Highly successful people tend to look in all directions. Except backward. So let’s excuse Zygi and Mark Wilf for being momentarily stumped this week while on a call with a pesky reporter who asked them what piece of advice they would offer to themselves if they could, you know, travel back in time to June 13, 2005, the first day their family assumed ownership of the Vikings from Red McCombs.
Zygi laughed. Obviously, he’s been made aware that only reporters and fans on Twitter enjoy the benefits of time travel.
“In other words, what would I do as a Monday morning quarterback?” Zygi asked.
“I would probably say, ‘Learning from experience is the only way you can get better,’ ” he said. “It’s very tough to be a Monday morning quarterback in figuring out what you could have done differently because we were learning.”
Ten years. It doesn’t seem possible. Then again, you start thinking about all that has happened and you wonder how it all fit into one decade.
Mike Tice was fired. Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier were hired and fired. Mike Zimmer was hired.
Fran Foley, a short-lived personnel director, was hired and fired so quickly that he didn’t even make the media guide. The “Triangle of Authority” traveled a murky path and gave way to Rick Spielman as a traditional general manager.
Brett Favre arrived and thrived. For one year. Randy Moss returned and was shown the door 28 days later. But not before teaching Childress a very costly lesson in SuperFreak 101.
The Metrodome collapsed, was restored and then torn down to make room for the new stadium that forever eluded old Red.
Percy Harvin, Chris Kluwe, Chris Cook, the “Love Boat” and how to weather a titanic national storm and survive alongside Adrian Peterson could have their own chapters in a book the private Wilfs would never write.
“We’re not rookies anymore,” Mark Wilf said. “We can’t believe it’s been 10 years already. It’s been a very exciting ride, both ups and downs.”
Even the most cynical among us would have to admit the Wilfs deserve high marks for effort. Prime Example No. 1 of many came when the already well-compensated Favre held the 2010 season hostage and the Wilfs paid the ransom.
Zygi mentioned the team’s first win in 2006 and the back-to-back division titles in 2008-09 among his favorite on-the-field memories. Mark then spoke for both by adding the signature win to this point: the 34-3 divisional playoff victory over the Cowboys at the Metrodome on Jan. 17, 2010.
“The fans were at a fever pitch that day,” Mark said. “The energy there kind of gave us the adrenaline to know how great it is to move up the ladder. We hunger for more.”
On the flip side, even the most ardent homer can’t spin the results any better than they are. In 10 years, the Vikings are 76-83-1 with seven non-playoff seasons, a 1-3 postseason record and one hammer-to-the-thumb overtime loss at New Orleans in the NFC title game.
“We knew how hard everyone worked to get that close to the Super Bowl,” Mark said. “And the fans, especially, that was a very tough moment. But we hope to experience the flip side of that game one day.”
Off the field, the Wilfs have been obtaining — shall we say — real-life experience from the get-go. Remember, the infamous Love Boat set sail on the seas of Lake Minnetonka less than four months into their ownership.
“We learned early that to be a class organization that has a winning tradition, as we have, it’s a long-term commitment,” Zygi said. “We have to be on top of all the situations all the time. As a fan, it was September to January. As an owner, it’s a full-year proposition.
“It’s a continuous learning experience, I think, for the 10 years back and the 10 years and many more going forward for our family. It will continue to be a learning experience and we will get better by understanding more about the issues that come up all the time.”
Optimism for the Vikings in 2015 is widespread and perhaps prematurely wishful for a team that’s coming off a 7-9 season and still located in Mr. Rodgers’ division. The Wilfs aren’t afraid to lead the cheers because they’re confident that the bumps and bruises of experience have led them to the right front-office structure, coaching staff and personnel.
“I don’t think we’ve been more optimistic than we are about the situation we’re in now,” Zygi said. “I would tell you that our expectations are to win the Super Bowl for the fans. To continue to strengthen our bond with the community in a unique and positive way because we have the opportunity and the responsibility to do it.”
That sounded good to Mark Wilf, who, by the way, did have the benefit of going second when asked what piece of advice he would offer to the June 13, 2005, version of Zygi and Mark Wilf.
He talked primarily about using the fans’ passion as ownership’s “North Star.” Then he seemed to really think about what he would say to himself.
“If I had talked to myself back then,” he said, “I would have said, ‘There have been some ups and downs. Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride.’ ”