You’re never too old to play for a Minnesota team.
That might not be entirely true but it sure seems that way and the Wild did nothing to snuff out that narrative on Wednesday when they signed 40-year-old Matt Cullen to a one-year, $1 million contract. This will be the center’s second stint with the Wild, following his three-year stay from 2010-2013.
The Wild, of course, are only following the lead of the Vikings, Twins and Timberwolves when it comes to embracing the aged. Here are three fairly recent examples of the old-timers club at work in Minnesota. They are ranked in order of success.
Brett Favre, Vikings: The quarterback was 39 when he ended his retirement (wink, wink) to sign with the Vikings in 2009. The former Packers star turned 40 that Oct. 10 and proceeded to put together an MVP-type season, throwing for 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.
The Vikings went 12-4 but, of course, suffered a heart-breaking overtime loss at New Orleans in the NFC title game as Favre threw a crucial interception in the fourth quarter. Favre wanted to retire after that but the Vikings talked him out of that decision. That proved to be a mistake as Favre threw 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in 13 games (seeing his remarkable consecutive games streak come to an end) the following season and the Vikings went 6-10.
The Vikings have not stopped the practice of employing aging players. Cornerback Terence Newman, a favorite of head coach Mike Zimmer, will turn 39 on Sept. 4.
Torii Hunter, Twins: The Twins brought back their one-time Gold Glove center fielder to play right field at the age of 39 in December 2014. Hunter, who turned 40 on July 18, 2015, hit .240 with 22 home runs and 81 runs batted in in 139 games and provided the type of veteran leadership that was badly needed for a team that had had four consecutive losing seasons.
The Twins went 83-79 in 2015 and remained in the playoff race until near the end of the season. The Twins wanted Hunter to return in 2016 but he wisely decided to walk away. His former team went a franchise-worst 59-103 during Hunter’s first year of retirement.
Hunter, by the way, was a young man in 2015 compared to the Twins’ oldest player now. While the 42-year-old Hunter is working for the Twins in a front office capacity this year, pitcher Bartolo Colon was signed by the Twins in July. Colon turned 44 on May 24.
Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves: The late Flip Saunders coached Kevin Garnett for much of his first season in 1995-96 and went to great lengths to bring back Garnett from the Brooklyn Nets at the age of 38. This included mending any hard feelings that existed between Garnett and Wolves owner Glen Taylor from the aftermath of the trade that sent KG to Boston in 2007.
It appeared Garnett’s return to the Wolves would include the chance to stay involved with the franchise after he retired. Saunders, who was running the basketball operations by this point, looked to have it all worked out.
In Garnett’s first game back at Target Center, the veteran had five points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes in a 97-77 victory over Washington. Garnett’s point total did not matter as he received a standing ovation from the 19,856 in attendance.
The Wolves had gone 187-426 since trading Garnett, never getting close to the playoffs, and that night there was electric atmosphere in Target Center that hadn’t been felt in years. But that soon gave away to the reality that Garnett’s aching knees would keep him off the court far too often.
Saunders passed away in October 2015 after battling cancer and Garnett played in 38 games under interim coach and former teammate Sam Mitchell that season. Garnett did not return in 2016-17 under coach Tom Thibodeau and the hard feelings that had existed between Garnett and the organization appear to have returned.
That’s too bad considering raising Garnett’s No. 21 to the rafters should be one of the first things on the agenda when the remodeled building re-opens this season.