Greetings, Minnesotans! We had some good times together over the years, some fun memories, and I’m super-bummed out about having to leave the state.
When I first arrived in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, I walked out of the airport to a beat-up waiting Expedition with absolutely no idea what was in store for me.
I had just come from my rookie preseason in Seattle, where I thought I was going to be on the practice squad, and instead was informed I would be Minnesota’s starting punter going into Week One of the regular season.
I didn’t know anyone on the team. I didn’t know where anything was located. I didn’t even know who my coaches were, or that being claimed off waivers was actually a thing. The only thing I knew was that this was my chance, and I tried to make the most of it.
Eight and a half years later, I knew my coaches. I knew my teammates. I knew how to get around downtown Minneapolis, when to avoid the 35W/94 exchange, where to go for sushi, and Thai food, and steaks.
I knew friends, where they lived, what they liked to do, when we could hang out in between the busy days of the football season.
I knew that the hot summer thunderstorm months of June and July would gradually cool down to August’s brisk air, the leaves changing color as geese started appearing overhead. I knew that October and November would bring their puffy gray clouds, their flurries of snow, their cold mornings with delicate traceries of frost outlining each individual grass blade.
I knew that winter would come, and it wouldn’t leave for a while — the dreary months of January and February with the wind whipping through until I could feel my nose hairs freezing the instant I went outside and took a breath. The piled snowbanks that only seemed to grow larger, the stamping of boots anytime I had to go somewhere, the warmth of a lighted kitchen while muffled flakes gently drifted out of a dark sky.
I knew that the snow eventually did go away, even if it seemed to take forever, and that the muddy months of March and April would eventually break forth into thick green growth as the sun finally reappeared up above. I knew that these were actual seasons, so different than the eternal sunshine of Southern California, the place where I grew up and went to school.
And then, one day, I knew I had to leave. The team decided to move in a different direction. My services were no longer required, and such is the way of life in the NFL. I knew that my wife and I would have to pack up our house, bid farewell to our friends, prepare to leave behind the playset we had put into our backyard for our daughters — far too big to take back with us with its thick wood frame and plastic yellow slide. Our house had become a home over the years, and hopefully whoever takes it over treats it well.
MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband
I knew I would leave Minnesota with all the memories eight and a half years allows you to accumulate. The delicious meals at Spice Thai in Burnsville, where they knew my order before I would even place it. The music recorded at Flowers Studio in south Minneapolis with my band, long days spent trying to capture that elusive spark of creation. Anniversary filets at Manny’s, and birthday sushi at Seven — Christmas trips to the Mall of America searching for that one perfect gift. The sight of the city skyline in the distance as I would get on 35W from Savage, heading downtown to stay at the Hilton the night before a game, talking with the security guards as we took the elevator up to the team floor. Softball games, paintball matches, zoo trips and everything else.
I will miss all of that. I will miss my teammates, my friends, my house. I will miss Minnesota, a state I never even really thought about until I was informed that I would be working there. I will miss the fans, and how loud they made the Old Inflatable Toilet during key moments, sound echoing down from that dirty old roof (back before it collapsed) and deafening the other team.
I will miss everything, but I will remember it all, and no matter how it ended, I will treasure the time I got to spend in this fine state. I may have to look California now (and I gotta be honest, the winters are a lot better) but I’ll never forget feeling Minnesota.
After eight seasons with the Vikings, Chris Kluwe now will be the Oakland Raiders’ punter.