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How Sports and Recreation Have Shaped the State

Gophers, Vikings, and Saints: Highlights from the History of Minnesota Sports

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The Lady Warriors (a basketball team representing Cedar-Riverside, a neighborhood in Minneapolis) pose with the University of Minnesota mascot Goldy Gopher and Minnesota Lynx mascot Prowl during project recognition at a Minnesota Lynx WNBA game, August 30, 2015.

The Lady Warriors (a basketball team representing Cedar-Riverside, a neighborhood in Minneapolis) pose with the University of Minnesota mascot Goldy Gopher and Minnesota Lynx mascot Prowl during project recognition at a Minnesota Lynx WNBA game, August 30, 2015.

In an eleven-month span between May 1991 and April 1992, the Twin Cities metropolitan area played host to five major national sports championships: the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, Golf’s US Open, the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four. This series of events put Minnesota in the national sports spotlight.

Even before that unprecedented stretch, however, Minnesota had been a leader in sports. The first known team sport to be played in Minnesota was traditional Native lacrosse. Oral histories from Dakota, Ojibwe, and other local tribes tell stories of lacrosse games played in present-day Minnesota as early as the 1600s—long before Europeans arrived. One documented series of games was played near Fort Snelling in July of 1835. Curling and baseball also appeared in Minnesota before statehood.

Since the 1860s, Minnesota has led national conversations about fishing and hunting regulations as well as conservation. It was one of the first states where professional boxing developed, and where basketball and golf got started in the 1890s. In the early twentieth century, a Minnesota horse named Dan Patch dominated harness racing and set records while touring the country in a private railcar.

In the decades that followed, Minnesotans continued to take up sporting activities—particularly baseball, golf, hockey, basketball, and outdoor recreation. Looking at each of these individually reveals periods of national leadership as well as local stories, trends, and athletes that make Minnesota’s history of sports and recreation unique.

BASEBALL

The Minnesota Twins brought major-league baseball to Minnesota in 1961. The sport’s arrival in Minnesota, however, pre-dated the Twins by more than a century.

In August of 1857, nine months before Minnesota was granted statehood, the first baseball game in state history was played in Nininger, a village on the Mississippi River west of Hastings.

Teams from Minneapolis and St. Paul first played each other in 1865, and two years later, a team from St. Paul (the North Star club) won the first state tournament. Amateur baseball in Minnesota grew in popularity, and by 1950, there were 799 amateur teams in the state.

Minneapolis and St. Paul fielded teams in the semi-professional League Alliance in 1877, and fully professional teams from the two cities first faced each other in 1884. That season saw Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Stillwater field teams in the Northwestern League.

In 1902, Minneapolis and St. Paul joined the newly formed, eight-team American Association. For the next fifty-nine seasons, the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints were bitter rivals, with each team capturing nine league titles.

The Millers’ and Saints’ demise came following the 1960 season. In October of 1960, the American League (AL) gave Calvin Griffith permission to move the Washington Senators franchise to Minnesota. The franchise was renamed the Minnesota Twins and began play at Metropolitan Stadium (which opened in 1956 in suburban Bloomington with the hope of luring major-league baseball to the state) in 1961. The Twins were initially a hit in Minnesota, leading the American League in overall attendance between 1961 and 1970. They won the 1965 AL pennant on their way to the franchise’s first World Series appearance, at which they fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Twins continued to have success and won AL West Division titles in 1969 and 1970.

The Twins moved into the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis in 1982 and won World Series Championships in 1987 and 1991. But after eight consecutive losing seasons (from 1993 to 2000), Major League Baseball considered “contracting” the Twins franchise in 2001. The Twins survived the threat and, beginning in 2002, reached the postseason in six of the next nine seasons. In 2010, the Twins moved into Target Field in downtown Minneapolis. Several Twins players have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett, and Dave Winfield.

In 1993, the St. Paul Saints franchise rebooted as a minor-league team. They began playing at Lowertown’s CHS Field after its construction in 2015 and won the Independent League title in 2019.

