Sports Dakota?

I’m proud of my state. I have no qualms in saying I’m from South Dakota, home of Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and cheap real estate. I’ve enjoyed being raised here, and I look forward to a future here in Sioux Falls, the only city I’ve ever really called “home.”

Being a sports fan in South Dakota, however, can be hell. I’ve never followed college football or basketball enough to care about any Division II teams, which rules out my interest in any South Dakota state or private school, and I’m not the biggest hockey fan so the Sioux Falls Stampede are out as well. In fact, the only thing I’ve ever really followed is the Skyforce, and that’s only because as a huge NBA fan I’ve had no choice but to cheer for the local near-NBA team.

There’s an obvious reason that most South Dakotans call Minnesota teams their favorites – we’ve nothing to call our own.

This was illustrated recently by ESPN. The all-sports network has begun a series called “50 States in 50 Days,” a tribute to sports across the country. It’s a pretty cool idea – they’ve chosen one state per day and have scheduled a short feature on each state for the day’s SportsCenter. It begins in Massachusetts with the Yankees vs. Red Sox and continues on through the country – Iowa’s “Field of Dreams,” Kansas’ Trego County Fair, and Oregon’s U.S. Windsurfing National Championships, just to name a few.

Included for each state is a poll: “Vote for the best of (YOUR STATE)!”

Here’s where the differences are shown.

The questions are pretty basic: the first is “What is the most memorable sports moment?”

New York’s got a few (including the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” Joe Namath’s Super Bowl guarantee, the Miracle Mets in 1969, Willis Reed’s return to help the Knicks win the Finals in 1970, and The Miracle on Ice). Even some of sports best blunders are added in – Bill Buckner’s cursed miss that helped the Mets win the World Series over the Red Sox, and Scott Norwood’s missed field goal in the 1991 Super Bowl, sending the Buffalo Bills to the first of four straight Super Bowl losses.

California has so many that it has to be separated into specific sports: Most memorable baseball moment (Kirk Gibson’s World Series home run, Barry Bonds’ 71st home run), football moment (“The Catch,” “The Play“), and basketball moment (UCLA or the Lakers, take your pick.) Texas is filled with college football, five NBA championships in the past 15 years, and the Cowboys. Florida’s resume includes three undefeated seasons (Dolphins in 1972, University of Miami in 1991 and 2001). Illinois has the Bears, the Cubs, and the Bulls.

South Dakota? Here is what we can choose from:
– Univ. of South Dakota wins NCAA Div. II basketball title (1958)
– Carrol Hardy pinch hits for Ted Williams, only player ever to do so (1960)
– South Dakota State wins NCAA Div. II basketball title on Sid Bostic’s 40-foot shot (1963)
– Billy Mills wins gold in 10,000-meter race at Olympics (1964)
– Orlando Magic select Mike Miller with fifth overall pick in NBA draft (2000)
– Josh Heupel leads Oklahoma Univ. to win in Orange Bowl and national title (2001)
– Adam Vinatieri kicks game-winning field goal vs. Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI (2002)
– Adam Vinatieri kicks game-winning field goal vs. Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004)

A kicker (twice) and two state schools winning Division II titles. Even South Dakota’s NBA selection has nothing to do with his legacy or contributions to the game – it’s just that he was chosen at all!

I mean, come on! Even Alaska (the Iditarod), North Dakota (Roger Maris’ home state), and Wyoming (a NCAA basketball title) have something of worth to choose from. South Dakota? We’ve got Mike Miller.

Favorite state team? You can choose from the basketball and football programs from both South Dakota State University (SDSU) and University of South Dakota (USD) or the Skyforce. Biggest rivalry? Forget Yankees/Red Sox or Lakers/Celtics – we’ve got USD/SDSU football, SDSU/North Dakota State University (NDSU) football, or the CBA’s Sioux Falls Skyforce/Dakota Wizards.

Voting on other categories has been relegated to “which of these Minnesota teams is your favorite?” and “Which celebrity do you identify with the most – Mary Hart or George McGovern.”

I’m not sure what I was expecting, though. I live in a state that ranks in the bottom five in total population, and we’ve nothing to offer on the metropolitan platter aside from sleepy little Sioux Falls and Black Hills anchor Rapid City. I’m happy with my state, even if its sports are horrible and its stars are negligible, and I really shouldn’t whine about not having any professional sports teams to call my own.

Still – this lack of hometown teams is exactly the reason my fealty lies with the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Dolphins, and the Minnesota Twins. I’m free from the burden of rooting for my state’s sports powers, mainly because we don’t have any.

Anyway, as long as I have access to cable, who cares what state I’m in?

This was lovingly handwritten on July 17th, 2005