Closing Shot: The Sports Capital of the United States
From the World Series to the Super Bowl, Minneapolis owned the spotlight 30 years ago with a magnificent run of sporting events that will likely never be topped.
Game 7 of the 1991 World Series attracted more than 50 million viewers who saw the Twins defeat the Atlanta Braves.getty images
Sports were surely far from the mind of one famous Minnesotan when he wrote long ago about “the inexhaustible variety of life.”
After all, there were no major professional sports teams in F. Scott Ftizgerald’s home state during his 44 years on Earth. Still, it is perhaps fitting that no place ever put quite so much variety of the sporting life on display as Minnesota did three decades ago.
Starting in February 1991 and running through April 1992, the Land of 10,000 Lakes hosted nearly that many marquee events in a great sporting tsunami: the U.S. Figure Skating Championships; college hockey’s Frozen Four; the Stanley Cup Final; the men’s U.S. Open golf tournament; the Special Olympics; the World Series; the Super Bowl; and the men’s Final Four. And all of that followed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ debut in November 1989 and the U.S. Olympic Festival, held the following summer.
The event that really started to mark Minnesota as the sports world’s north star began, appropriately, with the Minnesota North Stars, who advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in May 1991 before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both that series and the U.S. Open, won by Payne Stewart and held at Hazeltine (where members financed the tournament themselves by handling ticket sales and corporate hospitality tents), actually took place outside the Twin Cities, in Bloomington and Chaska, respectively.
But when the Minnesota Twins made an unexpected journey to the World Series that began 30 years ago this week, the sports world officially took up residence at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, a large and largely charmless stadium that had opened in 1982 in downtown Minneapolis. If the city wasn’t quite the Mini-apple its citizens sometimes referred to it as — few confused it with the bigger Apple on the East Coast — the Dome at least allowed Minneapolis to import the Twins and Vikings from the suburbs and gave it a chance to host the biggest events in the world. Indeed, Minneapolis finished as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s runner-up to eventual host Atlanta in bidding for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
“I knew in my gut this plastic place would become a thing of affection,” Don Poss, who headed the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission when the Dome was constructed, told the Star-Tribune in 1991.
That year’s World Series is still often considered the best ever played. The Twins and Braves, both of which became the first teams to go from last place one year to the World Series the next, staged an epic Fall Classic that featured five one-run games and three extra-inning affairs. Backed by a homer-hanky-waving crowd that reached ear-splitting decibel levels, the Twins won Game 6 on a walk-off home run by Kirby Puckett and emerged from an epic Game 7 with a 1-0, 10-inning triumph that was watched by more than 50 million viewers on CBS, the only World Series game to hit that number in the past 40 years.
Three months later, on Jan. 26, 1992, the Washington Redskins pounded the Buffalo Bills, 37-24, to win Super Bowl XXVI. Finally, on April 6, Duke cemented its dynasty by beating Michigan’s “Fab Five” freshmen to become the first repeat men’s college basketball champion in 19 years.
“None of this could have happened without the Dome,” public relations executive Dave Mona, whose firm Mona, Meyer and McGrath helped secure the winning bids for the Super Bowl and Final Four, told Newsday in 1991.
None of it has happened since, nor is it likely to again, in part because no NFL team shares a stadium with an MLB team. The possibilities, it seems, may have finally been exhausted.