by Dave Zirin
This is a day to empathize with the agony amongst the long-suffering fans of the Minnesota Vikings. With a trip to the Super Bowl in their buttery grasp, they fumbled it all away. In a game they largely dominated from start-to-finish, the Vikes lost in overtime to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game, 31-28. Miscues, interceptions, and some questionable calls will have Vikings Nation asking "what if" for the next nine months.
Yes, there is misery in Minnesota. But there is also a silver lining, and I'm not talking about the joy in Green Bay at the spectacular fall of Minnesota QB Brett Favre. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was locked and loaded to arrive at the Minnesota State Legislature on February 4 - three days before the Super Bowl - to press for a new $1 billion stadium with $700 million to be paid by the taxpayers. The Vikings, like many teams, is holding up the specter of moving the franchise to Los Angeles if they don't get a nine-figure welfare check. With the state's phony populist absentee governor Tim "Glass Jaw" Pawlenty saying little more than, "We have to keep the Vikings no matter what," Wilf was ready to roll the state's taxpayers. But now that the team has failed to reach the Big Game, the wind is out of Wilf's sails and Zygi is no longer coated with stardust. This isn't to say that Wilf won't emerge triumphant, but without the team in the Super Bowl, it's much more apparent that he will have a fight on his hands.
As Minnesota resident and dogged stadium opponent Willard Shapira wrote, "Most communities around the U.S. have caved in to such outrageous demands but socially concerned Minnesotans are fighting the Vikings tooth and nail. Others around the U.S. battling big-money and establishment power politics would take heart from a public victory over the Vikings and their gang of arrogant, plutocratic conspirators in business, politics and the media."
Remember that Minnesotans repeatedly rejected the Twins billionaire owner Carl Pohlad's efforts to get a new baseball stadium on the public dime. Despite their votes, Pawlenty rammed the $500 million facility through the legislature and it opens for business this spring. Now the owner called "the Big Bad Wilf" wants his piece of the public pie, recession be damned. The Vikings failure to make the Super Bowl makes his effort far more perilous.
On the flip side, and ever so ironically, New Orleans first trip to the Super Bowl makes it a near impossibility for the Saints owners, the Benson family, to fulfill their pre-Katrina dreams of moving their franchise to the City of Angels. If they made that move, I'm convinced that the Crescent City would implode with grief. Now, as a Super Bowl team, that move becomes a political impossibility.
Therefore in one tense contest to see who would ascend to the Super Bowl, two sets of owners saw their most treasured dreams to burn tax payers and break hearts go up in smoke. That's something all fans should cheer. Even in Minnesota.
Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.