Minnesota’s Makeshift Sports ‘Mount Rushmore’ Ranking
Election Day is over. How are you feeling? Nervous? Angry? Celebratory? Maybe I shouldn’t have asked.
In five years of co-hosting “The Northland Sports Page” I have been very transparent about avoiding most situations where the sports and political worlds collide. I like to utilize sports as an escape, yet that is nearly impossible in today’s world.
You probably think I’m going to embark on tackling social justice issues, and we all know I could, but that’s not my point -- think about what I asked earlier.
Nervous, angry, and celebratory are all anticipated emotions after an election – from both voters and candidates. Yet, aren’t they also the most prevalent feelings in sports? We can witness those at the end of every game, transaction, or career -- from both players and fans. Perhaps sports and politics are even closer than I feared. Oh, the humanity.
What if we had a Mount Rushmore dedicated to Minnesota athletic personalities, just as the United States does for its historic political figures? Surely I’m not going to make you read another one of those – the most overplayed topic in sports media?
I am, but with a couple of caveats. First, I’m going to pick one person for each major sport (baseball, football, basketball, hockey). Second, I’m limiting myself to current athletic careers with teams in Minnesota. After all, good or bad, we couldn’t vote for Jesse Ventura or Mike Hatch last night. We only had current candidates on the ballot. Full disclosure, I’ve tried the all-time athlete Mount Rushmore, and I am not willing to embrace that challenge right now. Choosing current folks will prove difficult enough.
Baseball: Jorge Polanco
I really wrestled with this one, and I’m not necessarily thrilled with the selection, but somebody had to be chosen. Gee, talk about sounding like an election. Polanco hit only .235 this past season and missed significant time due to injury for the first time in his career. The other season he was “out more than in” was 2018. It was a PED suspension. Wow, I hate my own vote.
What other choice did I have? The Twins current roster is the size of a focus group. Byron Buxton is the guy you want, but how can he be available for this if he’s hardly available for anything else?
Rocco Baldelli? His winning percentage currently places him higher than both Ron Gardenhire and Tom Kelly, but most would agree that Rocco’s decision-making is questionable at best. Why? Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. It appears from afar that they’re playing puppet master and Rocco is complicit. If I put him on there, do I have to replace him after five innings? I loved Rocco the player. I like Rocco the manager. Notice the term of endearment has been downgraded. I hope this trend doesn’t continue.
Polanco is a career .270 hitter and is good for 20 homers and driving in 70 runs during most full seasons. While he won’t amaze you defensively, he has been better than serviceable as a regular at both shortstop and second base. He’s been in all-star and finished in the top 15 in MVP voting. That’s a win for me.
Max Kepler might be the only other viable candidate but comparing him to Polanco is like comparing me to Kara Goucher in distance running. A current pitcher with any real Twins legacy? We’ll be waiting longer than the 2000 Florida recount.
In another year or two, Luis Arraez will hold this title down even longer than FDR held the presidency.
Football: Justin Jefferson
So easy it was hard.
Thanks to all the bling, shirtless celebrations, and more realistically, a modern head coach, Kirk Cousins is more popular than ever. Yet that bar was set incredibly low.
I like Kirk a lot. I like him more and more with each game just to spite those who go to the ends of the Earth to criticize him. I’ve explained numerous times how convenient I find it, that when Kirk was very good, but the team wasn’t winning, “Kirk haters” quickly dismissed his performance and focused strictly on the results.
Now at 7-1, Kirk is piling up wins and is now 10 games over .500 as a Viking. Yet this year’s numbers are barely above average (only slightly better than the 3-6 Aaron Rodgers), so the focus has shifted to statistics as they relate to his paycheck. Fine. Kirk is overpaid, but he’s also good – just not Mount Rushmore good.
Adam Thielen deserves it if Mount Rushmore was a fairy tale. Did you know that he was born in Detroit Lakes, played for MSU-Mankato, and went undrafted? There’s even more to it than just that. Note the sarcasm. If you’ve listened to “The FAN” even once during his career, you already know the story.
Thielen has gone from a special teams longshot to one of the most dependable wide receivers in Vikings history. He’s certainly slowed down in his age-32 season, but good luck finding a better red-zone weapon. Thielen hauled in his 500th reception last Sunday, joining only Cris Carter and Randy Moss in accomplishing that feat in Viking purple. Thielen is undoubtedly a worthy choice.
Yet, for me, it’s the guy drawing Randy Moss comparisons and rewriting the record books so early in his career. Justin Jefferson is a beast. I don’t think Jefferson’s game really resembles that of Moss at all. The Vikings aren’t living off the deep ball like in the Moss era. Jefferson is fast, but not jaw-dropping, Moss fast. Both have an impressive vertical, but I don’t think “You got Jefferson’d” segments will be hitting TV screens.
Instead, Jefferson appears to be a combination of Carter and Moss. Going deep? Jefferson is the first choice. Need a big first down? Jefferson. He doesn’t “alligator arm” anything. He’ll go get it in traffic. He may get visibly frustrated but doesn’t seem to “play when he wants to play.” Jefferson is staying on my Mount Rushmore, and I hope he’s staying in Minnesota for a long time.
Basketball: Cheryl Reeve
Sorry Ant. Sorry KAT. The real animal leader here is a Lynx. Cheryl Reeve does something Minnesota fans struggle to grasp. She wins.
Four WNBA titles, three WNBA Coach of the Year selections, a WNBA Executive of the Year Award, plus a recent extension and title change. Is genius an acceptable title?
Reeve coaches with a style of leadership that translates to any sport at any level. She has done so much to empower women, but every man should be taking notes as well. Seeing her 281-149 record, they’d be silly to ignore the coaching icon. I’ve been incredibly honored by a long list of guests who have made appearances on the radio show, and Reeve is at the top of said list.
She knows the game, she knows the business, and she knows people. She’s an ultimate trifecta. When she talks, you listen. She’s ideal for the growth of the WNBA, and an NBA team should at least call one day. If the Chris Finch experiment goes awry, make the move, A-Rod!
Hockey: Kirill Kaprizov
Oh no! Russian interference in my election! In all seriousness, Kaprizov is the ultimate no-brainer. He’s not just the best player for the Wild since Marian Gaborik, he’s the best player period. Fans in Minnesota have long had star players, but mainly in their own eyes. Having a talent be recognized as one of the best in an entire league is a bit of a “foreign policy.”
Like many political candidates, the question will be if Kaprizov will get enough support. As he goes, so go the Wild, but nobody should have to do it alone. The Wild will try to boldly build their future around Kaprizov. Did I say boldly? Perhaps I meant Boldy. See what I did there?
My votes are entered. Feel free to drop a comment on who you may have voted for in this case. Sorry, no fancy stickers. Let me know who I missed. I’ll tell you what I won’t miss -- all the political ads. However, I might miss the unsolicited text messages where I was referred to as both Lacey and Kristen.
I wonder who they voted for or how emotional they are today.
Brian's show, 'The Northland Sports Page', can be heard Saturdays from 10 am to noon on the FAN 106.5 FM/560 AM. You can catch previous episodes on the Northland FAN On-Demand area of our website or on our mobile app.