Very seldom do members of the media know in advance what player the Vikings plan to take in the draft, but I've been fortunate enough to be tipped off on several occasions.
Denny Green told me the day before the draft in 1998 of the team's great interest in Randy Moss, who had some baggage coming out of Marshall University. Moss lasted until the 21st pick of the first round, but the Vikings had him in their sights all along and were hoping he would drop to them.
Denny also told me the next year that Daunte Culpepper, the quarterback at Central Florida, would be the pick. Most teams weren't certain he had all the abilities of an NFL quarterback, but the Vikings took him with the 11th pick, even though they seemed to be set at quarterback and many people were surprised at the selection.
Former Vikings coach Brad Childress got running back Adrian Peterson with the seventh overall pick in 2007. Other teams were scared off because of a shoulder injury Peterson had at Oklahoma, but the Vikings planned to take him if he was available, and got him.
Percy Harvin in 2009 was another player the Vikings singled out and were hoping would drop to them at No. 22. One of the assistant coaches told me they were exploring every possible reason why not to take him and, after Childress went down to Gainesville to meet with Harvin, the decision was made to definitely draft him if he was available.
Then you have the case this year of the Vikings definitely being set on taking Matt Kalil. Unless they would get a deal similar to the one the Rams got from Washington for the No. 2 pick, people around the team told me there was no way the Vikings were going to give up on Kalil, and only made the trade with the Browns because they knew the USC tackle would be available at No. 4.
Safety Harrison Smith of Notre Dame, who the Vikings scouts rated the equal of any safety available, was another guy the team really wanted, and they moved back into the first round, at No. 29, to get him last night.
Kurt Zellers, the speaker of the House of the State Legislature, believes there is still time to vote for a favorable stadium bill and he believes the presence of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in town this week revived the interest in getting it done.
“There is still time though, the session isn’t over yet,” said Zellers. “As long as we’re in session there’s all kinds of things that can be done to make sure the process moves forward, if it’s going to be bi-partisan, it’s going to work together.
“I think so. I think there’s still an opportunity, from the standpoint if everybody is committed to. We’ll set aside whoever is a democrat or republican, governor, house, senate, whoever it is, and then just get to the floors and have that vote. I think there’s still a chance this session. Anything can happen once we’re still here.” Zellers has a lot of respect for Goodell.
“I like Commissioner Goodell. I’ve met him several times, he was here during some of the arbitration, so I had a chance to meet him. He’s a great guy. I think he’s done a lot for the league,” Zellers said. “I think that from that standpoint he has a lot of integrity. As an NFL fan, to see him throw that Saints coach for a year, that did more for me as a fan to believe in what he believes for the NFL than anything. I think that’s’ a man of integrity. I think it helps because he was earnest about what he wanted to see, which is to see the Minnesota Vikings stay the Minnesota Vikings. He wanted to do whatever he could do to help us through the process, so from that standpoint, absolutely productive.”
Zellers said in his conversations with the Wilf family, owners of the Vikings, they have never talked of moving the team with or without a stadium. “They’ve always been very straightforward with me saying they want the Minnesota Vikings to stay in Minnesota. I take them at their word. That’s what Zygi and Mark have told me, they want the Vikings to stay in Minnesota.
“They didn’t say with or without a stadium, they said they want the Vikings to stay the Minnesota Vikings. They may say something different, I’m going to take them at their word that that’s what they mean," Zellers said.
I have emphasized the fact that the state legislature, in considering a new Vikings stadium, should consider the fact that the Vikings will use the stadium only 10-12 times a year and that the presence of a covered stadium would bring the opportunity to bring a lot of national events to Minneapolis.
“Well again I think, especially from the standpoint of what the multiple uses are going to be, so if we’re building the stadium just for the Vikings that’s some of the concern, is that it is a multi-use facility,” said Zellers. “But all along most of our questions haven’t been about the use or the tenants and what the uses would be, it was how is it going to be funded, would there be backup sources -- whether it’s E-pull tabs, or whatever that funding source was, if that fell off or didn’t come in the way it was supposed to then we’d have all of a sudden to go into the general fund.”
