PHOENIX – Mark Wilf spent the last Tuesday in March at a sun-splashed desert resort giving fellow NFL owners an update on preparations for hosting Super Bowl LII.
“It went well,” said the Vikings owner and president.
It will go much better if he can spend the first Sunday in February taking the Lombardi Trophy from his peers and hoisting it for Vikings fans at an ice-covered U.S. Bank Stadium in the heart of Minneapolis.
“That’s what drives us,” Wilf said Tuesday during a break in the annual league meetings at the Arizona Biltmore hotel.
That’s never been done, of course. The Vikings are 0-4 in Super Bowls, while the league is 0-for-51 when it comes to teams playing the big game in their home venue.
“We know the history,” Wilf said. “We’d like to be the first.”
While General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer spearhead a plan to try to return the Vikings to the Super Bowl for the first time since Jan. 9, 1977, Wilf and brother Zygi, the team’s owner and chairman, are busy as co-chairmen for the Super Bowl host committee.
There were two Super Bowl-related meetings at the league meetings this week. NFL Senior Vice President of Events Peter O’Reilly gave one presentation while Mark Wilf directed another one-hour meeting.
Feedback from the NFL and fellow owners was positive.
“The sense was Minnesota is ahead of the curve when it comes to where most committees are this far out,” said Lester Bagley, Vikings executive vice president for public affairs and stadium development.
Owners were impressed, for example, when told it took only 48 hours for 9,000 Minnesotans to say you betcha as Super Bowl volunteers. On the other hand, there are still concerns being sorted out.
“There was significant discussion about the Super Bowl campus,” said Bagley, referring to plans for the secure perimeter around U.S. Bank Stadium. “The NFL comes in and takes it over. It’s a Level 1 security event. The federal government is involved.
“We have one of the most urban stadiums in the league. For Vikings games, there’s a 100-foot security perimeter. For the Super Bowl, it’s a 300-foot security perimeter. So it’s a challenge.”
But, like having too many quality quarterbacks, these are good challenges to have since hosting a Super Bowl usually means a team has solved its stadium situation long-term and is not at risk of being sold and/or relocated.
The day before Super Bowl LII was discussed, owners voted 31-1 to allow Oakland to relocate to Las Vegas in 2020. Only Miami voted no, so the Raiders, after more than a decade of trying to get a new stadium in Oakland, joined the Rams and Chargers as the third NFL team to relocate in the past year.
“We try to minimize teams moving around,” Mark Wilf said. “It’s not a good thing for the home base. We understand that and we’re very pleased that we were able to get a solution done in Minnesota in a great public-private partnership.”
The Vikings also spent more than a decade going to the State Capitol every year to ask for help on a new stadium. Their first trip was in the spring of 2000. The bill for U.S. Bank Stadium passed in May 2012.
The new stadium, which opened last year, was built with $498 million in public money and about $550 million in team and private funds. Meanwhile, a year later, the Raiders got Nevada taxpayers to pay about $750 million toward their new $1.9 billion stadium.
Preparing to host what Mark Wilf calls “the 10-day Super Bowl festival” is tough. But not as difficult as what it will take for Spielman, Zimmer and the players to elbow past 15 fellow NFC teams for the right to play in the actual three-hour game.
Since the Wilfs bought the team from Red McCombs in 2005, the Vikings have one playoff victory. It came in January 2010, when Brett Favre led them to a 34-3 victory over the Cowboys at the Metrodome. Since then, the Vikings are 0-3 in the postseason with one-and-done appearances in 2012 and 2015.
Spielman was elevated to general manager in 2012. Zimmer became his hand-picked coach in 2014. They won the NFC North in their second season together but slid back to 8-8 a year ago after losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the season, Adrian Peterson for 13 games and so many offensive linemen that five different players lined up at left tackle.
“Obviously last year was disappointing, particularly with the great start [5-0] we had and all the promise from 2015,” Mark Wilf said. “But we feel good going forward that we have a good plan. We’re going to have a real solid team this year.”
Spielman restocked the tackle position with starters Riley Reiff (left) and Mike Remmers (right). He then replaced Peterson with Latavius Murray, a younger player whose versatility in the passing game is a better fit for a team transitioning to a West Coast, shotgun-heavy style of play under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterback Sam Bradford.
Wilf said free agency has “gone according to plan, by and large.” He also said ownership remains unwavering in its commitment to Spielman’s leadership on the football side.
“We’re trying to model ourselves after the successful franchises, and the successful franchises have a long-term approach and they do have patience,” Wilf said. “If it’s constant knee-jerk reaction to things, it tends not to work. Our philosophy is a long-term philosophy. That’s our philosophy in our [real estate] business.”
Wilf said he was aware of disparaging comments that Riki Ellison, the father of former Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison, made recently. Among other things, the elder Ellison said the team had “toxic leadership.”
Asked what his level of concern was with those comments, Wilf said: “None at all from ownership. I’m not sure where that really even comes from. I know how close Rick Spielman and Coach Zimmer are and how great they work together and how great they communicate with us. So from our perspective, I’m not sure what Mr. Ellison’s perspective is.
“We feel real good about our football operation. … Last year was disappointing, but overall we’re on the upswing. We have a lot of confidence that this is a group we can win with and get us to our ultimate goal.”