Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Minnesota, Basketball Makes the Woe Be Gone STOIC EXUBERANCE

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Minnesota, Basketball Makes the Woe Be Gone STOIC EXUBERANCE

Article excerpt

Three of the teams - Kentucky, North Carolina, and Arizona - are barons of college basketball. Give them coats of arms. Drive them in royal broughams into the NCAA Final Four tournament in Indianapolis Saturday.

And what does Minnesota ride into Indy? How about a John Deere cornpicker? Maybe a snorting ore-hauler from Minnesota's iron range up north?

Neither one would damage the feelings of the suddenly aroused basketball multitudes in Minnesota, who don't need glamour in their athletic heroes. If they did, Kirby Puckett, Bud Grant, and Kent Hrbek were impostors. Puckett was the broad-rumped gnome whose bat and acrobatic catches took the Twins to two World Series championships. Grant was the Viking football coach whose impassive stone face getting pelted by snowflakes on the sidelines confirmed for millions of TV watchers the enduring image of Minnesota stoicism. Hrbek was Puckett's accomplice, a first baseman who looked like a bartender, a spiked-shoe version of the state's folk hero, Paul Bunyan. But this is basketball, and before you watch Kentucky vs. Minnesota in the Final Four Saturday night, you should know this about the folks back home: The alleged dead-pan stolidity of 4-1/2 million glacier dwellers has been shredded by a basketball team that has put the Minnesota natives on the edge of euphoria. When you talk Minnesota and euphoria, you talk cautiously. Until major league athletics arrived in the state in midcentury, one of the most popular spectator sports was watching the ice melt on Lake Nokomis. It seemed suited to the modest threshold of exuberance among the Scandinavian thousands. Euphoria, the kind that burst on the state with the basketball team's first-ever surge to the Final Four, normally creeps into the subarctic glands warily. Although this is a dominion of superior education and prosperity, most Minnesota folk are absorbed for six months with snow shovels and runny noses, conditions tough on euphoria. ut 17,000 people stuffed their way into the home of the Golden Gophers, Williams Arena, to scream their appreciation for the team's triumphal arrival from the regionals in San Antonio. Another 10,000 circled futilely in their cars, hoping to feel the tremors of the rolling quakes inside. You might need to know that these were not exactly country rubes and jock geeks getting their first rush of glory. Thousands of them were upscale suburbanites who haven't had an excuse to behave that way since the new half-billion-dollar urban freeway cut their drive time to Minneapolis by three minutes. There was another, subliminal reason. The University of Minnesota has been the people's college for more than a century. Its classrooms and research centers, internationally prestigious for many years, have nurtured every citizen in the state. …

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