Last week, Two Cents looked at teams we love to hate. So, today, in this post-election, come-on-people-now-smile-on-your-brother vibe, we take a more positive outlook. Instead of hating, we're looking for teams we all should like. Maybe they're the classic underdogs. Maybe they just do things the right way. Naturally, every team has a rival, so, for example, we would never expect a Florida fan to root for Florida State or vice versa. But stepping back and taking an objective look, these are teams you should love.
The Twins are a small-market team that never whines about being a small-market team. Instead of crying, they spend their time a little more productively — drafting smartly, developing well and putting a winning product on the field with mostly homegrown talent. Sure, they play in the somewhat weak American League Central, but they still have managed to make the postseason six times since 2002 despite a revolving door of up-and-coming players. Their loyal fan base is made up of salt-of-the-earth Midwesterners who supported the team even when it played in the Metrodome, which might be the most depressing sports venue on the planet.
San Antonio Spurs
Never flashy or controversial, the Spurs have won four NBA titles since 1999. During that span, the Spurs have had two marquee players who are the personification of class and humility. First there was David Robinson, who delayed the start of his NBA career to fulfill his obligation to the Navy. Then there was Tim Duncan, a player who could've been a first-round draft pick after his junior season but decided to return to Wake Forest to continue his education. The coach is Gregg Popovich, left, who is incredibly underrated for a man who has won four NBA titles. In the four major pro sports, the only head coaches/managers with at least four championships are Popovich and the Lakers' Phil Jackson. Yet you rarely hear about Popovich, mostly because he isn't shouting his own name and beating his own chest.
Any team in any sport in the Ivy League
Ivy League schools do not give athletic scholarships. So these bright kids practicing and playing football or hockey or volleyball in between a ridiculously difficult class schedule are playing for one reason: They love the game. Think about that the next time you see a team from Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton or Yale.
When you think of grace and class among sports franchises, the Montreal Canadiens are the first team that comes to mind. The franchise has always played the game the way hockey was meant to be played — fast, skilled and artful. Even during the NHL's lawless days of the 1970s, the Canadiens and their beautiful game won four Cups from 1976 to 1979, and they have won an NHL record 24 Cups overall. What really sets this franchise apart is the fans. Not only are they the most knowledgeable in all of sports, they are the most passionate. But in a good way. They respectfully focus on their own team (cheering or booing), while rarely, if ever, harassing the opposing team.
Okay, I'll take some grief for this one because, it's true, I'm from Pittsburgh and my nap-time blankie was a Terrible Towel when I was a toddler. But let's look at what there is to like about the Steelers. Owner Dan Rooney, left, is one of the true gentlemen in sports, and his coach, Mike Tomlin, is a product of the Rooney Rule, named after the Steelers owner and put in place to make sure minorities are considered for head coaching jobs in the NFL. Speaking of coaches, the Steelers are patient, reasonable and stable; they've had only three coaches since 1969. When it comes to free agency, they often let stars walk away, confident they can replace them. And they almost always do. You could make the case that no franchise has been run better over the past 40 years than the Steelers.
This personal preference is based on the recent postseason. During the Rangers' five-game series with the Rays, the Rangers to a man were cooperative, friendly, interesting, entertaining and flat-out nice every day. And their moods didn't change whether they won or lost. They were the same after Games 3 and 4, which they lost, as they were after Games 1, 2 and 5, which they won. On top of that, there's star Josh Hamilton, whose recovery from drug addiction to where he is now is almost miraculous. The manager, Ron Washington, right, overcame his own demons to be a stand-up man, and part-owner Nolan Ryan is about the most straight-shootin' guy in all of sports.
Last week, we jokingly mentioned the Washington Generals (the Globetrotters' constant opponent) as a team everyone hates. But it's serious to call the Globetrotters one of the world's most-beloved teams. They've been around since the 1920s and have entertained people of all ages in more than 20,000 games in nearly 120 countries. Who's the most popular player in the history of basketball? Many might say Michael Jordan. We might argue that it's Meadowlark Lemon.
A lot of big-time basketball programs are run successfully without incidents — North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, for example. But those are big programs that don't have to scrap and fight for recruits. They don't recruit as much as they select. The types of schools we should have a soft spot for are the mid-majors, whose rosters are filled mostly with players the Carolinas and Dukes didn't want. Few schools epitomize that little-engine-that-could attitude more than Butler, a 4,400-student school in Indianapolis. The perfectly nicknamed Bulldogs have qualified for nine NCAA Tournaments since 1997 and have a tournament record of 13-10, including last year's improbable run to the final, where they were a buzzer-beater away from knocking off Duke.
Appalachian State football
Most folks didn't even know Appalachian State had a football team until the Mountaineers upset Michigan in 2007. The Mountaineers are a part of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA. Let's face it, these are mostly players who are only playing I-AA because they couldn't play at the Division I-A level. The Mountaineers won three straight I-AA national champions from 2005 to 2007 and, since 1989, have racked up a 197-77 record under 71-year-old legendary coach Jerry Moore. This year, the Mountaineers are 8-1 and ranked No. 1 in I-AA, though they lost 21-14 in overtime at Georgia Southern on Saturday.