A Look at Minnesota's Football Ownership and Its Dedication To Success

LeeVanSpleefContributor ISeptember 17, 2009

DENVER - DECEMBER 30:  Owner Zygi Wilf of the Minnesota Vikings looks on from the sidelines before the football game against the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High on December 30, 2007 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The NFL's 14th franchise, the Minnesota Vikings first had its roots in the AFL. The three businessmen's attempts (Boyer, Winter and Skoglund) at bringing back professional football to the area since the Minneapolis Red Jackets were in town started with the trio being awarded a team in the upstart American Football League.

They forfeited that award 5 months later to take membership in the NFL. In turn they gave Ole Haugsrud a 10% share of the franchise to fulfill a promise the NFL made when he sold the Duluth Eskimoes back to the league in the 1920's.

It was this ownership foundation that built the formidable defense "The Purple People Eaters", which included Allen Page, Jim Marshall, and Carl Eller. The Viking's front office rode this defensive line into the late 1970's and appeared in 4 Superbowls.

The 1980's saw Max Winter step down as team president, and pass the torch to Wheelock Whitney. The Board of Directors expanded to include Jaye Dyer (a close, personal friend of mine), Irwin Jacobs, Carl Pohlad, John Skoglund, Jack Steele, Mike Lynn, Sheldon Kaplan, and in 1989 Gerald Schwalbach replaced Max Winter.

It were these 9 board members that made the fateful decision to trade for Herschel Walker. Quite possibly the worst trade in professional sports in retrospect, it must be mentioned because it was a faithful attempt at the time. The Vikings were seen as being one great player away from contending for another Super Bowl berth, and they  handed over the future of the organization's next 3 years of draft picks.

In 1991, the Board would see another shake up and expand its membership to 10. Roger Headrick became team president, and Dennis Green from Stanford was hired as head coach.

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It was said that Denny Green spent all his money on offense, and wasted the rest on defense in his 10 seasons with Minnesota.

With pressure from the NFL to have a majority owner, the Board of Directors sold their shares to San Antonio's used car dealer Red McCombs.

McCombs is viewed in Minnesota as stripping the coaching staff to the bare minimum, and scrimping on his franchise to save money, even refusing to maintain the Viking's ship outside Winter Park.

In his early tenure however, Red paid Randy Moss the highest contract offered to a wide receiver, and made Daunte Culpepper the richest QB in the game at that time. 1998 was the most dynamic Vikings offense to take the field in franchise history with Cunningham, rookie Randy Moss, Chris Carter, Robert Smith and Jake Reed. That offense was responsible for scoring a then record 556 points in the regular season.

After several unsuccesful attempts at having a stadium built for him by the Minnesota voters, it was then that Red started stripping the team of its coaching staff and failing to maintain franchise structures.

While Dennis Green was busy paying for an abortion and writing a book about a hostile take over, Red would show up at training camp wearing a purple ten gallon hat and proclaim "Purple Pride".

This was all while the fan base was being held hostage with repeated threats of moving the team to its owner's home town, San Antonio.

The fanbase and perhaps the team's players had grown tired of Dennis Green, and his contract was bought out. In almost a slap in the fan's faces, Red appointed the team's tight ends coach Mike Tice as the next headcoach. Mike was given the lowest head coaching salary in the league. Red would keep the Vikings perennially $30 million under the salary cap in his waning ownership years.

Thankfully for Minnesota and followers of the franchise, Red mercifully sold the Vikings to a group headed by Zygmunt Wilf. It was immediately clear to all, Zygi and his brother Mark would make any financial investment for the team to be competitive on the field. Mark and Zygi fired Mike Tice immediately after the 2005 season and expanded the coaching staff to a modern day professional level.

Many hurdles needed to be overcome, mainly stemming from the previous regime's draft day and trade blunders. Before Zygi could take control, Red stuck it to the state one last time by trading Randy Moss to Oakland for three used jock straps.

The team downgraded those jocks in the 2005 draft into the form of Troy Williamson, Erasmus James, Dustin Fox, and Marcus Johnson.

Staying true to his word, Mr. Wilf unleashed his pocketbook on the NFL's free agent market, hiding the team's inability to draft competently prior to his formation of the "Triangle of Authority". The TOA included Brad Childress, Rick Spielman, and Fran Foley (who would later be unceremoniously replaced by Rob Brzezinski).

One of these free agents backfired on the team when Fred Smoot funded the "Love Boat" scandal. Overall however, the Vikings aggressive free agent signings have always focused on high profile players coming into their first year unrestricted free agent eligibility. The Vikings have rivaled the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles in off-season spending since 2005.

Below is a list of current players on the Viking's roster that were acquired via free agency. Oh and by the way, They've also done much better in the drafting department. Since hiring Childress and Spielman, draft picks include starters Chad Greenway, Cedric Griffin, Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Tyrell Johnson, John Sullivan, Percy Harvin and Phil Loadholt.

Husain Abdullah 2008 Rookie FA
Jared Allen 2008 trade from K.C., 6 years $73 mil
Bernard Berrian 2008 FA from Bears 6 years $43 mil
Heath Farwell, 2005 Rookie FA, contract ext 2009 3 year $7.5 mil
Brett Favre, 2 year $24 mil
Eric Frampton signed off waivers from Detroit 2006
Erin Henderson rookie FA 2008
Anthony Herrera 2004 Rookie FA, contract extension 2007 5 years $13.75 mil
Artis Hicks traded from Philadelphia 2006
Steve Hutchinson signed the "poison pill" contract where the Vikings stole away the unquestioned NFL's best OLG for a then record 7 year $43 million
Jimmy Kennedy resigned 2009
Chris Kluwe claimed off waivers from Seattle, signed to a 7 year $8.3 extension in 2007
Ben Leber signed a 5 year $20 million contract
Greg Lweis UFA (Patriots) 1 year contract undisclosed
Kory Lichtensteiger claimed off waivers 2009
Cullen Loeffler Rookie FA 2004
Ryan Longwell 5 years $10 mil from Green Bay
Jayme Mitchell Rookie FA 2006
Kenny Onatolu signed FA from CFL 2008
Karl Paymah 1 year $1.15, 2009 from the Broncos
Darius Reynaud Rookie FA 2008
Sage Rosenfels 3 year $9 mil 2009
Bennie Sapp FA from Chiefs 2007
Visanthe Shiancoe 5 year $18.7 million in 2007 UFA from Giants
Naufahu Tahi claimed off waviers from Bengals 2006
Chester Taylor 4 year $14 million 2006 from Baltimore
Madieu Williams 6 year $33 million 2008 from Bengals
Pat Williams signed from Buffalo in 2005 for $13 million and has since re-signed at a bargain rate $22 million through 2010
Antoine Winfield 5 year $36 mil in 2009, extending his original 6 year $34.6 mil where they sniped him from the Jets just before he signed his contract with him
Albert Young Rookie FA 2008

Zygmunt and Mark Wilf should be given their stadium in Minnesota based on their financial commitment to get a championship. There has been no other owner(s) in franchise history that has given so much to the state, in so little time.

The Wilf's indeed should be the true heroes in Minnesota. When and if the Lombardi trophy gets hoisted in the air by Adrian Peterson, he should pass it to his employers and let them take share in the honors, because no one has made a bigger difference to the state of Minnesota and its love affair with professional football.


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