GOLF

In the early 1890s, golf was practically unheard of outside of the East Coast. The members of St. Paul’s Town and Country Club changed that when they opened a nine-hole golf course on the banks of the Mississippi River in June of 1893. The course—the first one west of New Jersey and the second-oldest continuously played course in the United States—opened eighteen months before the United States Golf Association (USGA), golf’s national governing body, was formed. In 1899, Minnesota gained a second club when the Minikahda Club opened in Minneapolis. It became the first Minnesota club to host to a national event when it hosted to the US Open in 1916.

In 1926, Minnesota native Les Bolstad became the youngest golfer (age eighteen) to win the US Amateur Public Links Championship. Bolstad, considered by many players to be one of the best teachers in amateur golf history, was the golf coach at the University of Minnesota for thirty years.

Three years after Bolstad became the first Minnesotan to win a national golf event, Harrison “Jimmy” Johnston, an investment banker from St. Paul, became the first Minnesotan to win the men’s US Amateur. (Only one other Minnesotan—John Harris in 1993—has won the men’s US Amateur.)

Patty Berg, who was born in Minneapolis, started golfing in 1932 at the age of fourteen. Six years later she won the women’s US Amateur. Berg turned professional in 1940 after winning twenty-nine amateur tournaments, and in 1946 she became the first Minnesotan to win the US Women’s Open. In 1951, she was one of the founding members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. After that she won fifty-one tournaments, including fifteen “major” tournaments. Her fifteen major wins are still an LPGA record.

Minnesota became the first state to play host to each of the thirteen championships sponsored by the USGA and has also played host to the four major international competitions: the Curtis Cup, the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup, and the Walker Cup.

HOCKEY

Hockey in Minnesota dates to the mid-1890s. In the winter of 1894–95, a hockey club was formed at the University of Minnesota, and in mid-February of 1895, the University team played a team from Winnipeg in Minneapolis. Winnipeg won 11-3 in one of the first international hockey games ever played in the United States.

Over the next ten years, hockey spread in Minnesota. The town of Eveleth, on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, fielded its first team in 1903. The town eventually opened two indoor arenas—the first in state history—between 1919 and 1921. Eveleth High School fielded its first hockey team in 1920, twenty-five years before the first boys’ state high school hockey tournament. In 1922, the town formed a semi-pro team.

Because of its hockey tradition, Eveleth was a natural choice to become the home to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, which opened in 1973. After the induction of the class of 2019, there are 183 individual members (and four teams) in the Hall. More than one-fourth (forty-nine) are from Minnesota; twelve are Eveleth natives.

Professional hockey first came to Minnesota in 1926, when teams from Duluth, Minneapolis, and St. Paul played in the American Hockey Association. Over the next forty years, Minneapolis and St. Paul fielded teams in several professional minor leagues.

In 1967, the National Hockey League expanded with six new teams, one of which was the Minnesota North Stars. The North Stars played their home games in the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, across the parking lot from Metropolitan Stadium. They twice reached the NHL’s Stanley Cup finals, in 1981 and 1991. In 1993, after having its proposal to remodel Metropolitan Sports Center turned down, the team announced it was moving to Dallas.

For five seasons, from 1972–77, Minnesota had two major-league hockey teams. The Fighting Saints, of the World Hockey Association, played their home games at the St. Paul Civic Center. The team folded in 1977 because of financial issues.

After the North Stars relocated to Dallas in 1993, several existing NHL franchises entertained the idea of relocating to Minnesota. Ultimately, in June of 1997, the NHL awarded an expansion team to Minnesota. The Minnesota Wild began play in the 2000–01 season.

Minnesota was a natural leader in hockey for girls and women. In the fall of 1993, eight high schools fielded girls’ hockey teams. Following the 1993–94 season, the Minnesota State High School League sanctioned girls’ hockey as a varsity sport. In November of 1994, 24 teams began the first “official” girls’ high school hockey season. That season culminated in February of 1995 with the first state girls’ hockey tournament–the first in the nation.

