My farewell to Worthington and the Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — When you’re attending sporting events around the area this winter, you may notice that there will be a little less ginger in the room.

Sure, people in Worthington have already gotten used to having a little less ginger around with Brandon Berger having taken his talents to St. Olaf College. I was happy to keep up the ginger representation in his place, but now I’ve reached my time to leave as well.

After a mere 14 months on the job here at the Daily Globe, I recently decided to continue my career at the New Ulm Journal. This will be my last week on the job.

I’ve had a lot of great experiences during my time in this particular region of southwest Minnesota, and at a time like this it seems only appropriate to thank some of the people that have made my first-ever job a really memorable one (I’ll see how many thanks I can get in before they start playing the background music and yank me off of the stage).

First of all, I’d like to thank Ryan McGaughey for taking a chance on a culturally confused 22-year-old fresh out of college. After coming in as nothing more than an aspiring journalist, I feel that I’ve taken great strides during my time at the newspaper.

Most of the credit for turning me into a real journalist is due to Aaron Hagen, who withstood all of my growing pains and has been a great editor and teammate. I know we rarely choose our colleagues, but I certainly feel I got lucky having had Aaron beside me. The sports section’s recognition by the Minnesota Newspaper Association as the best small-town daily sports section in the state is a true credit to Aaron’s awesomeness.

I also was lucky to work with the section’s part-time crew, all of whom share the last name Knutson. Les, Lucas and Lance — it was a pleasure working with you, I know it’ll be hard to get used to working without you. And Lucas, I’m glad you’re better at picking football results than you are in predicting AL MVPs, though I applaud your faith in Delmon Young.

The final sports guy I have to thank is photographer Brian Korthals. I came to this job only vaguely aware of how to properly use a camera, and having the help of a pro like Brian has left me now as a capable photographer. Thanks also for introducing me to Azteca. There will be no shortage of memories from that place.

To night editor Joe Froemming, we share a special bond that can only be formed by jumping into a frozen lake together in the middle of winter. What were we thinking?

To all my other colleagues — whether you knew me as that kid spouting crazy things from the sports desk, as the guy that stocked the candy dish, or even if you didn’t know me at all — thanks for putting up with me for the past 14 months.

Most of all, I’d like to thank all of the coaches I worked with, the athletes I wrote about and all of the parents and family members that appreciated my coverage. Without your support, my job would have no meaning. My biggest hope is that in doing my job I was able to help you document the memories you all created on the field, on the court, on the ice and on the course (and various other settings). I really enjoyed getting to know a lot of you. I hope someday you will see my name in print again — if I do get famous, I’ll always remember that my journey started right here at the Globe.

A special thanks to whoever sent me the Jackson County Central T-shirt. I still have no idea who you are. Here’s to hoping for the Huskies to go a step better this year and take home a state girls’ basketball title. Sorry Gingie won’t be there to document it.

My departure marks only the final step in a big turning point for the Daily Globe sports section. Starting next week you will have both a new sports editor and new sports reporter to get used to (as Aaron mentioned in a column a few months ago, he will be staying at the Globe, though in a different role).

However, you will still see a number of stories with Knutson bylines, so I hope they are able to give the section at least some continuity.

As someone that grew up in five of the world’s major cities (six if you want to include St. Paul), living in southwest Minnesota was a new experience for me. My biggest philosophy for myself is to fill my life with as many different experiences as I can, and I’m glad that I took a chance at a whole new experience in moving here. I foresee my life taking many more twists and turns before I settle down, though if I follow the same path as my dad, I will never reach a point where I settle down for good.

I am pretty sure that I have absolutely no German heritage (just Norwegian and various strands of British and Irish), but I’m hoping I feel as at home In New Ulm as I did here.

Rugby World Cup 2011 recap

AUCKLAND, N.Z. — Over the past month and a half, there has been a World Cup going on that some of you may have been completely unaware of.

OK, let’s face it — I’d be surprised if any of you have been following the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which has been taking place in New Zealand. The final was held in the early hours Sunday morning against host New Zealand — better known as the All Blacks — and surprise finalist France.

Before giving you the result, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the action throughout the tournament, which began Sept. 9 with the All Blacks earning a 41-10 victory against Tonga.

Although there are 16 countries that took part in the Rugby World Cup — including both the USA and Canada — there are really only a handful of nations that ever stood a chance of making a serious run at the title. The group stage of the tournament took up almost the first month of competition, but it really was little more than a formality.

There are nine national teams that stand head and shoulders above all other rugby-playing nations. There are the Six Nations teams in Europe (England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy) and the Tri Nations teams in the southern hemisphere (New Zealand, Australia and South Africa).

Of the eight teams to make it through the group stages, seven of them were either from the Six Nations or the Tri Nations. The lone surprise team was Argentina, who upset Scotland in Pool B.

Since the pool stages usually are a breeze for the top nations, the real competition doesn’t start until the quarterfinals. With the All Blacks heavy favorites to win the entire tournament playing in front of the home crowd, they really only had to win three pressure-packed games to win their first World Cup since the inaugural tournament was played in 1987.

In the first quarterfinal, Wales overcame rival Ireland by a 22-10 score to earn a place in the semifinals. The result was a small upset since Ireland had won all four of their pool-play matches, including against Australia.

In the second quarterfinal, France beat England 19-12 in another mini-upset. As the founding nation of the sport, the English always get upset when they lose in the World Cup (the same goes in the soccer World Cup) — especially to a team such as the French, with whom they share centuries of animosity.

Defending champion South Africa (the Springboks) faced off against Australia (the Wallabies) in a blockbuster affair in the third quarterfinal. It was an intensely close game, but in the end the Wallabies upset the Springboks to move on to the semifinals.

In the final quarterfinal, the All Blacks brushed aside Argentina 33-10 to set up a semifinal against arch-rival Australia.

In the 24-year history of the World Cup, only five teams — New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England and France — have ever made it to the final. Wales was hoping to become the sixth team to do so when it faced off against France in the first semifinal.

Although favored in the game, the Welsh fell victims to an early red card and were beaten 9-8 by the French, sending Les Bleus to their third final. France lost in the final to New Zealand in 1987 and to Australia in 1999, so was bound to get a shot at revenge against whoever won the other semifinal between the All Blacks and the Wallabies.

The semifinal against Australia was the first big test of the tournament for New Zealand, but the All Blacks played a phenomenal match to earn a 20-6 victory and set up a rematch of the 1987 final against France.

The All Blacks had already beaten France in the group stage, but had the weight of four-million fans on their shoulders to win their first World Cup since 1987. Since the Rugby World Cup is pretty much the only thing a vast majority of the population of New Zealand is truly passionate about in the world, 24 years is a pretty long drought.

Before the final, however, Australia matched up with Wales in the third-place game, where the Wallabies solidified their place as the No. 2 ranked team in the world with a 21-18 victory.

I stayed up until 5 a.m. on Sunday following the final online, then spent Sunday afternoon watching the delayed broadcast on NBC.

It was hardly the game that anyone expected, with the heavily-favored All Blacks struggling against a gritty French defense.

New Zealand scored a try in the first half (worth five points), but missed the conversion (worth two points) and also missed two penalty goals (worth three points each) to take only a 5-0 lead into halftime.

The All Blacks changed their kicker in the second half and finally converted a penalty goal to take an 8-0 lead early in the second half, but France responded minute later with a try and a successful conversion to narrow the lead to 8-7.

The rest of the game was a series of tackles, scrums, rucks and mauls, with New Zealand hanging on for an emotional 8-7 victory, setting off a nationwide celebration that is still probably going on strong as you read this column (even if you’re reading this column as late as the year 2014, the party is probably still going on!).

If this account of the Rugby World Cup piqued your interest, stay tuned for the 2015 World Cup, which will be in England, and the 2019 World Cup, which will be in Japan.

I know that I will be going to at least one of them in person — I regret very much not being able to go down to New Zealand this year to watch this year’s rendition.

Sports adventure in Texas – Aussie Rules football national championships

Like Paycheck, I will be heading to Texas this weekend for a weekend of celebration surrounding an athletic event.

While I wish I was able to be in Cuero to see another dominant Paycheck performance in the Great Gobbler Gallop, Part II (hopefully not to be known as “Ruby’s Revenge”), I will instead be 110 miles northeast of Cuero in the state capital — Austin.

I won’t be alone. Australians and Aussie culture enthusiasts from all around the U.S. and Canada will converge on Austin for the United States Australian Football League national championships.

I’ve been a member of the Minnesota Freeze Aussie Rules football team for two years now and this will be my second trip to nationals.

Last year the event was held in Louisville, Ky., where the Freeze lost in the Division II championship game against Calgary. This year, the team will be looking to go one step better and win its second Division II title.

