At Capitol, calls to 'get on with it, start building and be happy’

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 8, 2012 - 3:55 AM

More than 200 Vikings fans, many sporting the purple and gold colors of the hometown team, boisterously voiced support for the stadium bill Monday at the State Capitol.

With time seemingly running out on her beloved Minnesota Vikings, Mary Todd knew just what to do.

First thing Monday morning, the lifelong fan pulled on her purple and gold T-shirt and cap and drove nearly 40 miles from her home in Mound to the State Capitol in St. Paul to lend support for an 11th-hour push by Gov. Mark Dayton and the Vikings for a new football stadium.

"They bring so much joy to the citizens of Minnesota that it would just be a shame to lose them," Todd said minutes before an afternoon rally kicked off at the Capitol rotunda. "Can you imagine winters without the Vikings? They'd be longer, colder and darker."

Todd's sentiment was shouted out repeatedly at the Capitol as more than 200 Vikings fans, many sporting the purple and gold colors of the hometown team, boisterously voiced support for a stadium bill that, if approved, could keep the team in Minnesota for decades to come.

They came from Mound and Minneapolis and as far away as Spokane, Wash. They wore purple helmets and construction hard hats and purple-and-gold face paint. Jennifer Rustad, 38, of Lexington, dyed her hair purple for the occasion.

Some held signs -- "We Need Jobs!" and "Keep it Going Dayton!" Others sang the team fight song and shouted, "Build it! Built it! Build it!" as lawmakers inside the House chambers debated the fate of a stadium bill that mostly likely wouldn't be decided for hours.

"I'm going to be right here all night if I have to," said Bill Spear, a retired postal carrier from New Brighton who waved a Vikings flag from the third floor of the rotunda. "In 50 years, they've done a lot of good things for our state. That's a lot of get-togethers on Sundays and a lot of family gatherings."

Monday's pep fest was the final chapter in a three-day blitz by Dayton and the Vikings to win support for a $975 million project that has deeply divided legislators.

Critics have long contended that the state has more important priorities than public subsidies for stadiums, especially at a time when many businesses and families are still hurting from a deep and wide recession. Several, in fact, showed up at the Capitol early Monday carrying signs encouraging legislators to "Vote No." One sign referred to the project as "The Rich Man's Stadium."

But supporters say a new stadium is essential to keeping a tradition-rich franchise that has called Minnesota home for more than 50 years. A state-of-the-art domed stadium also would provide thousands of jobs at a time when the local economy is in need of a boost, they say. Without it, they fear, the team will bolt for Los Angeles or another market.

"We have to pass this bill," said John Schreiner, 51, of Minneapolis. "Is it perfect? Of course not. But it's the best we can do."

Workers began setting up for a tailgating party on the Capitol's front lawn shortly before 9 a.m. By 9:30, Dayton was rallying labor supporters for a final push to get the stadium through a closely divided House.

'We don't want to be in L.A.'

Just before noon, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder took to Twitter to issue a social media call to arms: "Lunch then going with @brian_robison @jasully65 and @Kyle Rudolph82 to get us a new stadium!"

Within hours, Ponder, defensive lineman Brian Robison, center John Sullivan and tight end Kyle Rudolph stepped onto the Capitol lawn to toss a few footballs, pose for photographs and deliver encouraging words.

"We don't want to be in L.A.," Ponder told Ye Her, 21, a self-employed construction worker from St. Paul. "We want to be here."

Minutes later, the four players walked the Capitol steps to pose for more photos and to meet with Dayton. As they huddled with the governor behind closed doors, chants of "Save our Vikes! Save our Vikes!" echoed through the rotunda.

"It's time to get the job done," Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said a few minutes later to the cheers of the fans.

When Ponder told supporters that he wanted to stay in Minnesota "for the rest of my life" and win a Super Bowl as a Viking, the crowd erupted.

"And we need a new stadium if we're going to do that here in Minneapolis," Ponder said.

Minutes later, Todd left the Capitol, hoping her support had made a difference, but uncertain of the outcome.

"Really, what we want to know is, 'Do you have the votes?'" she said of Dayton's push to win legislative approval. "And if you do, let's pass it, get on with it, start building and be happy."

Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425

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