In the fall of 1995, Augsburg College became the first Minnesota college to field a varsity women’s hockey team. The University of Minnesota fielded its first varsity team in the 1997–98 season.

BASKETBALL

After Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in Massachusetts in 1891, it was introduced to some Minnesota college students when a former roommate of Naismith, Max Exner, brought the game to Carleton College in Northfield in 1893. The game quickly caught on in Minnesota.
In February of 1895, the first basketball game between two Minnesota college teams was played at Hamline University in St. Paul. The game was between Hamline and the University of Minnesota Agricultural College.

The University of Minnesota fielded its first men’s basketball team in January of 1896. In 1897, Dr. L. J. Cooke was named the Gophers’ coach and become one of the first full-time college basketball coaches in the country.

Over the first twenty-five years of the twentieth century, the Gophers were one of the top teams in the country. Cooke, who coached the Gophers until 1924, led them to the conference title in the Big Ten Conference’s inaugural basketball season (1905–06) and a co-championship in 1906–07. The Gophers were named the Helms Athletic Foundation National Champions in 1901–02 and 1918–19.

The first Minnesota high school boys’ basketball state tournament was held in April of 1913 at Carleton College in Northfield. Carleton sponsored the tournament until 1916, when the Minnesota State High School Athletic Association was formed and took oversight of high school activities in the state. In 1923, the tournament was moved to Minneapolis. After the University of Minnesota opened its fieldhouse (later renamed Williams Arena) in 1928, the state tournament grew in popularity. By the mid-twentieth century, the tournament was the best-attended eight-team state tournament in the nation.

In 1947, a group of Minneapolis businessmen decided to bring professional basketball to Minneapolis. They purchased the Detroit franchise that had played the 1946–47 season in the National Basketball League and moved it to Minneapolis.

For a reported purchase price of $15,000, the group got a franchise that would become the National Basketball Association’s first dynasty. The franchise got lucky when it was able to acquire George Mikan early in the 1947–48 season. The future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer would lead the Lakers to six league championships in its first seven seasons in Minneapolis.

The Lakers have been credited for helping integrate the National Basketball Association because of a series of games they played with the Harlem Globetrotters. The teams met seven times between 1948 and 1952, and the series drew more than 20,000 fans to the games in Chicago. When the Lakers defeated the Globetrotters in Chicago in February 1950 and in Minneapolis in March 1950, they were the only losses in a 141-game span for the Globetrotters.

Following the 1959–60 season, the Lakers franchise moved to Los Angeles. Except for two seasons—Minnesota had a franchise in the American Basketball Association in the 1967–68 and 1968–69 seasons –the state was without a professional basketball team for the next twenty-nine years. In April of 1987, the NBA awarded an expansion franchise to Minnesota, and the Minnesota Timberwolves began play in the 1989–90 season. The Timberwolves played their first season in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and set the league’s all-time single-season attendance record before moving into the Target Center for the 1990–91 season.

After basketball was introduced in Minnesota in the 1890s, it quickly became popular with women. A women’s basketball association was formed at the University of Minnesota in 1897, and three years later, the University of Minnesota fielded a varsity team. It lapsed later in the decade and did not reform until the 1960s.

As many as 200 high schools fielded girls’ basketball teams during the first thirty years of the twentieth century. But girls’ basketball stopped in the state stopped around 1940. In 1968, the Minnesota State High School League adopted a bylaw for girls’ interscholastic activities. In 1974, the first “official” girls’ state basketball tournament was held.

Women’s professional basketball came to Minnesota in 1978 when the Women’s Professional Basketball League was formed. The Minnesota Fillies were members of the league for three years before folding due to financial issues in 1981. In 1998, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was formed and Minnesota was awarded a franchise—the Minnesota Lynx—which began play in 1999. The Lynx eventually became one of the league’s most successful franchises, winning four league titles in a seven-year period in the 2010s.

FOOTBALL

The state’s first football team was formed by Shattuck Academy in Faribault in 1878. The University of Minnesota fielded its first varsity football team in 1882, and the first high school football team formed in 1890.