I’ve written about Aussie Rules football (known in Australia simply as “footy”) in this space enough in the past that you’ve probably heard about the Minnesota Freeze before, but here’s a refresher, just in case.

The Freeze were founded about seven years ago, roughly a decade after the USAFL was created. There are teams in most major cities in the country, with teams playing in four different divisions.

Division I includes teams such as New York, Denver and Seattle, while Division II includes teams such as Minnesota, Kansas City, Dallas and Philadelphia. Newer teams — such as Des Moines and Portland — play in the lower divisions, with some larger teams also entering their B sides in a lower division.

As you may expect, a lot of the growth of footy in the U.S. has involved ex-patriot Aussies that now live and work here. On the Freeze we have a number of Aussies, but we have a far greater number of players that were born and raised in America that picked up the game on their own.

A large proportion of our team is made up of graduates of St. John’s University that studied abroad in Australia together, including our captain, Tiger.

The Freeze practice in South Minneapolis on Saturday mornings, and when I was living in St. Paul I somehow happened upon a practice one day. Having spent my formative years in the world capital of footy — Melbourne, Australia — it has always been my favorite sport, so I of course took an immediate interest in the club.

Working a daily newspaper sports shift and living 180 miles from practices has put a cramp in my ability to stay an active part of the team, but I’ve made the best of the situation. Aussie sports and an Aussie outlook on life go hand in hand — no worries, mate!

I’ve made trips all across the country to show my commitment to the club this summer, and there was no way I was going to miss nationals.

As a 23-year-old bachelor living in the countryside I don’t have a lot of needs in life, but I certainly need footy.

This weekend I’ll relish being able to hang out with footy enthusiasts from all around the country, drink more than my fair share of Aussie beer and eat authentic Aussie meat pies (flaky hand-sized pastries filled with minced meat and gravy that you completely smother with tomato sauce — aka, ketchup).

In past columns, I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the lack of current success in the Minnesota sports scene.

While I know there certainly will be some Minnesotan glory in Texas this weekend (go Paycheck!), here’s to hoping a motley group of Minnesotan footy players can bring Minnesota some glory on the footy field, too.

Hopefully by the time you are reading this we have a WNBA championship to celebrate as well — go Lynx!

 

Paycheck has restored Minnesota pride

WORTHINGTON — Minnesota pride has been restored.

With the Twins on track for a 100-loss season, the Vikings off to an 0-2 start after a pair of abysmal second halves and the Gophers losing football games to powerhouse teams such as New Mexico State, there has been little to cheer for recently in the Minnesota sports landscape.

At least that was the case before Saturday.

In a little over 27 seconds, Minnesota sports fans were finally given something to cheer about.

True, Paycheck’s victory against Ruby Begonia in King Turkey Day’s Great Gobbler Gallop didn’t draw quite as many viewers as the average Vikings game, but with the Minnesota sports-scape in a state of despair, our little turkey gave us an unforgettable performance.

According to sources available on the day, Paycheck ran the second fastest recorded time in the history of the event.

Although the head-to-head matchup won’t officially end until the pair of turkeys square off again at Turkey Fest in Cuero, Texas, Paycheck’s lead of well over three minutes should be a safe bet to hold up for the overall title.

Paycheck has been so fast over the past two years that it almost hasn’t been fair.

Spectators who eagerly anticipate the race throughout the year have only seen Paycheck in full racing action for a total on one minute and four seconds over the past two years combined after Paycheck’s winning time of 37 seconds in last year’s Great Gobbler Gallop.

It’s ironic that Paycheck can achieve glory for the state of Minnesota in 27 seconds, whereas it has taken an agonizing 154 games so far for the 2011 Twins to sink the state to the bottom of the ranks of baseball respectability.

Although Paycheck’s victory probably hasn’t resonated much further than Worthington and the immediate surrounding area (unless Liz Collin made mention of it on a WCCO newscast, which I unfortunately forgot to check out), perhaps Worthington’s victory will spread throughout the state.

It wouldn’t be the first time something has started in Worthington and had a state-wide impact. Our current governor is the descendant of a famous Worthington resident (the same man who lends his name to the historic Dayton House), and in Matt Entenza we had another candidate in the last gubernatorial election that actually hailed from the city.

