Credit NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II with drawing the right crowd when they appeared at the State Capitol Friday morning. It was the first time, said state Rep. Morrie Lanning, that all four legislative caucus leaders joined Gov. Mark Dayton and the bill's authors at a meeting promoting construction of a new home for the Minnesota Vikings.
Goodell and Rooney likely had plenty of other NFL business on their calendars Friday. But when Goodell's childhood friend Ted Mondale, the Dayton administration's point man for sports facilities, issued a plea for help earlier this week, the NFL leaders got on an airplane to Minnesota.
That action underscored their message: What the Minnesota Legislature decides in the next few weeks will determine whether an NFL franchise can, as Rooney put it, "operate here successfully."
Those were carefully chosen words. The NFL officials and Dayton walked a fine line to avoid uttering ultimatims or threats about moving the Vikings. But mention was made of the desire to put an NFL team in Los Angeles. And that, they told the Star Tribune Editorial Board in a subsequent meeting, would not happen via an enlargement of the league. "Expansion is not on the table," Goodell said.
But the NFL leaders didn't mince words about their timeline. Minnesota politicials have been telling them to "wait until next year" since 2006, they said. In their minds, Minnesota is out of "next years" when it comes to a new, more financially viable facility for the Vikings.
Judging from their public comments after their closed-door meeting, legislative leaders expressed varying degrees of eagerness to deliver the current stadium bill to Dayton's desk. But the fact that they all appeared alongside Dayton and Goodell indicated some willingness to help, and gave the 2012 stadium bill some of its best moments yet at the Capitol.
It also raised the stadium stakes for this cast of legislative leaders. The fate of the stadium bill stands to show the state's voters whether these legislators and Dayton are capable of making a major deal and solving a complicated problem. After meeting with Dayton and Goodell, the four legislative leaders sounded Friday morning like fellows who feel the weight of that responsibility, perhaps more heavily than they did before.