Minnesota’s first experience with professional football arrived in 1892, almost seventy years before the debut of the Minnesota Vikings. Minneapolis native William W. “Pudge” Heffelfinger became the first professional football player when he was paid $500 (more than $14,000 in 2019 dollars) to play for the Allegheny (Pennsylvania) Athletic Association team.

In 1921, the Minneapolis Marines joined the American Pro Football Association, which had formed in 1920 and was the forerunner of the National Football League. The Marines were members of the league through the 1924 season before ceasing operations. In 1929, the team was reformed and renamed the Red Jackets. Following the 1930 season, the team folded.

A second Minnesota team, the Duluth Kelleys, were members of the NFL from 1923 to 1925. The team changed its name to the Duluth Eskimos in 1926, after Ole Haugsrud assumed control of the franchise’s finances. In 1929 Haugsrud sold the franchise to a group from New Jersey. As part of the sales agreement, the NFL promised Haugsrud a stake in the next NFL franchise in Minnesota. In 1960, Haugsrud was part of the ownership group that was awarded the expansion franchise that became the Vikings.

The Vikings made the NFL playoffs for the first time in 1968. Following the 1969 season, they reached the Super Bowl for the first time—the first of four Super Bowl berths (each ended in a loss) in a seven-year span. The Vikings played their first twenty-one seasons at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington before moving into the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis in 1982. They played the 2014 and 2015 seasons at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus while a new football stadium, US Bank Stadium, was being built on the former site of the Metrodome. US Bank Stadium opened in 2016.

RECREATIONAL SPORTS

Indigenous people have fished, hunted, canoed, and hiked in present-day Minnesota for both survival and recreation for thousands of years. When settler-colonists moved to the North Star State in the 1800s, they took up the same activities, many of them water based. Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, it contains 11,842 bodies of water of more than ten acres.

In the late nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth century, there were no limits for Minnesota anglers. In 1874, a commission convened by Governor C. K. Davis named a commission to study the issue of fishing and the commission’s report cited the need for laws to govern fishing in the state. The first bag limit was set in 1905 at twenty-five fish (of any combination of species) per day. Over the first half of the twentieth century bag limits were set for individual species, and the state began issuing fishing licenses in 1927 (the cost was $1).

The state issued its first big-game hunting laws in 1858; the first deer hunting season was established between September 1 and January 31 of that year. By 1887, deer hunting was limited to the month of November, and the first big-game license was established in 1899 (the cost was 25 cents for state residents).

The first wildlife conservation group in the state was formed in 1906 in Jackson County (in southern Minnesota) when three dozen hunters reached an agreement to monitor their duck hunting on North Heron Lake. Five years later, the state appointed Carlos Avery as the first leader of the Game and Fish department. In October 1924, the state held its first pheasant hunting season.

The state legislature created the Minnesota Department of Conservation in 1931. The new department merged the departments of forestry, game and fish, drainage and waters, and lands and timber. A division of state parks and a tourist bureau were added to the department. In 1971, the name of the department was changed to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
In 1951, the state began a wildlife management program. According to the DNR the state now has 1,500 public wildlife management areas, which provide 1.3 million acres of habitat for hunters. In recent studies, Minnesota ranked fourth among the fifty states in number of anglers, fourth in overall number of boat registrations and fourth in number of deer hunters.

In 2016, Minnesota had over 834,000 boat registrations—the most per capita of any US state. In 1959, the first year of registrations, 158,000 boats were registered. According to the DNR, in 2017, Minnesota had 1.7 million anglers, hunters and trappers.

According to Explore Minnesota, about 10 percent of Minnesota's 1.5 million license-holding anglers go ice fishing during the winter. The largest ice-fishing contest in the world is held each January on Gull Lake’s Hole-in-the-Day Bay. An estimated 10,000 anglers take part.

Minnesota has more than 500 hiking trails, with the Superior Hiking Trail, a 310-mile footpath overlooking Lake Superior, considered the crown jewel of the state’s hiking trails. For winter enthusiasts, Minnesota has more than 2,000 miles of cross-country ski trails.