Zellers said he was concerned if a backup funding source wasn’t in place that “then we’re going to take away [money] from schools, we’re going to take away from roads, nursing care attendants and health care, for us its always been about how are we going to keep not only the Vikings here, because I believe it’s important for them to stay, but it also has to be a good deal for the people who are paying for it. It has to be a choice.”
Zellers said that unfortunately he didn’t like the way the way the Target Field was funded, because the use of a Hennepin County sales tax is an obligation to pay by all the people in the county, as opposed to a choice. “If it was my choice, I’d buy a brick out in the yard out there, I’d go play the lottery scratch off game that funded the stadium, because I’m a football fan, but that’s my choice. With a sales tax that’s an obligation because it’s things I buy everyday. That’s what it has always been for us. If it’s your choice as a fan -- whether it’s going to the game, whether it’s buying a lottery scratch off game or if you pay charitable pull-tabs, you’re helping charities on one side but you’re also helping the team. That’s a choice. That’s what it has always been for us.”
Zellers called attention to the fact that there is a sales tax out there already. “The original Metrodome tax was supposed to blink off and instead of blinking off it blinked over to fund the convention center,” he said. “I think that sales tax there should absolutely be allowed to be used for the stadium going forward.
“Minneapolis has some concerns about how long they use that sales to pay for the convention center. In that case they don’t want it to end too soon so that the convention center costs aren’t paid off, I think that’s what it was originally purposed for so it should be used for that from the beginning, but there’s a difference of opinion there. I think that sales tax as existing should go right over to the stadium, it’s more than enough money to pay for the new stadium.”
Zellers said that the Minneapolis City Council has to be onboard any deal for a new stadium in the city. “The Minneapolis legislators would say, ‘How can I vote for a stadium when I don’t know where my city is?’ We had to wait for them to get onboard, some people don’t work as quickly as others so they had to take their time. Once they got on board, once the backup sources, so that if the E-pulltabs don’t come in it doesn’t go to the general fund, once those questions were answered it moved through two house committees in one week.”
Zellers said the Republicans did their part when they voted in favor of the stadium at an important committee meeting early this week. “I can only take care of the members that I’m in control of which is the Republicans, we had five republicans vote for the bill, we had one democrat, it needed eight votes,” he said.
“We need some bi-partisanship here because these things don’t move on their own. They don’t move with one party taking all the blame or all the credit, they have to be both parties.”
Well I got the idea that Zellers is for getting the stadium built under the right circumstances and is not against it as a lot of people had thought. Goodell hopeful NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who visited here on Friday to try to encourage a favorable vote toward a Viking stadium and he talked about how politics are always involved when it comes to voting for a new stadium by a government group like the state legislature.
“Sure, you know these are complex projects that have significant economic impact and also the politics are usually complicated,” Goodell said. “It’s not unusual for us to be in this situation and we try to play whatever helpful role we can. Goodell said it was important to have the Vikings in this market. “I think recognition of the importance the Vikings have to the NFL, to be in this market, the urgency to get a solution with a lease that’s since expired. I think the group came together at the end to say let’s work together to get this done by the end of this session.”
Asked if the Vikings might move if a stadium bill is not voted Goodell said that: “Well we don’t like to talk about that. We like to talk about solutions. We’ve been successful in getting stadiums built and we hope to be successful here. This is where the Vikings belong.
“It’s important but also they’re important to the NFL -- the tradition, the history, the fan-base, the Vikings are important to us and we want to see them continue to be successful. But I do believe there’s a core recognition that a stadium needs to get built here.” Goodell said the NFL is working on getting a franchise to Los Angeles but didn’t connect the Vikings with that city. “We’re still working at that but there’s a lot of interest in building a stadium,” he said. “We have two alternatives that we’re focused on and they’re determined to get back into the NFL and we’d like to be back there. “I do think [Los Angeles is] going to be successful. Again we would like to do it the right way. We don’t want to go back and fail, so a stadium is important out there.”
