Mike Lynn, the hard-driving general manager whose efforts to build the Vikings into a champion are obscured by the controversial, go-for-broke Herschel Walker trade, died Saturday morning at his home in Mississippi.
Lynn, 76, had been in frail health for some time and had been admitted to the hospital near his home in Holly Springs, Miss., after a heart-related health incident, said his son, Mike Lynn Jr.
Lynn Jr. said his father never lost his love for Vikings football.
"We miss it up there -- well, maybe not the cold weather," Mike Lynn Jr. said. "But the Vikings purple -- those were some great, great times."
His father was single-minded in his pursuit of a championship over 16 seasons as Vikings GM. "All he wanted was that ring, a Super Bowl ring, for the state of Minnesota," Lynn Jr. said. "He was definitely driven for a lot of years to try to get that all-elusive championship."
The elder Lynn first was hired by the team in 1974 and became GM the following year.
During his tenure, the Vikings won seven NFC Central titles and played in Super Bowl XI, losing to the Oakland Raiders 32-14 in January 1977. Lynn was also instrumental in helping push through legislation that led to construction of the Metrodome and helped secure the 1992 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
Lynn negotiated a deal with co-owner Max Winter that paid him 10 percent of the suite revenue from all Metrodome events over the life of the building, reaping a financial windfall for decades even after he left the team, according to the Associated Press.
Lynn's influence on the Vikings was greater than that of most general managers. He handled almost all contract negotiations and policy decisions. He was responsible for amassing rosters full of Pro Bowl players, including future Hall of Famers Randle McDaniel, Chris Doleman and John Randle. He was especially adept at capitalizing on the talent pool in the USFL, a defunct competitor to the NFL, which yielded stars Gary Zimmerman, Anthony Carter and Keith Millard.
One such player was dazzling running back Herschel Walker, formerly of the New Jersey Generals but acquired by the Dallas Cowboys after the USFL collapsed.
In 1989, Lynn traded seven prime draft choices and five players for Walker in what came to be seen as one of the most one-sided and vilified deals in NFL history. Though Walker had a thrilling debut against the Packers -- gaining 148 yards on 14 carries, including a 47-yard gain on his first play, when he ran the final 15 yards without his right shoe -- it was a steady decline for him, and the public perception of Lynn, after that.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys became a three-time Super Bowl champion in the 1990s.
"I've got no regrets over it," Lynn said in 2009, 20 years after the deal that became known as the Great Train Robbery. "I did what I thought was the right thing at the time."
In 1988, Lynn quickly defused another high-profile blunder: the signing of Mossy Cade. The defensive back had served 15 months of a 22-month sentence for sexually assaulting a woman, but the public outcry over his signing prompted his quick release. Lynn acknowledged underestimating the response. "I still believe that a person who's committed a crime and has gone through the judicial system, paid his price to society, deserves a second chance," he said at the time.
The experience didn't stop him from claiming Cris Carter, a receiver with the Eagles known to be a troublemaker, on waivers two years later. Carter became one of the best receivers in NFL history.
Lynn had a long-running feud with some of the team's owners and, as chief negotiator, was often accused by players and agents of being tight-fisted and difficult to deal with.
He famously took the Vikings on a team retreat to the Pecos River Learning Center in New Mexico in the spring of 1990 in an effort to foster team unity, with a mixed response.
That fall, when the team started 1-4, Lynn announced he was resigning as GM to become president of the World League of American Football. Expanding the game globally was a long-held vision of Lynn's, and the Vikings were among the first teams to play exhibition games in Europe.
In 1983, Lynn and his wife, Jorja, bought an antebellum mansion in northern Mississippi, near Memphis, and spent years restoring it. When he retired in 1992, the Lynns made it their permanent home.
Staff writers Katie Humphrey and Kelly Smith contributed to this report.