Snowmobiling as a recreational sport had its beginnings in Minnesota in the mid-1950s when a Roseau, Minnesota, trio made the first modern snowmobiles. The company became Polaris Industries.

In 1922, Ralph Samuelson, an eighteen-year old from Lake City, Minnesota, went water skiing on Lake Pepin. He is credited with “inventing” water skiing.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Brown, George III. 100 Years of Minnesota Golf: Our Great Tradition. Edina, MN: Minnesota Golf Inc., 2001.

Connor, Jack. “Roaring Days, Writes Connor.” Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, August 28, 1949.

Hustvedt Jr., Ron C. “Important Dates in Minnesota Deer Hunting History.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 9, 2010.
http://www.startribune.com/150-years-of-minnesota-deer-hunting/107011473

Reusse, Patrick. “Heritage on Ice.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 28, 1999.

Rippel, Joel. 75 Memorable Moments in Minnesota Sports. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2003.

——— . Minnesota Sports Almanac. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006.

Roe, Jon. “Les Bolstad, Minnesota's ‘Mr. Golf,’ Dies at 89.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 16, 1998.

Zgoda, Jerry. “Berg Was a Driving Force for Women's Golf.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 11, 2006.

Related Images

The Lady Warriors (a basketball team representing Cedar-Riverside, a neighborhood in Minneapolis) pose with the University of Minnesota mascot Goldy Gopher and Minnesota Lynx mascot Prowl during project recognition at a Minnesota Lynx WNBA game, August 30, 2015.
The Lady Warriors (a basketball team representing Cedar-Riverside, a neighborhood in Minneapolis) pose with the University of Minnesota mascot Goldy Gopher and Minnesota Lynx mascot Prowl during project recognition at a Minnesota Lynx WNBA game, August 30, 2015.
Painting of a lacrosse game by Seth Eastman
Painting of a lacrosse game by Seth Eastman
Sayles Hill Gymnasium, ca. 1910. The gym, on the campus of Carleton College, in Northfield, hosted the first state high school basketball tournament in 1913.
Sayles Hill Gymnasium, ca. 1910. The gym, on the campus of Carleton College, in Northfield, hosted the first state high school basketball tournament in 1913.
Black and white photograph of Charles Bender, 1911.
Black and white photograph of Charles Bender, 1911.
Eveleth Recreation Building, ca. 1919. The facility, built around that same year, was the first indoor hockey arena in Minnesota.
Eveleth Recreation Building, ca. 1919. The facility, built around that same year, was the first indoor hockey arena in Minnesota.
Ralph Samuelson, 1925. Samuelson, an eighteen-year-old from Lake City, Minnesota, is credited with inventing water skiing on Lake Pepin in 1922.
Ralph Samuelson, 1925. Samuelson, an eighteen-year-old from Lake City, Minnesota, is credited with inventing water skiing on Lake Pepin in 1922.
A Minnesota angler. Photograph by Kenneth Melvin Wright, ca. 1926.
A Minnesota angler. Photograph by Kenneth Melvin Wright, ca. 1926.
Patty Berg, of Minneapolis, ca. 1935. Berg was one of the founding members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and is in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Patty Berg, of Minneapolis, ca. 1935. Berg was one of the founding members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and is in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Powderhorn Park, shown ca. 1935, was home to many of the top speedskaters in the US between 1930 and 1950.
Powderhorn Park, shown ca. 1935, was home to many of the top speedskaters in the US between 1930 and 1950.
A curling game, 1937. Curling was introduced to Minnesota in the 1850s. Shown is action ca. 1935.
A curling game, 1937. Curling was introduced to Minnesota in the 1850s. Shown is action ca. 1935.
Roy Campanella, June 13, 1948. In that year, Campanella became the first African American to play in the American Association when he played for the St. Paul Saints. Photograph by the St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press.
Roy Campanella, June 13, 1948. In that year, Campanella became the first African American to play in the American Association when he played for the St. Paul Saints. Photograph by the St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press.
The Lakers, the NBA's first dynasty, shown in 1950.
The Lakers, the NBA's first dynasty, shown in 1950.
View of a Minnesota Twins game from the upper deck of Metropolitan Stadium, early 1960s. Photograph by Robert Rydeen.
View of a Minnesota Twins game from the upper deck of Metropolitan Stadium, early 1960s. Photograph by Robert Rydeen.
The Minnesota North Stars compete at Metropolitan Sports Center, 1969. The Minnesota North Stars brought the NHL to Minnesota in 1967.
The Minnesota North Stars compete at Metropolitan Sports Center, 1969. The Minnesota North Stars brought the NHL to Minnesota in 1967.
Snowmobiling in Minnesota, ca. 1970. Recreational snowmobiling has its roots in the North Star State.
Snowmobiling in Minnesota, ca. 1970. Recreational snowmobiling has its roots in the North Star State.
Minnesota Kicks fans hold a banner at Metropolitan Stadium, June 1980.
Minnesota Kicks fans hold a banner at Metropolitan Stadium, June 1980.
Color image of Alan Page (#88) of the Minnesota Vikings, ca. 1975.
Color image of Alan Page (#88) of the Minnesota Vikings, ca. 1975.
Color image of Bill Baker’s 1980 Olympic jersey and hockey stick. Photographed on November 3, 2004, and shared via Flickr by public.resource.org.
Color image of Bill Baker’s 1980 Olympic jersey and hockey stick. Photographed on November 3, 2004, and shared via Flickr by public.resource.org.
Twins relief pitcher Jeff Reardon is mobbed by catcher Tim Laudner and third baseman Gary Gaetti after the final out in the deciding Game Seven.
Twins relief pitcher Jeff Reardon is mobbed by catcher Tim Laudner and third baseman Gary Gaetti after the final out in the deciding Game Seven.
Color image of the helmet worn by Minnesota Vikings safety Paul Krause in the late 1970s.
Color image of the helmet worn by Minnesota Vikings safety Paul Krause in the late 1970s.
 Kirby Puckett squares away in this at-bat in the Metrodome. He would go on to hit .357 in the Series.
 Kirby Puckett squares away in this at-bat in the Metrodome. He would go on to hit .357 in the Series.

