The Vikings will kick off their 59th season of operations next Sunday, when the Atlanta Falcons come to U.S. Bank Stadium to start their regular season, and Lester Bagley, the team’s executive vice president of public affairs, says that after years of work to build a new stadium and a new practice facility, the team has become one of the most stable franchises and operations in the NFL.
The fact that the club decided to give contract extensions to General Manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer, even after a disappointing end to the 2018 season, was clearly a decision by the Wilf family to keep the organization stable heading into a big season in 2019.
“It’s a great run,” Bagley said. “We have a great organization, great owners, a great coach, GM, and our players, we have a veteran, deep team. Accomplishing the new stadium, adding the practice facility, it is approaching a well-oiled machine, the way this organization operates.
“It’s a blessing to be a part of it. The bottom line is we still have one thing missing from the mantelpiece, we need that Lombardi [Trophy]. But we have a great organization, great leadership and we’re excited about this season.”
Bagley said one of the things he liked seeing this preseason was how upset Zimmer got after the starters underperformed against Atlanta.
“We have a good team, and we have a chance to be really good this year,” Bagley said. “I actually like to see [Coach Zimmer] a little grumpy because that’s usually his normal state of being. He has been in a decent mood this camp, so to get him a little fired up, he has that unique ability to really yell and use his foot on the rears of our players to get them motivated, but they still really love him and are motivated by him and want to follow him. He’s a great leader in that sense.”
One thing that Bagley also said should be interesting is that several players haven’t been able to go at full strength during the preseason but should be fully healthy for the opener.
“We have a veteran team, a deep team,” he said. “The team is looking good, we have a lot of guys coming back who haven’t played yet like [cornerback] Mike Hughes and [defensive tackle] Linval Joseph and those guys. [Offensive tackle] Brian O’Neill has been a little dinged up and hasn’t played. Getting the full squad against Atlanta, we’re excited about it. We have a chance to be really good. We’re a very good, veteran team. Offensive line is looking better. I’m very excited, and I know our fans are, as well.”
Draft, Super Bowl targets
News came out this week that the Vikings have once again put their name in the ring for a number of big events — including the 2028, 2029 and 2030 Super Bowls, but just as interesting is a submission for the NFL draft in 2024, 2025 or 2026.
Bagley said that while the Super Bowl is the marquee event in the sporting world, the draft is actually becoming just as big of a draw.
“The Super Bowl was awesome — it’s down the road a piece before we will even be considered for another Super Bowl,” Bagley said. “But the NFL draft would be sooner, as soon as 2024, which comes up fast, as did the Super Bowl and all of the planning that went into that.
“The NFL draft would have to be in Minneapolis, but it would be a regional event where we’d cover St. Paul, Bloomington, Eagan to make sure we have all the ancillary events. It is a great economic impact but also great for our brand, meaning Minneapolis, St. Paul and Minnesota. It would be great to have that many people come and have a draft in Minnesota.”
Bagley said that last year’s draft in Nashville was incredible in terms of attendance.
“They had 180,000 each day for three days,” he said. “It’s a major event. What we argue with the NFL and the leadership and the owners and Commissioner [Roger] Goodell is there needs to be equity. If you’re going to move the draft around you need to make sure it comes to Minnesota.
“We obviously got the Super Bowl, but we did such an amazing job on the Super Bowl and Final Four last year that the NFL knows we can deliver great events and big events and that we have a great market, great hospitality, great hotels, great restaurants. We want to bring those events here because there is an economic impact, not necessarily to the Vikings, but it is good for our brand and our momentum.”
More than just football
Bagley said the Wilfs have built more than just a football franchise. This year they will host high school football games at their campus, where they are also developing hotels, other real estate, e-sports teams, and maybe even a curling club.
“When I started working with the Wilfs 14-plus years ago we were a football team,” Bagley said. “We were trying to build a stadium, and we were focused on football. Since then we are still focused and our No. 1 priority is winning the Lombardi Trophy, but we’ve evolved more into a real sports and entertainment operation, which has been a blessing to work with the family and the leadership group of the Vikings.”
• New Vikings Chief Executive Officer Andrew Miller, who is replacing Kevin Warren as he takes over as commissioner of the Big Ten, got his start with the Cleveland Indians in 2006 and was their baseball operations assistant in 2007. Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey got his start with the Indians in 2007, when he began an internship in baseball operations.
• While the Gophers football team received seven votes in the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll, Fresno State, its opponent next week, got eight. The Gophers will face them at 9:30 p.m. Saturday in the Bulldogs’ home opener, which could be one of the U’s toughest games this season.
• Getting Rochester Mayo and Mankato West to play at TCO Field in Eagan on Sept. 28 could be the start of several outstate high school football games at the Vikings complex.
• Pro Football Focus really liked the play of Olabisi Johnson at wide receiver — making him the only Vikings player to make its list of top 30 preseason rookies.
• ESPN ranked its top 100 players in the NFL and had Adam Thielen as the highest-ranked Vikings player at No. 28.
• Timberwolves forward Josh Okogie is playing for Nigeria in the upcoming FIBA World Cup, but also of note is that Timberwolves player development coach and former Gophers standout Kevin Burleson is on the coaching staff of the squad. That team is considered one of the real threats to compete for a medal.
• For all the talk of the Twins’ starters struggling, they have at least been consistent. Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Martin Perez, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda already have made over 20 starts each this season. The last time the team had five pitchers start at least 20 games was 2011 with Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano.