By Kieran Darcy
Page 2

EDITOR'S NOTE: Page 2, along with ESPN2's "Cold Pizza," is counting down the 15 Most Tortured Sports Cities in America. For starters, Rob Neyer knows that you don't have to look any further than the Vikings to know the pain of rooting for Minnesota. We also present Minneapolis' 10 most tortured sports moments.

What's worse -- your team never playing in a Super Bowl, or your team playing in four of them and losing them all, by a combined score of 95-34? People from the Twin Cities have suffered plenty, and not just in football. Here's our list of their top 10 most torturous moments.

15. Tampa Bay
14. Kansas City
13. Cincinnati
12. Phoenix
11. Washington, D.C.
10. Houston
9. San Diego
8. Atlanta
7. Seattle
6. Minneapolis

Want to find out what the No. 5 city is? Tune into ESPN2's "Cold Pizza" next Tuesday morning. Then head back to Page 2 to read all about it.

10. Timberwolves vs. L.A. Lakers, April 27, 2003
The Timberwolves were 51-31 in the 2002-03 season, and qualified for the postseason for the seventh year in a row. As the No. 4 seed, they had home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs against the three-time defending world champions. But Minnesota failed to win a first-round series for the seventh straight year. They took a 2-1 lead in the series after winning Game 3 in overtime in Los Angeles. And they had an 11-point lead late in the third quarter of Game 4. But the Lakers stormed back to win that game, 102-97. And they won Game 5 by 30, and Game 6 by 16, to close the Timberwolves out.

9. Vikings vs. Cardinals, Dec. 28, 2003
On the 28th anniversary of the "Hail Mary" (see below), the Vikings were victimized again, in similar fashion. They won their first six games, but sputtered down the stretch, losing six of their last nine. Still, they could have won the NFC North and earned a playoff berth by beating the 3-12 Arizona Cardinals in the final week. The Vikings led 17-6 with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. But on the final play of the game, with the score 17-12 and the Cardinals facing a 4th-and-25 from the Minnesota 28-yard line, Josh McCown connected with Nate Poole in the end zone for a stunning game-winning touchdown that knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs. They joined the 1978 Redskins as the only teams to fail to make the playoffs after starting 6-0.

8. Twins face contraction
A few days after the 2001 World Series ended, commissioner Bud Selig announced Major League Baseball would be contracting two teams for the upcoming season. Twins owner Carl Pohlad, friend of Bud, had offered up the Twins (for a nice sum chunk of change in return, of course). Twins fan spent the offseason expecting the worse -- that they had seen their last major-league game. Twins employees were sure they would be out of a job by spring training, because there would be no team. Selig kept saying baseball needed to axe two franchises. After months of torture, the Twins were not contracted. And then they went out and won the division title in 2002.

7. North Stars vs. Islanders, May 17, 1981
The North Stars, led by Bobby Smith and Dino Ciccarelli, got all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1981, where they faced the New York Islanders. The Islanders took the first two games of the series at home, both by scores of 6-3. But in front of a sellout crowd back home for Game 3, the first Stanley Cup Finals game ever played in Minnesota, the North Stars had a chance to get back in the series. They led 3-1 at the end of the first period. The Islanders came back to go up 4-3 after two periods. With Minnesota trailing 6-4 in the third, Ciccarelli scored to get the North Stars back within one. But Bill Smith made some big saves, Bryan Trottier added an empty-netter when Minnesota pulled their goalie, and the Islanders won 7-5. The series was all but over. The North Stars did manage to win Game 4 at home, but the Islanders took the series in five games.

6. North Stars vs. Penguins, May 23, 1991
The North Stars snagged the last seed in the playoffs in 1991, even though their regular season record was 27-39-14. Then they upset the No. 1-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, and went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. And they led the series, 2-1. But they lost Game 4, 5-3, and then Pittsburgh took the pivotal Game 5. The Penguins scored four unanswered goals in the first 13:41 of the game. Minnesota goalie Jon Casey was yanked. But the North Stars did mount a comeback, eventually drawing to 5-4 thanks to early third period goals by Ulf Dahlen and Dave Gagner. But that's as close as they would get. The final score was 6-4, and the Penguins closed out the series with a 8-0 blowout in Game 6.

Drew Pearson
The original Hail Mary: the Cowboys' Drew Pearson beats the Vikings in the '75 playoffs.

5. Vikings vs. Cowboys, Dec. 28, 1975
The Vikings won their first 10 games in the '75 season, and finished with a 12-2 record. Then they hosted the Dallas Cowboys in a divisional playoff game. The Vikings led 14-10 in the fourth quarter. In the final minute of the game, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach lofted a 50-yard "Hail Mary" pass to wideout Drew Pearson, which Pearson hauled in for a shocking game-winning touchdown. The Vikings were extremely upset because they thought Pearson had shoved down defender Nate Wright before making the catch and jogging into the end zone.

4. Twins vs. Dodgers, Oct. 14, 1965
The Twins got off to a great start in the '65 World Series. They won the first two games at home, despite facing Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. Drysdale started Game 1 instead of Koufax because it was Yom Kippur and Koufax famously declined to pitch. But the Dodgers won Games 3, 4 and 5 in Los Angeles. It all came down to Game 7 in Minnesota, and the Dodgers had Koufax back on the hill for the third time in the Series. He was going on two days of rest, after pitching a shutout in Game 5. The Dodgers scored two runs in the fourth inning, and that's all Koufax would need -- he threw a three-hit shutout.

3. Losing the Lakers to Los Angeles, 1960
The Minneapolis Lakers were a major power in the early days of the NBA, winning multiple championships in the 1950s, led by star center George Mikan. And they drew tons of fans when they were doing well. But without Mikan, their attendance numbers fell drastically. Encouraged by the financial success that the Dodgers enjoyed after moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958, Lakers owner Bob Short decided to move the team to L.A. before the 1960-61 season.

2. Vikings vs. Falcons, Jan. 17, 1999
Many people thought the '98 Vikings would be the team to finally bring a Super Bowl win to Minnesota. They went 15-1, only the third team in NFL history to accomplish that. Their high-octane offense, led by Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Robert Smith, scored an NFL-record 556 points. But they never even got to the ultimate game. In the NFC Championship game, the heavily-favored Vikings led the Atlanta Falcons 27-20 in the fourth quarter when kicker, Gary Anderson, who hadn't missed a field goal all season, missed a 39-yarder with just over six minutes remaining in the game. The Falcons tied the game, and won in overtime, 30-27.

1. Losing the North Stars to Dallas, 1993
Minnesota fans love their hockey. So it was especially distressing when Norm Green announced on March 10, 1993 that he was moving the North Stars to Dallas. The following month, the North Stars played their final game in Minnesota, on April 13 against the Blackhawks. They needed a win to possibly get the last seed in the playoffs -- but they lost, 3-2. Extra security was hired for that final game at the Met Center -- there were a lot of very angry fan, chanting some very vulgar things about Norm Green. Six years later, the Stars finally won their first Stanley Cup. Minnesota fans did get a new NHL team, the Wild, which began play in 2000.