Overview

Scottish settler-colonists brought the game of curling to Minnesota. The earliest known game was played on the Maple River in Mapleton as early as 1857

Baseball in Minnesota has progressed from small-town ball games in the mid-nineteenth century to the minor league Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints to the professional Minnesota Twins. Twenty-two members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, either played for or managed the Millers or Saints—six Saints and sixteen Millers.

In 1993, the St. Paul Saints franchise was reborn when the independent Northern League was formed. The Saints played in Midway Stadium before moving into a new stadium (CHS Field) in downtown St. Paul in 2015.

Minnesota has a long history of golf, opening the first golf course in the Midwest in 1893. Long-time University of Minnesota coach Les Bolstad and his protégé, Patty Berg, helped to put Minnesota on the professional golf map. Minnesota native Tom Lehman, who was an All-American during his University of Minnesota career, won the British Open and was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 1996.

Professional boxing came to Minnesota in the early 1870s and over the next twenty years most of the top boxers in the country fought in Minnesota. Prize fighting was banned in the state from the early 1890s until 1915. After boxing was legalized again, the state almost immediately produced two world champions (Johnny Ertle and Michael O’Dowd).

Minnesotans dominated wrestling in the early twentieth century with several wrestlers winning World and American titles.

Hockey became Minnesota's official state sport in 2009. In the early twentieth century, the St. Paul Athletic Club formed an amateur team. The team, led by future Hockey Hall of Fame member Francis “Moose” Goheen, won the MacNaughton Cup—given to the winner of the American Amateur Hockey Association—in 1916 and 1920.

The Minnesota Timberwolves carry on a proud tradition of professional basketball in Minnesota, following in the footsteps of the Minneapolis Lakers, who became the National Basketball Association’s first dynasty by winning five championships in their first six seasons in the league.