Also, Mayor Al Oberloh — apart from being known for having perhaps the biggest beard of any mayor of any town in history — has risen to state-wide prominence as the president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

Already in the wake of Paycheck’s victory we have seen the Minnesota Lynx win their first ever playoff series, which may lead to the state’s first championship in a professional sport since the 1991 Twins won the World Series.

OK, the Lynx were good even before Paycheck’s victory, but who’s to say that the team didn’t catch wind of Saturday’s race and use it as inspiration to gain the edge against the Silver Stars in Tuesday’s elimination game?

I won’t go so far as to say that Paycheck’s victory will have any effect on the Vikings righting their ship (after all, their most recent collapse came one day after the race) or will prevent the Twins from finishing the season with an 18-game losing streak, but at least we can be proud knowing that Minnesota sports have at least one thing to be proud of in an otherwise very bleak period of the state’s sports history.

Who ever first thought to race turkeys?

No matter whether you’re much of a race fan during the rest of the year, during Turkey Week there is no denying that racing is king.

Whether you’re more inclined to participate in or watch the Turkey Trot or to line 10th Street to watch our Paycheck defend his title against Ruby Begonia, racing is as much a part of the week’s festivities as anything else.

As humans, it seems that any time there is the slightest possibility of a race taking place, we seize the opportunity with great passion and gusto.

The impulse to race has been passed through our genetic material seemingly ever since we were first able to stand and walk on two legs.

The idea competing against an opponent in a test of speed has taken a number of different forms throughout human history.

In the ancient Greek olympics, men would test their speed and endurance against each other without the use of any enhancements — even clothing.

As the centuries passed, humankind also found time to create sports out of racing different species of animals.

Races involving animals have taken many forms, with some done in tandem with a human rider — such as was done in the horse-drawn chariot races in ancient Rome and in modern day horse racing — and some with the animal racing on their own, such as in Greyhound racing. Even as kids we sometimes find and race our own animals, though usually on a much smaller scale such as with snails and turtles.

When humans developed the appropriate technology, racing started to attain speeds prevoiously unheard of, creating modes of racing that remain popular today with all different kinds of automotive racing.

However, of all the different types of racing in existence, who ever thought of the idea to race birds?

Our turkey race is surely a true experience to be had, though to be honest it is far more about the camaraderie between Worthington and the town of Cuero, Texas, than about any serious high-stakes racing.

There is very little about the race that is too formal or scientific — how can you take something completely seriously when you have grown adults chasing turkeys down main street with paddles?

True, there are probably few experiences that can be compared to a turkey race. There are other forms of bird racing in existence, such as pigeon racing — I learned everything I know about the sport from Animal Planet’s special series involving Mike Tyson — but there aren’t any others that come to my mind.

My inner child secretly wishes that races existed with people riding ostriches or emus, but I’m pretty sure such an idea exists only in cartoons and fantasy.

I can’t even begin to imagine people trying to chase an ostrich or an emu down main street with paddles — there definitely would be a few more hospital visits than would be worth it.

The ultimate in the racing of land birds would have been to see a moa in action, though this former giant inhabitant of New Zealand is now long extinct.

However, if the science from Jurassic Park becomes a reality and we some day are able to bring back extinct species, knowing human nature we’d probably find a way to race almost any species.

Until that time, we’ll have to settle for racing the descendants of the dinosaurs when the prized turkeys Paycheck and Ruby Begonia race on Saturday.

Rude awakening to the fall sports season

After months of uncertainty as to whether the NFL would even have a season this year, it feels that football season has arrived almost as a complete surprise.

At least that’s how I felt on Friday, Aug. 19, when theIowahigh school football schedule got underway.

Many of us here in the Daily Globe sports department noted how it felt kind of early for Friday night football to have already arrived with the warm, lazy atmosphere of summer still in the air.

Seeing as it was only just past the mid-point of August, it was indeed early to have area high school football teams opening their competitive schedules.

As you can imagine, without any high school sports to cover, the summer is usually a change of pace for the sports department.

On Aug. 19 we deployed our entire staff for the first time since the spring, with myself, Aaron Hagen, Les Knutson, Lance Knutson and Lucas Knutson all heading to Iowa for some football.

It was quite the awakening.

First of all, having not had to travel far for an event all summer, I had to find my way to Sibley for the first time in my life.

Getting to Sibley is about as easy of a trip as you can make from Worthington under normal circumstances, but the detour on highway 60 played havoc to both myself and Lucas, neither of whom had ever taken it before.

