The battle between Mike Lynn and the Irwin Jacobs/Carl Pohlad combination for control of the Vikings waged for more than four years. There was a lawsuit filed by the Jacobs/Pohlad interests seeking control in August 1987; eventually, Lynn and his allies prevailed, and Jacobs and Pohlad sold their shares in December 1991.
Max Winter, the last of the five founding partners, was the team president when General Manager Jim Finks left the organization after the 1973 season. In 1974, he hired Lynn as assistant to the president. Winter had met Lynn, as Mike lobbied at NFL meetings in a failed attempt to get a franchise for Memphis.
Lynn became the CEO and the day-to-day operator of the franchise. There was a falling out with Winter in the mid-‘80s, and Max sold his shares to Jacobs and Pohlad in the hope they would be able to oust Lynn.
Jacobs and Pohlad were able to control a fraction over 50 percent of the total shares, but only one-third of the voting shares. The other voting shares were held by the Bill Boyer estate (with Jack Steele as the representative) and John Skoglund, the son of H.P. Skoglund, a founder who had died in 1977.
Lynn was aligned with Steele and Skoglund. Some members of the Boyer estate wanted to sell, and Lynn brought in Wheelock Whitney and Jaye Dyer to help accommodate those wishes.
Whitney and Dyer were added to the Vikings’ board in 1988, as were Pohlad and Jacobs. This still gave Lynn a voting majority. Eventually, Wheelock received the largely ceremonial title of team president. He held it for a couple of years, before Lynn stepped aside and Roger Headrick took over day-to-day operations on Jan. 1, 1991.
By then, there was a group of 10 owners that Lynn had established – many of whom played their golf at Woodhill Country Club in Wayzata. The group of 10 eventually sold to Red McCombs in July 1998.
You might have heard about it, in the form of, “Purple Pride! Purple Pride!’’
Some time in that decade – from 1988 to 1998 – Wheelock extended me an invitation to join a foursome at Woodhill on a Tuesday.
This might have been because I was a firm backer of Mike Lynn’s allies in columns written during the battle for Vikings’ control. I would like to say this was after taking a hard look at the issues from both angles, but it was actually because I thought Lynn was a great character and wanted to have him stick around.
Joe Soucheray named him the “Remarkably Slick Mike Lynn’’ during Joe’s days as a Minneapolis Tribune sports columnist. I stole that and shortened it to Remarkable Mike Lynn.
The fact that new owners came in here after the Group of 10 – first McCombs, then Zygi Wilf – and were beyond peeved to have to continue to send checks to Lynn for his annual take from Metrodome suites …
Well, I think that is among the most-hilarious things in what now stands in a lengthy career in the Twin Cities sports media.
I remain delighted by my interaction with the late Mr. Lynn (he died in 2012), and one reason for that is it allowed me to get to know Wheelock Whitney to some degree.
Wheelock died this week at age 89, and my sincere tribute to him on Twitter was that he might have been my all-time favorite really rich guy.
Most of that stems from the 18 holes played on a blue-sky day at Woodhill, and for this reason:
Phil Reith was the long-serving and colorful pro at Woodhill. The course was closed to members on Mondays, but from what I ascertained, the people who worked for Phil were generously treated when it came to being able to play on those days.
There were also rumors that Phil might have invited a couple of folks he had met at Bunny’s to play on Monday, but I can’t confirm that, being the teetotaler I became in 1981.
I do know that Alissa Herron – of the golfing Herrons – was working in some manner at the course. In that role, she was able to arrange a match: Alissa and Jane Mackenzie vs. me and Gregg Wong, a co-worker in my St. Paul days and a long-suffering golf partner of mine.
It wasn’t really much of a match. Wong could only do so much to carry my ample posterior against the talent of Alissa and the steadiness of Miz Mackenzie.
This match happened to take place on the Monday before I was scheduled to display my left-to-right, and farther-to-the-right, game to Wheelock for the first time.
But here was the best part:
As Wheelock’s group gathered on the first tee shortly before noon on that Tuesday, he produced a camera and said:
“Here, Patrick, we’ll have a photo taken and you can show people that a sports writer was allowed to play Woodhill.’’
To which I replied: “I certainly would be honored to have my photo taken with you, Wheelock, any time and any place, but I should confess that I played Woodhill yesterday.’’
And there was another moment that remains unforgettable:
The tradition at Woodhill, apparently, was for members to have a tree planted in memory of a lost loved one. Wheelock’s wife Irene had died and he had planted a tree on the left side of a fairway. And it wasn’t a sapling that was planted, obviously; it already was a stout tree.
I read in Wheelock’s obit this week that he was a lefthander. I did not recall that, but maybe that’s why we were both in the right rough – me because of a relentless slice, and Wheelock because that was a miss.
Anyway, we were standing in the rough, and Wheelock pointed 75 yards or so forward on the left and said, “That’s Irene’s tree.’’
I asked if he had ever hit a ball into the tree. Wheelock said the reason the tree was planted on the left was because he never hit the ball to that side of the fairway.
I whacked something ugly out of the rough. Wheelock then skulled an iron from the semi-thick grass and the result was a line drive directly into Irene’s tree.
Wheelock watched the ball drop straight down behind the tree, then instantly pointed a fist toward the sky and shouted, “Damn you, Irene.’’
It remains perhaps my favorite bad-shot reaction in golf years that were built on bad shots.