Zygi Wilf was along for the ride in his first season as the Vikings owner in 2005. The Purple went 9-7, and Wilf patiently waited 20 minutes for Mike Tice to finish a post-victory media session before firing the coach.

The Vikings were 6-10 in 2006 -- a flop that put Brad Childress, Zygi's hand-picked coach, in immediate arrears in the court of public opinion.

Wilf made emphatic statements in an interview with the Star Tribune in late March of 2007. The owner said he was going to "stick to my guns'' and not be swayed by the public's unhappiness.

"This is a process that will take a building-up from year-to-year,'' Wilf said. "It will require patience, and it will take a couple of years until we can get into a position for championship-caliber competitiveness ... Our goal is to get to a competitive, championship level and, once we get there, to stay there.''

Wilf insisted that the primary example of this patience would be a reliance on the draft.

"The draft is where we will build the strength of our team,'' he said. "You have to realize that this is a long-term building process. The way that things have been done in the past had to change. We will continue building this way to improve ourselves.''

In an earlier interview, Wilf said the Vikings would take the "ultimate team approach'' and not base any success on acquiring a few superstars.

"This organization has gone through its years of 'splash,' " Wilf said. "I don't think the fans want to see splash. They want to see wins.''

So, let's review Zygi's principles: A) Patience, since what he was after was a long-term winner, not a quick fix; B) the foundation of that winner was going to come through the draft; and C) the Vikings had suffered enough with splashy guys such as Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper and weren't interested in acquiring new ones.

This is Wilf's third season since he brought in his coach, and there have been three drafts with his man in charge -- Fran Foley in 2006, and Rick Spielman in 2007 and 2008.

The Vikings are tied for first place in the NFC North and are likely to gain a strong hold on Zygi's first playoff berth over the next two weeks. First, they get the mediocre Chicago Bears on Sunday night in the Metrodome, and then the winless Lions in Detroit.

Get those two, you're 8-5 and figure to need only one of the last three -- at Arizona, home with Atlanta and the New York Giants -- to claim a first North title ever.

Clearly, this favorable position for the Vikings has arrived through a steady implementation of Zygi's principles for long-term success.

Or maybe not.

The Vikings' starting 22 at this moment contains four players from the three Wilf-era drafts: running back Adrian Peterson, defensive end Ray Edwards, cornerback Cedric Griffin and linebacker Chad Greenway on defense. There's also Sidney Rice as the third receiver.

The lineup also includes a couple of very splashy personalities acquired in the past offseason: defensive end Jared Allen (trade) and receiver Bernard Berrian (free agent).

There are six other starters from the past three free agent periods: left guard Steve Hutchinson, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, receiver Bobby Wade, safety Madieu Williams, linebacker Ben Leber and quarterback Gus Frerotte.

Throw in kicker Ryan Longwell, No. 2 running back Chester Taylor and now-departed fullback Thomas Tapeh, and Wilf has handed out more than $100 million in signing bonuses to Allen and 10 free agents.

Clearly, Wilf deserves applause for this, but can anyone look at what the Vikings have put together in November 2008 and say this team has a foundation built for long-term success?

Wilf wanted strong drafts and minimal splash, and then the 2008 draft was emasculated to bring in Allen, a star so averse to splash that he pantomimes the roping of a calf after his sacks.

Consider this: The Vikings' 53-player roster includes 13 selections from the 2006 through 2008 drafts. The Packers, the future competition in this division, have 23 such players on their roster.

What we have here in this border rivalry is one team built on splash and the other being built for the long-term, and Zygi has the former.

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