Zygi Wilf (Leon Halip/Getty)
The NFL’s visit to Minnesota is being portrayed as a threat by some in the media. After 14 years of trying for a new stadium, the Vikings could be simply skipping the “threat” stage and ready to move to action.
As word got out Thursday that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was coming to Minnesota to meet with Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders to plead the case for the Vikings stadium bill being passed in this session, the local media jumped on the story. Most local news stations carried the stadium story as the lead story on their 6 and 10 o’clock newscasts.
There was one word that was a recurring theme in much of the coverage – “threat.” The Vikings are making a threat. Goodell is making a threat. The NFL is making a threat.
That argument is tantamount to blaming a victim of bullying for standing his ground. If anyone has made a threat, it’s the State Legislature. For years (not one or two, try 14), the Vikings have been pushed, shoved, given swirlies, endured wedgies and effectively been glove-slapped by the State of Minnesota for approximately the same amount of time someone would be bullied in school – from preschool to graduation.
When Red McCombs bought the Vikings in 1998, he was convinced he get Minnesota to buy into a new stadium, much like he convinced car buyers to get out of their broken-down vehicles into a new shiny one. He criss-crossed the state and whipped up excitement – the Vikings have sold out every game played at the Metrodome (and one at the University of Minnesota after the roof on the Vikings barn caved in due to a snowstorm). That has been a constant. What else has been a constant is that the state has refused to fund a replacement stadium for the antiquated feedlot they currently play in.
Former wrestler Jesse Ventura wasn’t interested when he was a regrettable one-term governor. His successor, Tim Pawlenty, refused to raise taxes (unless, of course, you drink, smoke, stay in a hotel or buy a license of any kind – conveniently calling those “fees”) and shut the door on any stadium discussion until the Vikings’ lease ran out. That conveniently wouldn’t come until after his term expired. But the lease did expire – no longer binding the Vikings to stay in Minnesota if they chose not to. Despite being turned down for years, the Wilf family said they wouldn’t move the Vikings from Minnesota.
When Dayton was elected, he promised to get something done, but, as Vikings fans have learned over the last year, his political stroke lacks the assertiveness of politicians that get things done. Politicians of note get big deals done behind the scenes. Dayton’s not “a closer.”
The Vikings have attempted to get a stadium deal done since the end of the last century. McCombs finally threw up his hands and sold the team. He still believes it is one of the major business failings of his life that he wasn’t able to sway the state to partner up with the Vikings. He was well-compensated for his “failing,” because he turned a handsome profit when he sold the Vikings to the Wilf group. He went back to San Antonio with a Texas-sized pile of cash, but would have preferred to still be the Vikings owner. But without a new stadium, it wouldn’t work.
McCombs wasn’t asked to jump through a series of hoops to get to the point where he threw up his hands in frustration and quit. The Wilfs have hurdling through the hoops ever since. They were told to find a site, a local partner and kick up their contribution by $100 million. They did all of those things – at no time threatening to leave Minnesota. Their plans got shot to shreds at every turn.
Goodell’s arrival in town may be perceived as the Vikings threatening/blackmailing the state, but it shouldn’t. The team has had sand kicked in its face for long enough. The bottom line is that Minnesota needs the NFL and the money it can generate for the state’s coffers. The NFL doesn’t need Minnesota. The Vikings want to stay, but if they don’t reach an agreement, the Wilfs are open to sell the franchise to another buyer that will move the team to Los Angeles and be done with it.
All Vikings fans can hope for at this point is that Goodell comes armed with a pledge to site a Super Bowl at the new stadium that would generate the revenue that the state is being asked to pony up. It’s unclear whether the commissioner will go that far to help seal the deal, but one thing should be clear: the Wilfs, the Vikings, Goodell and the NFL aren’t making threats or trying to hold Minnesota hostage. They have every right to leave if a deal doesn’t get done. If Minnesota politicians are too myopic to see that, it won’t be a threat that will be delivered today by Goodell, it will be an eventual promise.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.