I left the office with plenty of time to spare before opening kickoff in the rivalry game between Sibley-Ocheyedan and Sheldon, but when I hit the barricade south of town on highway 60 I didn’t immediately know which way to turn.

Unbeknownst to me, I turned straight west, but luckily I proceeded only a couple of miles before realizing my mistake.

I surprised colleagues Joe Froeming and Ana Anthony by showing up back at the office, where I realized what I had done.

You see, there really aren’t any clear signs for the detour once you have already reached the barricade itself, so little did I know that the detour was actually quite a ways north of where I was looking for it.

On my second try I found the detour and finally got all the way to the football field in Sibley. I was little late, but hurried to the sidelines and started snapping pictures.

When I tried to look back at the pictures I had already taken, however, I realized that the battery I had brought to the game was dead.

With digital SLR cameras you can’t just go to a gas station and pick up some replacement batteries.

The last time I accidentally brought a dead battery to a game was during a basketball game in Luverne, and luckily the Rock County Star Herald’s John Rittenhouse and Edgerton parent Sandy Gunnink helped me out and donated a couple of pictures.

However, in this case I had Lucas on hand to write the game story, so I decided I had time to go all the way back to Worthington and bring back a fully charged battery, which I did (I ended up bringing  four of them, just in case).

Everything ended up working out fine, but the whole experience was definitely a strong slap in the face to get me back on top of my game with the fall sports schedule reaching full speed this week.

It was another jolt to be at a volleyball game for the first time in almost 10 months on Friday when the Trojans hostedFulda, but luckily on that occasion things went much smoother.

I can only hope for the same when I attend my first soccer game and cross country meet later this week.

The next Jim Thome may already be in Minnesota

 After Jim Thome hit the 600th home run of his career on Monday night, he pretty much hugged everyone in sight. 

He hugged most of his teammates, his father, his wife and two children, Ron Gardenhire — he hugged pretty much everyone in the Twins organization, including the bat boys.

However, who was the very first person waiting for him as soon as he touched home plate?

That would be one Michael Cuddyer.

Thome and Cuddyer first exchanged a doublehanded hi-five before embracing to set off Thome’s hugging rampage.

It’s no coincidence that of all the people in the Twins dugout it was Cuddyer who made his way to the front of the line.

Since Thome joined the Twins last season, there’s no doubt he’s had his moments of glory on the field and had a positive impact on helping the Twins win.

However, probably the biggest impact he’ll have had on the Twins when his time here is over is what he’s done inside the clubhouse.

Most everyone who knows Thome describes him as probably the best of the good guys in baseball, someone with a heart of gold who boosts the morale of every clubhouse he enters.

Cuddyer might be the player who succeeds him with that title when he eventually retires.

The Twins team is usually known for being an organization that attracts good guys, and with players like Joe Mauer — who sacrificed the potential for a big pay day with the Yankees to sign a long-term contract with the Twins — there are plenty of players on the roster who make worthy role models.

Cuddyer is not a complainer, or a prima donna. He plays wherever he’s needed on the field without putting up a fuss. Earlier this year he even had a scoreless appearance as a pitcher.

He’s also turned into one of the faces of the franchise, keeping blogs and accruing probably more air time with interviews than any other player.

Earlier this year he even talked with the Daily Globe’s own Aaron Hagen and had some fantastic things to say after Ellsworth native Riley Meester sang the national anthem at Target Field.

It would be apt to create a new adjective to describe the kind of player Cuddyer has become — Thome-esque.

It makes complete sense that Thome and Cuddyer have become so close.

In Monday’s post-game press conference, Thome talked about how after hitting 600 he was sitting on the bench next to who else but Cuddyer, talking about just how unbelievable it is to hit 600 home runs in a career (spot on with that one).

It’s probably no coincidence that Cuddyer makes an appearance in Thome’s Twins commercial on Fox Sports North where he dresses up as Paul Bunyan (good guys all around in that one with Mauer also making an appearance — and love the West Virginia-born Cuddyer breaking out a “you betcha”).

Cuddyer is definitely the kind of player that a franchise should go out of its way to keep around.

However, if Cuddyer does choose to leave, he won’t be any worse of a player or person for it.

Thome has proven that it’s possible to be a good guy and still travel around, having played for five different teams — he needs only to play for the Tigers and Royals to complete the sweep of American League Central teams (and perhaps he should seriously consider a stint with the Tigers, seeing as he obviously likes the park having hit home runs 599, 600 and 601 there).

