Like many of us, I had my favorite teams to cheer for when I grew up in rural Minnesota. In the summer, there were the Twins in baseball; the winter time consisted of split shifts between the Timberwolves in basketball and the North Stars and later the Wild in ice hockey; and in between, we had the Minnesota Vikings in American football. We had great seasons, cheering for our favorite players and demonizing the rivals, taunting them while they were chased out of the Metrodome and Target Center. We had dismal seasons where we demanded coaching and player changes so that we had a better season the next time around. And nine times out of ten, one losing season was followed by consecutive winning records and playoff appearances.
That was until just recently when greed, the strive for bigger stadiums and losing records combined with indifference among the players and ownership caused me to lose my appetite for one of the teams from Minnesota, the Vikings.
Since 1995, there have been calls for a new stadium with a retractable roof to replace the Metrodome, which was built in 1981 and has housed the Vikings since the 1982 season. Yet with every plea for public money to fund the project, it gets blown in the face with either other more desperate pleas to spend money for other projects, losing records and big disappointments, threats of relocating, or all three, the third variant being the most poisonous as it results in the loss of fans and respect for the team.
The latest round of backfires involves these three variants and this one could doom the team and force its relocation to Los Angeles. The current owners, the Wilf family, are threatening to move the organization to the City of Angels as the city of 10 million has been in demand of a new professional football team since the mid-90s and has every facility at its disposal. The state is trying to find ways to keep the team in the state but is faced with opposition from those refusing to pay higher taxes for a new stadium- especially when measures are passed without a referendum, as was attempted in Ramsey County, and attempts to keep the team in Minneapolis in neighboring Hennepin County have fallen on deaf ears to date. And its latest marketing campaign to round up support from state representatives blew up in their face this past Monday when Green Bay pasted the team 45-7 sending them to a 2-7 record in a season where the record of three wins out of 16 set in 1984 is in serious danger of being broken because the team has overpaid and overrated players who cannot protect a rookie quarterback who is the only one actually playing- not learning the lessons of last season when they finished last at 6-10, six games fewer than the season before that!!!
So what is the next move now? Faced with a chronic recession consisting of 9% unemployment and one in three families struggling to make ends meet, the last thing everyone needs now are higher taxes to fund a team that is in limbo and dysfunctional and its overpriced stadium. Keeping silent for too long, I have one word of advice to the organization: “Shut up and play some ball! Then we can talk!”
Looking at the teams in every level of sport, each one has received support for a new venue when they had successful seasons- comprising of winning records, playoff appearances and even championships. For one soccer team in the German Bundesliga, 1899 Hoffenheim, a club located in the extreme southern part of Hesse between Mannheim and Stuttgart, it has been because of yearly marches through the lower leagues and all the way up to its current place in the premier league. A small town of 3,400 inhabitants, its rise to fame started in 2000 when it won the Verbandsliga, the then fifth lowest league in the German soccer ladder, and every year up to 2008, its ascension was annual, raising the eyebrows of many who watched them, and with that came more fans and investments until the team reached the top. Then it received a new stadium, not just because of their success, but because their own venue was too small to host so many people. The end result of these two reasons was investment from mostly the private sector and from the German soccer organization. To this day, the recipe of success is being repeated in places like Leipzig (where it has been missing a top league team for over 20 years). As for the team itself, Hoffenheim has been a real pain to many of the traditional teams from Munich, Cologne, Hamburg, and Berlin, for every team in the Bundesliga has lost at least one game to this new powerhouse. That is just as amazing a feat as its ascension from a small league consisting of villages trying to establish their own team and place in the world of its most beloved sport.
Even some teams in other sports who have had constant success but problems with venues will eventually receive a new one because the support from the public is strong. This applies for the handball team, SG Flensburg-Handewitt in the German Handball Premier League. While Campus Halle sports complex, located on the campus of the University of Flensburg has been their home since 2003, a change of ownership combined with too high expectations in rent and other fees and other issues with transparency could result in the team severing their contract and looking for a new home. And given their success being in the top 6 combined with a pair of championships and success on the international level, FH has enough support from their fans and the city of rum for a new venue.
While the Vikings had their share of success with two winning seasons, including a 12-4 finish in 2009-10 and a run to the NFC Championship, it is not enough to convince the state of Minnesota that money is needed for a new stadium; especially given the hardship the people in the state and the country are still facing since the 2008 economic meltdown. And 2012 could be a repeat of 1968 in terms of turmoil from the public with political and economic implications on the country and the world being sky high. The Minnesota Vikings picked the worst possible timing to be demanding for a new stadium or leaving town, and with two straight seasons of losing records (combined with more to come) has resulted in many like me to be indifferent, saying “Take your team and go to LA, but never come back here to Minnesota ever again!” It is really sad that sports today have become more of a money factor than one where we see real athletes do their work on the field, and many of us are really fed up with that. This goes beyond the embarrassment that the Vikings faced Monday night against the Packers in what was supposed to be the battle of cross-state rivals.
It is obvious that the Vikings will hit rock bottom after this season and a complete makeover is inevitable, beginning with the players and ending with sacking the head coach. But perhaps these changes should also include the ownership, as the current ones are threatening to move the organization to L.A. without even thinking about what Minnesota needs in reality. Proposals for public ownership of the team and the Wilfs receiving the minority have already been presented, and it may be the only remedy to force the family to see reality and take a few steps back on the stadium issue, or put the team up for sale, which would be a blessing to many who want to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, its home for 51 years.
While it is inevitable that a new stadium is needed in the future, given the current situation with the team and the state, now is not the time to act on the stadium bill. It can only be implemented if the economic conditions have improved over time, and the same applies for the team and their performance. It does not necessarily mean the Vikings should follow the same recipe as Hoffenheim, Flensburg or even some of the teams in the state- like the Minnesota Twins in baseball. But realistically, if the team can pull off at least three consecutive seasons with winning records with playoff appearances- two of which must include victories- then we can discuss the need for a new stadium. Until that happens, the team is in dire need of a complete makeover with a new objective, new principles, and new personnel. And this can only happen when the 2012-13 season starts, which is as soon as the last seconds of the fourth quarter of the last game of the 2011-12 season run out, regardless if they break the 1984 record for the least number of wins in a single season or not.