Rest assured Los Angeles is going to have a football team in my opinion and it won’t be an expansion team. Some current NFL team is going to move and my belief is the Vikings are a candidate if they don’t get a stadium.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has now had two great players on his payroll -- Kevin Garnett for 12 seasons, and Kevin Love, who is in his fourth season.
Love, who won the NBA's Most Improved Player award last year and is headed for it again this season, is breaking all sorts of team records, including some of Garnett's. And he isn't making anywhere near the money that Garnett made, some $200 million during his career here.
At this point Taylor refuses to rate Love as a better player than Garnett.
"Kevin [Garnett] did it for many years. Love is doing well now, but he has a long way to go to catch up with the long successful career that Garnett had," Taylor said.
Garnett, who still has a home in the Twin Cities, doesn't hold any love for this franchise, according to his quotes in the Boston press. This despite all the success he had and all the money he made here.
Garnett said: “It’s always special to come back to true fans and your foundation. But as far as that franchise, I have nothing positive to say. So I’ll just let it be that. I think Kevin Love’s playing at a high level. I think he’s rejuvenated the city as far as basketball goes. Other than that, nothing else.”
It will be interesting to see how much he is booed tomorrow night when the Celtics make their only appearance here.
One hero who doesn't get credit for what he did for this franchise is Kevin McHale. He not only drafted and made Garnett a great player, but he also was responsible for the draft-night trade that brought Love here in 2008. And McHale also drafted Nikola Petrovic, who has a chance to be one of the best big men in the NBA.
Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe, who got the good news from the NCAA Thursday that he has been awarded a sixth year of eligibility after being injured in the first six games this past season, is going to test the draft but he says there’s a good chance he will return to play for the Gophers.
“I feel great. I’m happy. I was pretty nervous the whole time waiting to find out what was going to happen with the NCAA,” Mbakwe said. “But I’m happy, I’m ecstatic and I’m just waiting to see what my next move is going to be and just continue to keep getting me knee better.”
“I don’t know yet. I still have to work some things out and see what the best option is for me,” said Mbakwe when asked if he will return to the Gophers. “Right now I’m just playing it by ear and taking it day-by-day.”
“Yeah there’s still a possibility [of entering the draft]. It’s my lifelong dream and something I’ve been working hard for,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough decision. I want to play back with all my teammates, I missed them and I’m not happy with the way this last year went. It would be nice to finally take this team to a tournament.”
Mbakwe said he won’t hire an agent any time soon as he tests his viability in the draft market before the NBA draft in June. That will keep him eligible for the Gophers if his chances to be drafted by the NBA aren’t positive.
“I’ll see what the interest is,” Mbakwe said. “I know teams, the biggest question is going to be my knee and showing them that my knee is fine. That’s why I’m continuing to work hard on that.”
Gopher coach Tubby Smith, who was optimistic all the time that the extra year would develop, wants the 6-8 cager to play next season but his comment was “that the decision about playing is all up to Mbakwe”
Mbakwe reported that his “knee is doing really good. It’s getting better. I’m starting to do more things, I’ll be running in a couple of weeks. I’m really happy about it.”
“Yeah I’ll be able to play. I’ll be playing again this summer.”
Mbakwe graduated in December but he’s still in school taking classes.
“I’m taking two lab courses. I have an independent study that I’m taking and a design class that I took and completed.”
It has been kind of a secret, but the University of Minnesota is in the process of building a recreation center that will almost double the size of their present recreation facilities.
The $59.6 million center will have 145,000 square feet of things like basketball courts and other facilities that the students have been pushing for and that the university has lacked.
Some of the features of this building will be a larger fitness center, a center for outdoor adventures, multipurpose rooms, an elevated track, recreational sports office space, and a full-service cafe.
The building will be close to the University Aquatic Center and will also include a wellness resource center and an indoor cycling studio.
It will be completed in the fall of 2013 and is being funded by student service fees.
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