Super Bowl nod ends Wilfs' frosty stretch

May, 21, 2014
May 21
8:30
AM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- The televised celebration in the Minneapolis bid committee's conference room on Tuesday afternoon -- in response to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's announcement that Super Bowl LII was headed to the Twin Cities -- was spontaneously raucous, in the way that only a celebration of the end of a long wait can be. As Minnesota Vikings officials, corporate CEOs and civic leaders exchanged jubilant (and occasionally awkward) high-fives and embraces, the room quieted down only at the mention that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was about to speak on TV.

It was then I realized: This must have been the first time in a while where it was purely, unequivocally good for the Wilf family to be the owners of the Vikings.

[+] EnlargeZygi Wilf and Mark Wilf
AP Photo/David GoldmanVikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were all smiles after Minneapolis was selected as the host for the 2018 Super Bowl.
Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf, who prefer to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible, have presumably spent too much time in it for their liking in the past nine months, and rarely for positive reasons. First, there was the news that a New Jersey judge had ordered the family to pay $100 million in damages to its business partners in a 21-year-old lawsuit, which the Wilfs are still fighting in appellate court. That lawsuit triggered an emergency (if slightly theatrical) review of the Wilfs' finances that threatened to delay groundbreaking on the Vikings' new stadium, and four days after Zygi and Mark Wilf appeared at a news conference to announce the firing of coach Leslie Frazier following a 5-10-1 season, the owners ordered an independent review of the organization in the wake of former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations he was cut because of his support for same-sex marriage.

Even low-level controversies, like the news the Wilfs were receiving tax breaks in exchange for storing stadium dirt on parking lots they owned in downtown Minneapolis, played on the narrative that the Vikings' owners were suspicious out-of-towners, intent on driving hard bargains with a community that counts three Midwesterners as the owners of its other pro teams and tends to be leery of slick East Coast mavens.

But on Tuesday, the Wilfs weren't seen as carpetbaggers. They were the patient, steady hands who bought the Vikings in 2005, never threatened to move the team during a long legislative battle over a new stadium and ultimately helped forge the partnership on a $1 billion complex that will bring the Super Bowl back to Minnesota for the first time in 26 years. They got to talk about the "beginning ... of a long, great relationship and a great venue that everyone in Minnesota can be proud of," and as a kicker, they helped Minnesota exact a small measure of revenge for one of its most bitter NFC Championship Game defeats, beating out New Orleans for the right to host the game four years after the Vikings' overtime loss to the Saints. After a long, tenuous stretch, they seemed as much a part of the community in Minnesota as they had in some time.

However unscrupulous the Wilfs' business dealings might make them seem in the eyes of Minnesotans, it's tough to argue they haven't been good owners since they bought the team from Red McCombs. They've funded one of the NFL's highest payrolls, routinely spending money in free agency and giving general manager Rick Spielman the freedom to acquire seven first-round picks in the past three years. They were patient with state legislators through the fits and starts of the stadium process, even as the Vikings' local revenues in the outdated Metrodome ranked among the league's lowest. And they've now got the distinction of being the owners who helped bring America's biggest sporting event back to a state that might never have been more energized than when it had the game last time, in the middle of a remarkable 10-month run that saw the U.S. Open, Stanley Cup finals, World Series, Super Bowl and Final Four land in the Twin Cities in 1991 and 1992, making Minnesota the center of the nation's sporting conscience.

On top of all that, the Wilfs have a new head coach they like, a new quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and an iconic player in Adrian Peterson. The narrative around the team right now is very much about what's exciting and new, and very little about the unsightliness of the past nine months. Tuesday was a good day for them to be the owners of the Vikings, and as they landed a Super Bowl that's sure to induce plenty of fretting about Minnesota's frosty climate, it probably wasn't hard for the Wilfs to feel the warmth from their adopted fan base.

Ben Goessling

ESPN Minnesota Vikings reporter

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