Schadenfreude was a welcome guest at many a Super Bowl party in these parts last Sunday, as Packer fans took delight in watching the Chicago Bears bumble their way through a sloppy loss to the Indianapolis Colts. If one's team can't be in the big game, one may find solace in watching a hated rival get thumped.
In most other respects, there's no need to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others to enjoy being a sports fan in Wisconsin. While our teams are not uniformly successful, neither are they a huge embarrassment. There are no coaches deserving the ax, no criminal athletes worthy of opprobrium. Our sports franchises, college and professional, are plagued with neither scandal nor overwhelming incompetence.
What would it be like if our sports fan fortunes were reversed? We don't have to imagine. The flip side to our coin is right across the mighty Mississippi.
I exchange e-mails regularly with Aaron Conklin, a fellow Minnesota native and perhaps the only Minnesota Timberwolves fan in Madison. Aaron could barely summon the energy to react to the team's firing of coach Dwane Casey a few weeks ago.
'In other earth-shattering news,' his e-mail read, 'paint dried on the wall.'
Minnesota sports fans have endured a great run of bad luck. Out of seven first-year head coaches in the NFL, including the Packers' Mike McCarthy, Vikings coach Brad Childress was the only one to lead his team to a worse season in 2006 than it had the year before. The Vikings' 6-10 record included two losses to the Packers, notably one on Dec. 21 in which Minnesota managed just 104 yards of total offense.
It's no better in the college sports arena, where University of Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, who has worked for the UW-Madison and Edgewood, fired the Gopher football and men's basketball coaches in December. (In contrast, UW men's basketball coach Bo Ryan has become a darling of the national media, and the UW Board of Regents will decide this week whether Badger head football coach Bret Bielema will get a significant raise.)
And in the annual competition for the Border Battle Cup, a running contest between the Minnesota and Wisconsin athletic departments, the Badgers hold a convincing lead. The cup goes to the school that fares best in the majority of contests in the 22 sports in which both schools compete. Adding significantly to that margin is the women's hockey Badgers' 3-0-1 record over the Gophers, who once dominated the sport.
The most painful dagger might still be on its way. Buried in accounts of Brett Favre's decision to return to the Packers next season was a bit about Favre lobbying the team to acquire wide receiver Randy Moss. Moss spent seven mercurial seasons with the Vikings before being traded to the Oakland Raiders in 2005.
If he ends up in Green Bay next season, Moss could provide a valuable deep target for Favre, a quarterback who has never been bashful about his love for the long ball. Packer fans will quickly forget their hatred of Moss the first time he hauls in a touchdown pass from Favre and leaps into the Lambeau Field bleachers. Minnesotans, on the other hand, might never get used to the sight of Moss, with his unruly cornrows and scowling visage, in the green and gold.
That alone might make a deal for Moss worthwhile.
Watch out for Wazzu
The Badgers men's basketball team, with its remarkable 22-2 record and top-five ranking, is attracting much local media attention. But nationally, the Washington State Cougars might be the real Cinderellas of college basketball.
First-year coach Tony Bennett, the former UW-Green Bay star, Badger assistant and son of Dick Bennett, has led Wazzu to a 19-4 record and a ranking of 14th in both national polls.
Junior guard Kyle Weaver, a Beloit Memorial alum, is averaging 11.4 points per game for the Cougars, which should be no surprise to local hoops fans who watched him play in high school. With Weaver playing well out west and Michael Flowers (La Follette) and Wesley Matthews (Memorial) holding their own for fourth-ranked Wisconsin and 11th-ranked Marquette, respectively, the Big Eight is well represented in the nation's top 20.