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Top Five: Minnesota's Most Popular Athletes

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As one of the few cities (OK metro areas) in America that plays hosts of all four of America's professional sports leagues, Minneapolis/St. Paul has no shortage of athletes to cheer on and admire. Whether it's on the diamond, the gridiron, the court, or the rink, our great state certainly has its share of superstars to call their own, and what better way to celebrate the debut of the best Minnesota-centric sports site on the internet than to celebrate our great state's five most popular athletes? Without further ado, here's the list that I came up with. . .there will be plenty of space at the end of the article for arguments, agreements, debates, and all of that fun stuff.

No. 1: Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer has been a Minnesota legend for a long time, dating back to his days at Cretin-Derham Hall. He hit over .500 every single year he was in high school, including batting a robust .605 as a senior, and in four years of play struck out a grand total of one time. But if that wasn't enough, when he was a senior he became the only athlete to be named USA Today's player of the year in two different sports ... in addition to being named in 2001 as a catcher in baseball, he was selected in the year 2000 as a football quarterback. He even had a scholarship to go play quarterback for Bobby Bowden at Florida State. As if that wasn't enough, he found time to average 20 points a game for the basketball team, too.

But, in the end he wound up choosing baseball, and thanks to Mark Prior deciding to be a whining, crybaby prima donna leading up to the 2001 MLB Draft, the Twins were able to choose him with the No. 1 overall pick that season. (Thanks, Mark!)  He blasted through the Twins' minor league system, and made his debut with the team on opening day in 2004. Since then, all he's done is won three American League batting titles (2006, 2008, 2009), two Gold Gloves (2008, 2009), and an American League MVP award, among numerous other kudos. It really is a case of "hometown boy does good," and with the extension that he recently signed, it looks like there's a good chance that Joe Mauer is going to be the face of the Twins until he decides he doesn't want to be any more.

No. 2:  Adrian Peterson

Leading up to the 2007 National Football League draft, and coming off of a disappointing 6-10 mark in Brad Childress' first season as coach, the Vikings appeared to be set at very few positions. One spot that they did appear to be set at is running back, where Chester Taylor had rushed for over 1,200 yards and been the only legitimate weapon on a pretty weak offense. So, when the Vikings went to the podium with the seventh overall selection, very few expected to hear the name of the consensus best running back in the draft that year. But Adrian Peterson was the name on the card, and he wasted very little time in making an impact, putting up 224 rushing yards, three touchdowns, and a huge kick return to set up the game-winning field goal in a Minnesota victory at Soldier Field. He followed that up a few weeks later by setting the NFL's single-game rushing record against the San Diego Chargers at the Metrodome.

After having to deal with a few seasons of terrible offense, Peterson was a revelation to the Vikings and to Minnesota fans in general. He's one of the rare players that has the ability to take the ball to the end zone from anywhere on the field every time he gets his hands on it. Granted, he has had some problems in recent times actually keeping his hands on the ball, but still. . .you know that a guy has raised the bar awfully high when he rushes for 1,383 yards, leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 18, and all anybody wants to ask is, "What's wrong with AP?"  There are a few dozen NFL teams that wish they had such problems. The shelf life for running backs in the NFL is fairly short, so I'm not sure how long the NFL's best running back will be its best running back, so we'd better enjoy him while he's here.

No. 3:  Jared Allen

A guy who likes to hunt, like to fish, and (at least, up until recently) was sporting one of the truly epic hairstyles of our generation?  Sounds like somebody tailor-made for the great state of Minnesota from where I sit. The Minnesota Vikings got a good look at Jared Allen during the 2007 season, as he raised all sorts of havoc for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Vikings in Week 3 that season. They liked what they saw so much that, prior to the 2008 draft, they parted with a first-round pick and a pair of third-rounders to acquire him, and proceeded to make him the highest-paid defensive player in football at the time. For a guy coming off of a suspension for multiple DUIs that was regarded by some as a loose cannon, it seemed like a lot.

Allen, however, has proven to be worth every penny. He's been completely clean and sober since his arrival in Minneapolis, and his unparalleled pass-rushing skills transformed what was a good Minnesota defense into one of the NFL's best. Allen has notched 14.5 sacks in each of his first two seasons with the Vikings, and has defended seven passes to go along with eight forced fumbles, an interception, and a fumble return for a touchdown. If that's not enough, there are rumors out there that Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers curls up into the fetal position and wets himself at the mere mention of Jared Allen's name ... and, hey, why wouldn't you love that?

No. 4:  Mikko Koivu

When the Wild are mentioned in casual conversation, the safe bet is that the face of Marian Gaborik still comes to mind first.However, since the departure of Gaborik, the Wild have clearly become Mikko Koivu's team. His installation as the first full time captain in team history was not by accident. He is the go to guy for the team, the media, and fans. There is no one on the team the fans want on the ice more in a critical situation.

While players like Cal Clutterbuck and Derek Boogaard can bring the fans to their feet with the mere mention of their name, or a big hit, listen to the announcements of the starting line up and see who gets the X rocking more. "Kaptain" Koivu, also known as "Franchise" by his teammates, is clearly the fan favorite. The hockey world is one of constant trade rumors flying, yet the only name you never hear a fan mention they would be willing to part with is Koivu, for some, not even for Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. Koivu truly is the face of hockey in Minnesota, and that's the reason he makes this list.

No. 5:  Justin Morneau

The road to stardom and popularity hasn't always been easy for the Twins' first baseman. He became the Twins' full-time first baseman in 2004, and in 74 games hit 19 home runs and drove in 79 while playing pretty solid defense at first base. Then, prior to the 2005 season, Morneau managed to catch roughly every disease known to man. Well, not quite all of them, but he did have appendicitis, the chicken pox, pleurisy, and pneumonia. Then in June, right when it looked like he was starting to get into a groove, he was hit in the head by a pitch from Seattle's Ron Villone and missed 13 games with a concussion. People began to wonder if Morneau would ever reach his enormous potential.

I think we can safely say that he's reached it. In 2006, after having a torrid second half of the season and led the Twins to another American League Central crown, Morneau was named the American League MVP. He finished that season hitting .321 (6th in the AL) with 34 home runs and 130 RBI. The 34 homers made him the first Twin to have more than 30 in a season since since 1987. Since then, he's been adding Silver Slugger awards to his trophy case at a pretty impressive clip, and was even the winner of the 2008 Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game. Along with the aforementioned Mauer, Justin Morneau is the face of Minnesota Twins baseball, and one of the most popular athletes in Minnesota, to be sure.

And there's your list, folks. Yes, Brett Favre isn't on there, and the reason for that is that I still think there are enough people that haven't quite warmed up to the idea of him as the quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings to let him get on the list. And wither the Timberwolves?  Well. . .have you watched the Wolves play for the last couple of years?  Shoot, it's entirely possible that their most popular player is currently employed in Spain and may never wear a Timberwolves uniform. So, as a result, there are no Timberwolves on our Top Five list.

Is there anyone you think should have been included?  Who should they have replaced?  Feel free to discuss it below!

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.