The Minneapolis Marines, formed in 1905, led the way to professional football in Minnesota in 1920. The Duluth Eskimos followed, with future Pro Football Hall of Famers Walt Kiesling and Johnny "Blood" McNally. The Minnesota Vikings franchise arrived in 1960.

Soccer came to Minnesota in 1976 with the Minnesota Kicks, the first of three professional soccer franchises to represent the state. The Kicks played six “outdoors” seasons in the North American Soccer League (NASL). The Minnesota Strikers played their first season in 1984 (outdoors) before joining the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) in the fall of 1984. The Minnesota Thunder debuted in 1994; the team transitioned into the MLS and began play in 2017 as Minnesota United FC, nicknamed the Loons.

The passage of Title IX of the Educational Amendments in 1972 expanded the opportunities for girls and women to participate in many sports previously not open to them. In 1968, the Minnesota State High School League sanctioned athletics for girls. The first official high school state tournament for girls was the 1972 state track and field meet. The first girls basketball and volleyball state tournaments were held in 1974.

Horse racing was introduced in Minnesota with harness racing in the early twentieth century. Dan Patch, owned by Minneapolis businessman Marion W. Savage, set 10 world records and earned $2 million ($53.9 million today). Canterbury Downs opened for professional horse racing in 1985. The track closed in 1992, but reopened in 1995 as Canterbury Park.

The Swedish Vasaloppet, a ninety-kilometer cross-country ski race held for the first time in 1922, is the oldest, longest, and biggest cross-country ski race in the world. Since 1981, a sister race has been held in Mora, Minnesota. The Mora Vasaloppet is the second-largest cross-country ski race in North America (behind the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin) and attracts nearly 1,500 participants.

The International 500, the longest snowmobile race in the world, kicked off the St. Paul Winter Carnival from 1966 to 1982. The race started near Winnipeg, Manitoba and finished at Lake Phelan in St. Paul.

From 1930 to 1950, Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis was considered the hub of speed skating in the United States. The 1934 US Outdoor Speedskating championships, held at Powderhorn Park, drew a crowd of 30,000. The Twin Cities Figure Skating Club, one of the charter members of the US Figure Skating Association in 1921, produced many national champions and Olympians, including Robin Lee, who competed at the 1936 Olympics. Minnesotan figure skaters Oscar Johnson and Eddie Shipstad produced a figure skating show that became Johnson and Shipstad’s Ice Follies.

Chronology

1857

The first baseball game in state history is played in Nininger.

1882

The University of Minnesota plays its first football game.

1884

Professional baseball comes to Minnesota, with Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Stillwater fielding teams in the Northwestern League.

1895

The first intercollegiate basketball game in the nation is played at Hamline University in St. Paul.

1934

The University of Minnesota’s Gophers, coached by Bernie Bierman, are named national champions. It is the first of five national football championships for the Gophers in an eight-season span.

1947

The state’s first professional basketball team becomes the NBA’s first dynasty and starts a push to bring other professional sports to Minnesota.

1960

The Minneapolis Lakers play their final NBA game in Minneapolis. The franchise relocates to Los Angeles.

1961

The Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings play their first seasons in Minnesota.

1967

The Minnesota North Stars play their first NHL game.

1970

The Minnesota Vikings play in the Super Bowl for the first time, losing to the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-7. The Vikings go on to play in three more Super Bowls in the next six seasons, losing all three.

1987

The Minnesota Twins win the World Series. It is the first championship in the four major leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL) taken by a Minnesota team since the Minneapolis Lakers won the 1954 NBA championship.

1989

The NBA returns to Minnesota after a twenty-nine-year absence when the Minnesota Timberwolves play their first game.

1995

The first girls’ high-school-hockey state tournament in the nation is held St. Paul.

2000

The expansion Minnesota Wild take the ice to bring the NHL back to Minnesota after a seven-year absence.

2011

The Minnesota Lynx win their first Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) championship.