Minnesota Sports Figures of 2008
5. Lindsey Vonn
The former Buck Hill charge out of Burnsville became just the second American woman ever to capture the overall World Cup title, the first since 1983.
4. Tubby Smith
Conducted the largest ever single-season turnaround (11 games) in Gopher hoop history, taking the boys from 9-22 back in 2006-'07 to 20-14 last year. Thus far into '08, he's got his club -- a fine mix of local flavor and national recruitment -- at 13-1, ranked 22nd in the country. The guy has won 20 games for 15 straight seasons, and he gets his dudes to play great hustle defense. In impressively short time, Smith has brought the program from the dregs of the Big Ten back to national recognition.
3. Joe Mauer
Captured his second American League batting title in a three-year stretch after becoming the first ever A.L. catcher to do so back in '06. Oh, and he earned an overdue, first Gold Glove. Ardent fans remain despondent that the Twins went with a corporate moniker for the new stadium. A dozen years down the road, the same dedicated legions will argue that Target Field should be named after this guy. He's the undisputed best catcher in baseball, and we'll have the pleasure of seeing him as a Twin for life.
2. Ted Schlafke
Clearly lacks the name recognition of the rest herein, however, as per team sports, he was able to lead his crew to a promised land that the others on this list watched on television. After going 4-6 last year, Schlafke led the University of Minnesota-Duluth to an undefeated season (15-0), it's first ever National Championship game, and it's first ever D-2 crown. In the process, he was named quarterback on the first-team A.P. little American club (recognizing all non-D-1 players) while being honored as NSIC Player of the Year. Schlafke holds all single-game, single-season and career passing records for UMD. He meshed talent with mettle, starting in a school-record 47 consecutive games.
1. Adrian Peterson
Yes, the Vikings were unable to extend their season and yes, Peterson undoubtedly has some shortcomings, namely his pedestrian pass-blocking skills, his confounding dearth of receptions, and his well-noted fumbling drama. But the Vikings have been around since 1961, and in '08 Peterson became the first ever Purple back to lead the NFL in rushing with a stout 1,760 yards, also a team single-season record. His 10 touchdowns, when added to last year's total, give A.P. 23 TD's in his 30 games as a Viking. He's also recorded 16 100-yard games in that brief span. On a larger scale, he became just the 5th player in league history to accrue 3,000-plus rushing yards in his first two seasons, and is already the Vikings' 9th all-time leading runner.
We know the numbers, but on a weekly basis, we are also getting to know more of the man. This is why Peterson gets my #1 ranking. He is our state's most recognizable player (yes, even more so than Mauer at this point), at the game's second most-glamorous position, in the nation's most popular sport. He's heavily and well-marketed, he's an active community guy, and to be downtown on Sunday was to see a wash of "28" 's on the backs on fans.
Adrian Peterson is fast becoming the face of Twin Cities sport. Now, he just needs to prove he can hold onto the conch.
R.I.P. to Twins' owner Carl Pohlad who passed at the age of 93 yesterday. Since acquiring the Twins back in 1984, Pohlad was a polarizing figure among baseball fans. His frugality will not be long-forgotten, nor will his willingness to contract the club for a sum dwarfed by net worth. Nonetheless, the guy created a culture of consistency that is an increasing rarity for professional American sports franchises. His memory will long endure at Target Field, as will the Twins' two titles in a five-year span -- especially in a town where the other three teams have zero championships among them.