BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — When the Minnesota Senate approved state funding in 2012 for what became U.S. Bank Stadium, and unleashed the forces that conspired to misplace the Super Bowl there, one senator, Geoff Michel from Edina, said keeping the Vikings was a priority “so that our children and our grandchildren, yes, can wear purple.”
A high ideal, even if somewhat tongue in cheek, and worth every dollar of the $348 million the Minnesota legislature appropriated by a narrow vote for the stadium that eventually topped out with a $1.1 billion price tag.
You really don’t feel charitable mentioning it around here, but purple is not an easy color for most people to wear attractively. At this time of year, it does approximate the skin tone of local residents who have been outside for more than five minutes, but otherwise it’s a tough wardrobe staple.
Nevertheless, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was up on the stage Monday morning at the Mall of America to stand with a bunch of men proudly wearing purple blazers as they welcomed the world, or at least the portion of it that has gathered for the Super Bowl, which, apparently, will not be moved somewhere that makes better sense.
In fairness, the host committee worked four years on getting and organizing this sprawling event, and there are some neat aspects, including the opportunity to zipline 750 feet across the Mississippi River in sub-zero conditions. My colleagues and I have entered into an agreement that whoever writes the worst story here this week will have to do the zipline, and this column is already starting to worry me.
The governor, Mark Dayton, was on stage as well and presented the host committee with a framed proclamation designating this as Super Bowl Week, which could be a bit redundant, but the committee seemed pleased to receive it.
“It may not be balmy weather,” Dayton said. “In fact, this is Bud Grant football weather. We wanted to build this stadium. We wanted to keep the team in Minnesota. And we’ll be in the Super Bowl next year. That’s why we’re all wearing our purple ties in defiance.”
Sorry, forgot to mention the purple ties with the purple blazers. They had those, too. In any case, as the governor and the host committee and Wilf spoke, the elephant in a room that was otherwise brimming with the bright unicorns of success was the fact that the football gods had not allowed the harmonic convergence of actually placing the Vikings in the game.
It would have been the first time a Super Bowl participant played the game in its home stadium, which seems unlikely for an event that has been around more than a half-century, unless you take into account the relative fortunes of the Dolphins, Bucs and Saints over that span.
Alas, it wasn’t to be, and every purple person in this great state is aware of which team got in the way of such a perfect ending to the hosting of the Super Bowl. That would be your Philadelphia Eagles.
“I’ve been in this business for 13 years and you have your ups and downs,” Wilf said after the presentation was completed. “Sure, you’re down for a couple of days, but then you look at the future and we’ll be knocking at the door again.”
It doesn’t necessarily work that way, of course. They knocked this year, but the Eagles were on the other side of the door with a butt-kicking so thorough that locals here chose not to focus on their team’s dreadful performance, but on a very few unfortunate incidents after the game when some visitors were inadvertently in the way as Eagles fans attempted to recycle their beer cans into nearby approved receptacles. You understand how that could have been misinterpreted.
“I’ll leave it up to Philadelphia,” Wilf said, asked about any potential repercussions. “It’s their venue.”
Like any good NFL owner, Wilf knows enough not to toss any cans at his fellow franchise holders. The other owners voted to give the Vikings $200 million from the league’s stadium loan program when the stadium was built. (Once Wilf shook another $200 million from U.S. Bank for the naming rights, and $100 million more from mandatory seat licenses, the team’s actual financial outlay was minimal. The state and city were on the hook for a combined $500 million, which pleased the Minneapolis folks so much that the approval passed city council by a resounding vote of 7-6.)
The owners also approved the Super Bowl bid and they think so much of Wilf that they rarely bring up the $110 million judgment against his New Jersey real-estate development company for bilking his partners by keeping two sets of books, or the $2 million judgment for reneging on a contract with a different set of partners, or the $225,000 fine he paid for polluting not one, not two, but six Jersey rivers.
People living very well in glass stadiums don’t throw things, and that goes for Zygi Wilf, who adopted Minneapolis as home when he bought the Vikings in 2005, and has seen the franchise value increase by about $400 million since.
“Being a former Giants fan, I’m familiar with being down in Philadelphia,” Wilf said diplomatically. “Philadelphia is fighting for its first Super Bowl and it’s very exciting for them. Their fans are very, uh, exuberant.”
There are conflicting opinions as to whether Wilf would have up and adopted some other city if he didn’t get his stadium gift, but the possibility was certainly there. Commissioner Roger Goodell and stadium committee chair Art Rooney II showed up at the state legislature in early 2012 and shook the sword at them, just to make sure the message was delivered.
It was, and here we are, at the Super Bowl, in Minnesota, with the Eagles, who are so popular here that people are actually more willing to root for the Patriots. Well, friends from the bitter north, you wanted the game, you got it. Now take your line and zip it.