Reusse: Lynn was the chief string-puller

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 21, 2012 - 10:58 PM

Mike Lynn won and lost many battles during his lengthy leadership of the Vikings, and one thing is clear: It was a remarkable run.

July 25, 1990 photo of Vikings general manager Mike Lynn visiting the practice field.

Photo: Regene Radniecki, Star Tribune

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Kernal Buhler was among several young turks that Mike Lynn brought into the Vikings front office operation early in the 1980s. He had numerous titles and tasks in his decade working for Lynn, although one stayed constant.

"Whether I was an intern or the director of community relations, I was in charge of getting Mike's car washed and buying his cigarettes," Buhler said. "A carton of Kool Filter Kings."

It was a spring Sunday in the mid-'80s when Buhler received a call and was told to come to the Lynn house. On arrival, the dialogue went like this.

Lynn: "Where are you going tomorrow?''

Buhler: "I don't know. Where am I going?"

Lynn: "You're taking a plane to Miami. You are taking this envelope. When you arrive, you will meet John Skoglund and Jack Steele and hand them the envelope. They will hand it back to you, and you will get right back on the plane, and bring it to my house."

Buhler followed the orders. When he arrived at the Lynn house, Mike was sitting in a chair. Kernal handed him the envelope and sat down next to Mike's wife, Jorja, on a couch.

Lynn looked at the contents of the envelope, gave an extra-long exhale on his cigarette smoke, looked at Buhler and said: "You're good for another five years."

Meaning employed. Meaning Buhler's mission had been accomplished, whatever it was. "I didn't know anything, but the next day I overheard a couple of scouts getting ready for the draft and one said, 'Mike says he's in charge,'" Buhler said. "Turned out, I had gotten the signatures of two-thirds of the ownership -- Skoglund, and Steele representing the Boyer family -- to affirm Mike's control of the Vikings."

Sneaky? No, remarkable. That's why the nickname Joe Soucheray gave him in his days as a Minneapolis Tribune sports columnist -- the Remarkably Slick Mike Lynn -- was shortened by me to Remarkable Mike.

As an individual, Lynn wrote an amazing underdog story: Going from running movie theaters in Memphis to becoming enough of an NFL powerhouse to be perhaps the most influential person in getting the 1992 Super Bowl played in Minnesota.

Lynn had continued an underdog fight against failing health for over a decade. He survived an aneurysm. He fought cancer and renal failure. He died on Saturday morning at 76, at a hospital near his home in Holly Springs, Miss.

Lynn spent 17 years with the Vikings, starting as co-owner and president Max Winter's new right-hand man after the departure of GM Jim Finks, and eventually taking over as CEO.

He is most remembered in the football world for the Herschel Walker trade that he made with Dallas on Oct. 12, 1989. It appeared to be genius for one Sunday, as Herschel romped across the Metrodome turf.

The reality was that it became a bonanza for the Cowboys and an obstacle for the Vikings with lost draft choices -- although the team suffered less in the standings over the next decade than it did in perception.

Lynn left the Vikings during the 1990 season to take over the World League of American Football. He had a much larger vision of what that European league could become than did the NFL, and the relationship was short-lived.

The Walker trade (Lynn lost), the fight with Irwin Jacobs and Carl Pohlad for control of the Vikings (Lynn won), the maneuvering for an NFL "Northern Super Bowl" resolution and then landing it for Minnesota (Lynn won), the WLAF (Lynn lost), getting the Dome built (Lynn won) ... those were the Remarkable Mike headlines remembered by the masses.

That's not how he was recalled Saturday by people who worked for him at Winter Park.

"I loved the man," Buhler said. "He was the single most-important influence in my life. He was a very smart guy. And if you worked hard for him, he took care of you."

Jeff Diamond also was a Lynn disciple. He eventually advanced to being the president of the Tennessee Titans.

"Mike had me working with him on contracts -- doing research that he could hopefully use against the agents," Diamond said.

When the facts were not on Lynn's side, he went to his ace in the hole: Kool Filter Kings.

"He would be meeting with an agent and he'd call me in and say, 'Jeff, is this guy asking for too much?'" Diamond said. "My answer was always going to be, 'Yes,' of course.

"But while this was going on, Mike was smoking up a storm. He was hoping he could smoke out the agent -- get him to say yes to our offer just so he could get out of the room."

Lynn had a few favored phrases, including one with which he ended most conversations: "You're my guy."

If he gave Buhler or Diamond or Dan Endy or another employee a task and wanted no discussion, Lynn would say, "Take a letter to Garcia'' -- meaning, just get it done.

And then there was, "Things are not always as they seem," which Lynn said was defined by a mysterious Russian word "kafka" (not the German author). That is why when these people in Lynn's employ seemed curious as to what he had in mind, Remarkable Mike would merely say:

"It's kafka, boy."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

  • MIKE LYNN 1936-2012
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