This is quite a coincidence: The projected state deficit of $935 million through mid-2009 is very close to what the Vikings project would be necessary to start building a new stadium in mid-2009.

"It's $950 million if we get approval in 2009 and keep trying to open in 2012," said Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of public affairs. "If it slides to '13, then you add another $47 million to the construction cost."

Last summer, the Vikings were hopeful their stadium would be a hot topic when the state's 2008 legislative session commenced.

Since then, the I-35W bridge has collapsed, the economy has collapsed and the Republican governor and DFL legislators have kicked off the '08 session in acrimonious style.

Mark Brunswick and Mike Kaszuba, Star Tribune Capitol reporters, were asked Friday if the "V" word -- Vikings -- had been mentioned since the session opened Feb. 12.

Brunswick: "Not one bit."

Kaszuba: "Not that I've heard."

Bagley was asked if his absence in St. Paul means the Vikings simply are going to relax and wait for 2009.

"We can't afford to relax," he said. "We know we're not going to be at the top of the list this year, with the bridge collapse and now the budget forecast, but we do hope to have a chance to meet with a [government operations] committee later in the session."

Eric Grubman, an NFL vice president, came to St. Paul in early December to hold individual meetings with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and leaders of legislative delegations.

"The message that the NFL and the Vikings received was that the key year was 2009 -- that's when they would try to move forward," Bagley said. "We understand that, but we also need to move the process forward this year, if we're going to try to open in 2012."

What Bagley seemed to be saying was that the Vikings hope to get, late in this session, an indication from the state's political leadership that those politicians are intent on solving the team's stadium "problem" in the next session.

Once armed with a strong indication of legislative approval in 2009, the Vikings would go from envisioning a retractable-roof stadium on the Metrodome site to making concrete preparations.

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, landlord of the Metrodome, has become the Vikings' No. 1 ally with this plan.

The commission made numerous appearances around the state on a "listening tour." They were accompanied by either Bagley or Steve Poppen, the team's vice president for finance.

"The public is very supportive of having a facility like this, particularly outstate residents," said Roy Terwilliger, the commission's chairman. "Events such as the Prep Bowl are very important to those folks.

"We also found out -- no surprise -- that a huge percentage of the people want the Vikings to stay here."

And what question did you hear at every stop? Come on, Roy, you can tell me.

"How are you going to pay for it?'' he said.

Terwilliger was in the Legislature for 11 years. He knows how it works.

"Don't tax you, don't tax me," he said. "Tax the guy behind the tree."

The Vikings plan to be aggressive in the current free agency. They want the reinforcements needed to win, because that's the goal of most organizations. Plus, the feeling at Winter Park is that winning will help the stadium drive.

"Every little win helps," Terwilliger said Friday.

Sorry, Roy -- and you, Lester, and especially you, Zygi.

Win, lose or play .500 as in 2007, the Vikings' immense popularity with the Minnesota public remains a given. It's not a question of winning over the taxpayers by signing Bernard Berrian, or by providing visions of Adrian Peterson rushing for 2,000 yards.

The issue is dollars, $950 million and holding. The Wilfs have pledged $250 million, which includes any NFL contribution.

That leaves $700 million from the public. No matter how many free agents the Vikings sign and how many wins they get between now and the '09 legislative session, it's going to be tough to find enough guys behind trees to hit that mind-numbing number.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. •