game.

The victory was Washington’s third Super Bowl championship in 10 seasons. All under head coach Joe Gibbs. It also marked the end of an era for the Redskins. The franchise has made just six postseason appearances since Super Bowl XXVI and hasn’t advanced beyond the divisional round of the playoffs.

Then there was the infamous, winter-themed Super Bowl halftime show that featured Gloria Estefan, Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill. It was definitely Minnesotan, hokey in that Prairie Home Companion kind of way. The debacle provided the impetus for the NFL to step up its show business game. Michael Jackson appeared on top of the scoreboard to start the Super Bowl halftime show at the Rose Bowl in 1993.

The game was followed by the news show, 60 Minutes, which included an interview with Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary. A football-themed The Simpson’s episode titled “Lisa the Greek” aired the previous Thursday which included an animated version of the Super Bowl, the Metrodome and predicted a Washington win.

Also, as aside, the United States Figure Skating Championships were held at Target Center in February of 1991. Todd Eldredge captured gold for the men. For the women, Nancy Kerrigan got the bronze, Kristi Yamaguchi was awarded silver and the infamous Tonya Harding took home the gold. In what marked the peak of her skating career, Harding became the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition.

Minneapolis remains the only city to host a World Series, Super Bowl and Final Four within a 12-month span. It all happened in the same building and actually, took just seven months. That’s clean. That’s efficient. That’s Minnesota.

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