Though he’s a legitimate all-star talent, Cuddyer isn’t in the same league as Thome, who is about as sure-fire a player for the Hall of Fame as there is.

However, there is no doubt that both players will forever go down in the books as all-time great Twins.

The Twins are certainly lucky to have both players, and let’s just hope that the future generations of young Twins are fortunate enough to mature with such great role models in the future.

Heck, maybe they’ll have the chance to play with the most Thome-esque player of them all if Thome sticks around a couple more years.

When you’ve already hit 600 home runs, what’s so hard about 100 or so more?

 

 

Fantasy baseball — a lifelong love affair

Not too long ago in this space Aaron Hagen wrote about his fantasy baseball exploits for the year.

In his column he mentioned how both he and I are doing the Daily Globe sports department not so proud by sitting in second to last place and last place, respectively, in the standings in our league with fellow staffers and a group from New York.

After weeks and weeks of defeat, you may wonder why we bother with the game. Why should anybody subject themselves to painstakingly monitoring the statistical production of a group of 20 or so Major League baseball players on a nightly basis through a 162-game schedule in the pursuit of a virtual trophy?

This is my eighth year of playing fantasy baseball, and it’s something I anticipate I will never quit.

I am a lifelong lover of baseball — stemming from my earliest memories of watching Kirby Puckett embarrass opposing pitchers in the Metrodome — but fantasy baseball has taken my obsession with the game  to another level.

Having grown up overseas, I would only get small glimpses of the game during our yearly family trip to visit our American relatives. When the internet came along I had an easier time following the game (mlb.com is perhaps my most visited website), but I still missed a lot of baseball history. Only much later did I read about Cal Ripken and his streak, and I somehow even missed Barry Bonds’ 73 home run season.

In my eight years of fantasy baseball, I am pretty sure I haven’t missed a single thing that Major League Baseball has put on the table.

It started when I would spend recess and lunch breaks in the computer lab at my high school in Japan checking the day’s MLB box scores — with the time difference, most games were wrapped up before the lunch hour was over.

It’s one thing rooting for your favorite team to do well, but fantasy baseball forces players to expand their horizons. Whereas before I started fantasy baseball I would only check the box scores for the Twins and the Braves, ever since I started I have kept tabs on every single lineup and almost every player. My consumption of all things baseball is at an all-time high.

For people like me, there is no thing as having too much baseball. I probably would be inclined to dig through baseball stats for fun anyway, but having a virtual team of players to compete against your friends with actually makes it turn into a social activity.

The league I first joined with high school friends in Japan is still going. Based on my track record keeping in touch with people, I probably would have lost contact with most of the people in this league years ago if we didn’t have fantasy baseball to connect us. We’re now spread around the world —from Japan to the US, Canada and even Sweden — but we still send our trophy around between us (a dragon to which we attach “bling” to commemorate our victories), no matter the distance.

My addiction to the game has gone so far that I often find myself going through withdrawal in the winter months.

Even though this hasn’t been a top year competitively for me (I’m also near the bottom in my league with my friends from Japan), the thrill of having players on my roster hit home runs and the camaraderie I continue to share with fellow players makes it all worthwhile.

Abby Wambach brought out my American side

On Sunday, July 17, I found myself doing something I have rarely done throughout my lifetime.

I was cheering for the U.S.A in a major sporting event.

Before you go judging me, though I was born a U.S. citizen, having spent the first 18 years of my life overseas I’ve never felt particularly American.

Somehow that changed during the Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan.

My track record of cheering against the U.S. is quite extensive — cheering for Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 1994 men’s World Cup, wearing my lucky red socks to urge on the “Black Magic” yacht of Team New Zealand in the 1995 America’s Cup and backing Team Japan in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

In the early rounds of this year’s Women’s World Cup I spent my emotional energy backing my birth country, Australia, but also was hoping for victories for the teams representing other countries where I have lived — New Zealand, England, Japan and yes, the U.S.

New Zealand was the only one of those teams to fail to make the quarterfinals, leaving me in a pretty good situation with four teams to support in the final eight (and luckily none of them were playing each other).

Early on July 7 my hopes of seeing Australia advance were crushed by Sweden, but mere hours later something happened that flipped a switch inside of me.

Trailing 2-1 late in extra time against Brazil, for all intents and purposes the U.S. was on its way out of the World Cup.

Then came what will likely be among the most time-honored plays in American sports history.

