A Minnesota without the Vikings? State's stadium drama stokes darkest fears for football fans

  • Article by: PATRICK CONDON , Associated Press
  • Updated: November 5, 2011 - 9:18 AM

ST. PAUL, Minn. - A YouTube video making the rounds at the Minnesota Capitol these days shows a man slowly opening a gift box as ominous music thumps in the background. He folds back the flaps, reaches in and pulls out a foam rubber cheesehead — a symbol of the hated Green Bay Packers next door.

"Some things are too sickening to imagine," warns the video. "Minnesota as Green Bay Packer country is one of them."

These are scary days for Vikings fans, who wonder if they are on the brink of losing the state's most popular team if it doesn't get the new stadium it wants. A long-simmering push for a publicly funded stadium is suddenly boiling over, with a lease that expires after this season, a fat new market in California beckoning and state leaders reluctant to pony up amid chronic budget deficits and spending cuts.

For those who fear the worst, there's good reason. This is the state that already lost one team to California — the Minneapolis Lakers left decades ago — and watched the NHL's North Stars decamp to Dallas. The NBA's Timberwolves nearly left before a rescue effort in the mid-'90s kept them in town.

"My observation is, the Indianapolis Colts used to be the Baltimore Colts," said Gov. Mark Dayton, who has emerged as the chief cheerleader for some kind of stadium package. "The St. Louis Rams used to be the Los Angeles Rams. The Los Angeles Lakers used to be the Minneapolis Lakers.

"Teams leave when they can't get satisfactory resolution to where they're currently located," said Dayton, who has recalled attending as a teenager the Vikings first-ever regular-season home game in 1961 (they beat the Chicago Bears).

There are powerful reasons to believe the Vikings aren't going anywhere for now.

NFL officials have called the Minnesota market (read: TV) a valuable one. Vikings ownership would be on the hook for a hefty relocation fee likely to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, too.

And if Vikings owners want to move in 2012, they'd have to notify the league in writing by Feb. 15, a relatively short window. Two business groups proposing football stadiums in Los Angeles haven't broken ground yet, though there are NFL-ready stadiums in the L.A. area.

No Minnesota political leader wants to be blamed for losing the Vikings, but hopes of settling the issue soon seemed to dim this week after Kurt Zellers, the Republican House speaker, called it unworthy of a special session prior to a regularly scheduled legislative session that begins in late January.

Stadium supporters fear that taking up a stadium funding issue in January could be even tougher. Minnesota government shut down over the summer as Dayton and Republican lawmakers disagreed on how to eliminate a $5 billion deficit, and the picture isn't expected to be much better three months from now.

An expansion of legal gambling is emerging as the most politically palatable way to complete a deal, though powerful factions in the Legislature oppose it. And some longtime stadium foes are against any state money being laid out for sports.

"The dollar amounts of these things keep getting bigger, while government is getting more and more pinched for money," said John Marty, a Democratic state senator who represents a suburban area north of St. Paul. "It's absolutely outrageous. If it was outrageous before, it's even more outrageous now."

The Vikings have wanted out of the Metrodome for more than a decade, calling the 30-year-old stadium obsolete and unprofitable compared to most NFL venues. The team's latest push has centered on building a $1.1 billion stadium on a suburban plot of land about 10 miles northeast of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, but at least three downtown sites appear to still be in play. The suburban plan, in Arden Hills, calls for a state contribution of as much as $650 million.

On Friday, the Metrodome's landlords said they believe a clause deep in the team's lease could require it to stay one more season, potentially buying more time. That clause calls for a one-year extension if the team is forced to play elsewhere for part of a season. That's just what happened last year when the Metrodome roof collapsed in a snowstorm, but the Vikings maintain that this is the last year of the lease.

Dayton and other stadium negotiators said no one with the Vikings has directly threatened a move to Los Angeles or anywhere else. The team declined to make owner Zygi Wilf available for an interview for this story; Vikings vice president Lester Bagley has told The Associated Press that both Los Angeles business groups have been in contact, but has continued to stress that the team's main focus is securing a deal to stay in Minnesota.

Representatives of both firms, Anschutz Entertainment Group and Majestic Realty Co., did not return phone messages from the AP.

The Vikings aren't the only franchise on relocation alert, but the team's tie to its current city appears to be the loosest in the near term.

The St. Louis Rams have a possible out after the 2014 season. The Oakland Raiders are under lease through 2013. The Buffalo Bills intend on staying put as long as the founding owner — 93-year-old Ralph Wilson — is alive. The Jacksonville Jaguars would need to exercise a special escape clause to leave Florida but would owe the city for lost taxes and parking revenue for years to come.

In San Diego, where the Chargers have been seeking a new stadium since 2002, the team has its eyes on a new downtown site but lack financing. The Chargers could get out of a lease starting in February if a better deal surfaces elsewhere, but the team is building toward a 2012 ballot measure.

In the meantime, a lot of Vikings fans are feeling nervous.

Tyler Richter, a 30-year-old Twin Cities media consultant, made the Vikings/cheesehead video in his garage and uploaded it last week. Richter said he's a Republican and no fan of government handouts to business, but his love for the Vikings trumps that.

"Don't hate the player, hate the game," Richter said. "In this day and age, the reality is these deals don't get done without a public component. Love it or hate it, that's what it is."

___

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Dave Campbell in Minneapolis, Josh Dubow in Oakland, Calif., R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis, Bernie Wilson in San Diego, Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla. and John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 7:07 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
Houston 23 FINAL
Pittsburgh 30
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Houston 7:00 PM
Miami
Indiana 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Utah 7:00 PM
Oklahoma City
Portland 8:00 PM
Denver
Phoenix 9:00 PM
LA Lakers
LA Clippers 9:30 PM
Golden State
San Jose 6:00 PM
Boston
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Toronto 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Detroit 6:30 PM
Montreal
Arizona 7:00 PM
Nashville
Carolina 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Philadelphia 7:30 PM
Chicago
Vancouver 7:30 PM
Dallas
Florida 8:00 PM
Colorado
Tampa Bay 8:00 PM
Calgary
Arkansas State 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close