The word surprise has a simple meaning in Webster’s Dictionary. But when it comes to sports, it has as many meanings and emotional ties than just about any word I can think of. Just check down the football list in Minnesota and you go from glee to glum and all with the use of the word surprise.
Surprise #1: The Minnesota Vikings. 3-13 last season. Already 5-2 and only one half game behind Chicago in the NFC North. You knew AP and Percy would be good. You knew that Ponder was likely to be a bit better. You knew that Jared Allen would be a force on the d-line. But the defense as a whole, especially the secondary, has been a massive surprise this season. With their schedule, the Minnesota Vikings are a viable playoff contender down the stretch. Wow! What a surprise!
Surprise #2: The St John's Johnnies. At 3-4 and only 1-4 in the MIAC, St Johns is in a rare position of not being a factor in the conference or nationally. The past couple of seasons have seen the Johnnies drop a bit, but with three games left in the season, just trying to finish over .500 is left to be decided. And the surprise of surprises is a small grumbling about the coach, one of the most beloved and the most winning coaches in football history. Are you kidding me? Even traditional powerhouses cycle through a rough stretch now and then. And before you know it, they are right back in the mix. And when – not if – that happens, it will not be a surprise.
Surprise #3: The SCSU Huskies: Surprises in football don’t necessarily need to be from a season. They can be from a game. That is the surprise that likely will keep the Huskies out of the NCAA tourney this season. Northern State 28 and St Cloud State 27. A shocker and surprise result from Saturday the 20th. The Huskies were riding a 4 game win streak, including a road win over the then-unbeaten Wayne State, and, of course, the unbelievable win on the last play over then-#2 UMD. Well it was the last play that doomed SCSU. A hail mary pass for the Wolves snatched a fifth straight win from the Huskies. SCSU can still finish 8-3 but will need a lot of help to get into the NCAAs. If they miss, it would be a big surprise. If they get in, it would be a big surprise. So again, surprises on both ends of the emotional spectrum.
And finally, surprise #4: The Apollo Eagles: A program mired in a 22 game losing streak including the first 5 games of the season this year. But they seemed differen,t even in defeat. They were competing and “coming close.” And surprise, it finally ended with a narrow victory on the road at Sauk Rapids/Rice. But the Eagles surprise was just beginning. A win over arch rival Tech, the first since 2003, was followed by a road win over Fergus Falls. The Otters only needed a win to secure the Central Lakes Conference title. So surprise, surprise, the Eagles are hosting a playoff game and are favored to move into the Sectional semi’s.
It’s what makes sports fun at any level. The unknown factor, good or bad, known as “ the surprise.”