Vikings owner Mark Wilf was in Houston this past week — along with several Vikings officials, current and former players and members of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee — to study how that city put on one of the biggest sporting events in the world as Minneapolis prepares for Super Bowl LII in 2018.
Wilf said that while Houston did an amazing job, he still believes Minnesota will be able to pull off a greater spectacle and that the team is excited to show off U.S. Bank Stadium to the sports world.
“Houston … set the bar high, but I know Minnesota,” Wilf said. “I’m confident we’ll put on the best Super Bowl ever.”
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway has been named captain of “Crew 52,” the Super Bowl host committee comprised of some 10,000 volunteers. He and current and former players such as Harrison Smith, Kyle Rudolph, Cris Carter, Bob Lurtsema and Todd Steussie also were in Houston.
“We had a lot of people learning a lot of different things [in Houston],” Wilf said. “We learned the event is a lot bigger than the last time Minnesota hosted. We learned that millions of fans from all over the world will come to our destination, and the most important thing is the hospitality that everybody shows. Houston did a great job, and I know the people of Minnesota will do a great job.”
Houston’s NRG Stadium had a sellout crowd of 70,807 on Sunday, and Wilf said he believes U.S. Bank Stadium, which holds 66,655 for regular-season Vikings games, will be able to hold that many with extra seating for the 2018 Super Bowl.
“I don’t have the exact number, but I believe it’s between 70,000-72,000,” Wilf said. “I think four to five thousand additional seats to make sure that the Super Bowl — that was part of our bid — and the stadium will accommodate it. We think we have the finest sports and entertainment venue in the world, and we can’t wait to show it off to the world.”
When asked if there was anything the Vikings needed to do to make the event more elaborate, Wilf said that wasn’t how the team is viewing the event.
“It’s not about bigger, but we want to make sure that all of the parts of the community participate,” Wilf said. “We’re working with a great host committee, Marilyn [Carlson Nelson] and Richard [Davis] are great chairs and Maureen [Bausch, host committee CEO] is doing a great job.
“There has been over three years of planning to date, and we as a team will do whatever we need to help the committee to work with the NFL to coordinate security, to coordinate the event, to make sure the food is the best possible and the venues are outstanding, the transportation and law enforcement, all of these components need a full cooperation from all sources. We will host some events during the week as well. It’s a lot of teamwork involved, but we have a great team and great leadership.”
No host city team has ever appeared in the Super Bowl, but Wilf was asked if he thinks that could happen with next year’s Vikings, who started the 2017 season 5-0 before finishing 8-8.
“The triple play would be hosting the Super Bowl, playing in the Super Bowl and winning the Super Bowl,” he said. “One of them we know — we’re going to host — and the other two we’re working on. Hopefully that will come through.”
So does he think they have a chance?
“I really do. I think [with] our GM Rick Spielman, our coach Mike Zimmer, there will be some change, obviously, on the roster — there is every year — but we have a lot of great parts to the team already,” Wilf said. “And we had some unfortunate circumstances this last season, but there’s no reason we can’t compete and be right back in it hopefully competing to win the division and being able to have a chance to get to the Super Bowl and win it.
“We have a lot of hard work ahead but we have a good, young core group of players which has been playing well the last couple years and we think we’re competitive here for the next few years, for sure, in terms of being able to get in there and compete with these top teams.”
• Three Vikings — Smith, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr — recently toured London in preparation for the Vikings’ 2017 game there against the Cleveland Browns. This will be the Vikings’ second visit to London, after beating the Steelers 34-27 there in 2013. Smith said he was impressed with the British fans’ understanding of the NFL game.
“Their knowledge of American football is a lot deeper than you would guess,” he said. “Just going over different cities and meeting the people, they love our game.”
• Quarterback Phillip Nelson, who finished his college career with one year at East Carolina after playing two years for the Gophers, was the star of the NFL Player Association Bowl held last week in California.
Nelson completed 11 of 18 passes for 102 yards, one interception and rushed for one touchdown. He played so well that a headline on CBS Sports website read: “Former NFL coach: Philip Nelson can start at the next level.” That coach was Mike Martz, who coached him in the game.
“I think Philip is a starter in this league,” Martz said. “I’m convinced of it.”
• Eden Prairie football coach Mike Grant, whose successful program often attracts outstanding players, will get another talented transfer in Benjamin Sapp III, son of former Vikings cornerback Benny Sapp, who has moved here from Miami.
The four-star recruit already has been offered scholarships by schools such as Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
… Look for Grant to continue coaching next season, his 26th year at Eden Prairie.
• Two outstanding former Vikings defensive players, linebacker Lonnie Warwick and cornerback Carl Lee, will be honored in May in their home state by induction into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
• With Northwestern trying to get its first NCAA basketball bid in school history, former Benilde-St. Margaret’s standout Sanjay Lumpkin, the stepson of Timberwolves announcer Jim Petersen, is having a great senior season averaging 6.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
The Wildcats will get their biggest test of the season when they play at Wisconsin on Sunday.
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