Megan Rapinoe took the ball down the left wing, launched a cross from an immense distance and Abby Wambach was there to smash the ball into the net with her head.

I almost started crying.

Actually, I won’t even bother trying to put on a tough exterior for this one — I did start crying.

The highlight was played countless times throughout the rest of the World Cup, and tears started welling in my eyes during every replay as well.

I’ve cried many times while watching sports before (both tears of joy and agony), but usually my tears were reserved for an Australian national team or my favorite Australian Rules football team.

I guess I technically wasn’t jumping on any bandwagon with my life-long U.S. citizenship, but from then on my hopes were with Team U.S.A to go all the way and win its third World Cup.

I sat on the edge of my seat during the semifinal against France, where Wambach again came through with the tie-breaking goal, and later cheered on Japan in a brilliant win against Sweden.

Though the final may have consisted of a slight conflict on interest on my part — having spent all four years of high school in Japan I have a lot of strong feelings for the country — I watched the final as a full-fledged supporter of the U.S., cheering when they scored and screaming inappropriate words at my TV when the ball failed to go in during numerous close misses.

 Japan’s story in the wake of the devastating March earthquake and tsunami indeed made Japan a feel-good victor, but like everyone else cheering for the U.S. the result certainly felt nothing short of pure agony for me at the time.

Having grown up in the soccer world and watched as much World Cup action as I could from 1998 on, I have plenty of great World Cup watching memories, but it will take a near miracle to supplant those three seconds it took for the ball to travel from Rapinoe’s foot to Wambach’s head to the back of the net from the top of the list.

Brett Favre was a bargain

It’s no secret that there has been little to celebrate in Minnesota this past year in the state’s four biggest professional sports.
 
With neither the Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild or Twins spending much time winning in their most recent seasons, it’s been a tough year for sports fans around the state.
 
In the world of sports media, reporting on loss after embarrassing loss can get tiring very quickly, and there’s only so much pondering one can do over the reasons why each of the teams have been performing so poorly.
 
In this context, Brett Favre and his headline-making ability was a godsend.
 
Though you may be quick to point out that Favre’s on-field performance as the Vikings’ quarterback was far below what you would expect based on the salary he made this past season (a figure close to $20 million), there can be no argument that he was excellent at commanding media attention.
 
In a season where any distraction from the Vikings’ 6-10 record was welcome, Favre provided news that not only dominated Minnesota’s sports media, but also garnered national attention, from talk about his consecutive games played streak to his sexting scandal.
 
It’s highly unlikely the Vikings would have contended even without Favre, so at least in what already was a pathetic season he provided something for news outlets to write about. He may not have been worth $20 million on the field, but he was every bit worth that in front page stories.
 
In the wake of all the losing that Minnesota teams have been doing this year, we’ve all been forced to take pride in the little things.
 
For the Vikings, an example of this was Favre’s streak. For the Timberwolves it was Kevin Love’s record-setting streak of 53 consecutive double-doubles. For the Twins, this could be Thome’s chase for 600 career home runs, or even just seeing Joe Mauer make an appearance at all this season.
 
The Wild came the closest of any team to being relevant this season, but the team’s late-season collapse left us with very little to remember the season by — much like every other season in the franchise’s history.
 
After all, in a sports world where “winning is everything” (if we’re all to listen to LeBron James, that is), then if your team isn’t winning, then what’s the point of playing if you can’t be happy with the little victories?
 
LeBron himself said that the Timberwolves shouldn’t even exist as a franchise , but the reality is that for every sports team that has a winning season, there have to be an equal number of teams having a losing season.
 
Although Minnesota has become used to most of its professional teams being contenders in recent years, this year Minnesota sports fans have had to get used to the reality of following a losing team, and the ongoing Twins season is the most recent example.
 
There’s no telling when Minnesota’s teams will start winning again — if Christian Ponder is the answer for the Vikings, if the Twins can get their players healthy and if the Timberwolves can get back on track with Ricky Rubio deciding to finally show up – but in the meantime, everyone in Minnesota is going to have to get used to appreciating every single victory, even if it doesn’t put their team any closer to playoff contention.
 
The current misery surrounding Minnesota sports teams may benefit perennially overlooked teams like the Minnesota Lynx, who look to be contenders this year after a big draft with two of the top four picks and whose season will begin shortly, but if you’re still going to be a die hard follower of teams like the Twins, just be that much happier every time you see them win.