With the sad news of the passing of Harmon Killebrew, I started reflecting on the biggest Icons of Minnesota sports, a Mount Rushmore, if you will, of the biggest and best in Minnesota history. Who were the four most influential people in the history of Minnesota sports, either as a player or a coach?
Yeah, tough question, isn't it?
We're suffering through one of the worst stretches in Minnesota sports in recent memory, so it might be hard to remember the good times. But there have been some good, even great times. And the four people I'm going to highlight here helped provide a lot of them.
Harmon Killebrew, Minnesota Twins: Killebrew was the first big time baseball superstar in Minnesota, and his gentle nature belied his immense hitting power. He was the first Twins captain in history, lead the Twins to their first World Series appearance, and was one of the most feared right handed power hitters in Major League history. He hit some of the farthest home runs ever recorded, to include the first one hit over the roof of Tiger Stadium. Killebrew was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, and his number 3 will never be worn again by a Minnesota Twin. Kirby Puckett might have been more popular, but Killebrew was truly beloved.
And he will be sorely missed.
Bud Grant, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Lakers, and Minnesota Vikings: Most people immediately think of Bud Grant's icy stare and calm demeanor roaming the Metropolitan Stadium sidelines as the Vikings coach, but Grant was a three sport All American at the U of M, and also played for the Minneapolis Lakers in the early '50's. But it was as the coach of the Vikings where Grant made his mark, and he was the coach during the Golden era of Vikings football. He took the Vikings to 11 division titles in 13 seasons, 5 appearances in the NFC Championship game, and four Super Bowl appearances. He is the winningest coach in Vikings history, and is a member of the CFL and NFL Hall of fame. Grant is still a giant in Minnesota sports today, and was one of the featured speakers in the Vikings press conference announcing their new stadium plan in Ramsey County. I know I can't speak for everyone, but if Bud Grant asked me to run through a wall, I'd do it.
Herb Brooks, University of Minnesota, US Olympic Team: There are a few moments in your life where you know exactly where you were when you heard about or watched something happen. I was a kid in East Grand Forks when I avoided radio and TV reports so I could watch the US-USSR Olympic Hockey game, and I watched it with a couple of friends at their house. And I still can't believe we beat the Russians. But before Brooks was the architect of the almost mythological 'Miracle on Ice', he was the guy that brought Gopher hockey back to prominence. He was the last guy cut on the 1960 US Olympic team, and was a member of the '64 and '68 teams. He lead the Gophers to three NCAA Titles (1974, '76, '79) and took a team of mostly Minnesota (okay, and Boston too) players to Lake Placid in 1980. He also coached in the NFL, to include the Minnesota North Stars.
George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers: Mikan was the first professional sports superstar in Minnesota, and was such a force the NBA changed how the game was played to see if he could be less dominant. The first one was the advent of a shot clock. During the playoffs, Fort Wayne played keep away to prevent Mikan from taking over the game, and they won the lowest scoring game in NBA history 19-18. The shot clock rule came in to effect shortly thereafter. But the widening of the lane from 3 to 6 feet, also known as 'the Mikan Rule', was adopted in an effort to keep Mikan from controlling the game single handedly. It worked somewhat, but even with the widened lane, Mikan was still the most dominant player in the game, and he helped lead the Lakers to 5 titles in his career.
Brett Favre. Just kidding.