One summer I got up the gumption to ask the Vikings GM to steer me toward an opportunity. He did better than that.
It was the spring of 1980, and I was going about my part-time job as Minnesota Vikings office cleaner when I asked Mike Lynn's secretary, Roz Sorenson, if I could speak with him for a moment. She checked and told me to go on in.
I had been cleaning the Vikings' France Avenue offices for nearly a year and had dusted Mr. Lynn's desk, had cleaned his ashtray of spent Kool cigarettes, had emptied his trash and had vacuumed the purple carpet hundreds of times -- but now, for the first time, I would meet the man who occupied the office of general manager.
After Lynn cordially invited me to sit down, I explained that I had just graduated from high school and was in need of a full-time summer job to earn money for college, thinking that he might suggest a Metrodome construction opportunity. Instead, he asked what other work I had done, and I mentioned that I had mowed model-home lawns for a development company the previous summer.
Without hesitation, he said, "You can take care of my home on Lake Minnetonka, mow the lawn, and take the kids to the movies or water skiing. How much do you need for school?" I said that I needed $1,800, and he quickly calculated I had 15 weeks of summer work before leaving for college. He offered me $100 a week but noted that I would still be $300 short of my goal. In the blink of an eye, I found myself in the same situation that agents and pro-football players feared -- negotiating with the Great Negotiator.
Lynn then offered to pay me a $300 bonus at the end of my tenure if he was happy with my work, something akin to a football performance bonus. Fresh out of high school and without the aid of an agent, I gladly accepted his offer.
Throughout the summer, I worked at his home by day and cleaned the Vikings' offices by night. I became friends with his wife, Jorja; their children, and Mike's brother, Jim, and his family. I attended dinners at their home, enjoyed boat rides on the lake and learned how to get up on one ski. I could sense that Lynn took a liking to me, and I recall him suggesting once that I might even marry his daughter, Lucia, some day. The only problem: She was just 2 years old. Yes, Mike Lynn was forever a forward thinker.
He would refer to me as "Big Timer" and say, "This is the big time, boy. You're my guy." Seeing all the photos of him with famous people in the back hall of his home, there was no question it was the big time. From my vantage point, he commanded respect, but he also had a softer side. On occasion there would be a twinkle in his eye, and a smile would rise up from his otherwise Bud Grantish expression.
When the time came to leave for college, I stopped by the Vikings' offices in my college-bound pickup truck and trailer to conclude my arrangement with Mr. Lynn. I presented him with photos I had taken of his daughters, and with that all too familiar voice, he exclaimed, "That's my Louisa!" "That's my Lucia!" Then he said, "You want that bonus, don't you?" I told him the photos had nothing to do with the bonus. They were my way of saying thank you for a wonderful summer. He promptly got out his checkbook.
As an impressionable young adult, I found that Lynn had a profound impact on me, as did my time spent at his home that summer. He was undoubtedly the most confident man I have ever met, and knew exactly what he wanted to achieve. One was naturally drawn to him by the same force of energy that ruled his professional dealings. I learned a lot. Throughout the decades, I have found myself saying "this is the big time" when something noteworthy passed my way.
I woke up last Saturday morning and I remembered having just dreamt of Mr. Lynn the night before. When I returned home later that day, I learned of his passing. I paused and wondered if there still remained a unique connection after so many years.
I can't help but believe that there is a voice saying to him, "This is the big time. You're my guy."
Todd Streeter is president and executive director of the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce.