2003 Critical for Sports Dollar

With the playoff regularity of the Timberwolves and the recent popularity of the Twins and Wild, the Vikings find themselves in a must-win situation -- not just with NFL opponents, but with the paying sports fan of the Twin Cities. This could make 2003 a very interesting -- good or bad -- season for Red McCombs and the Vikings.

For years, the Vikings have been "the only show in town." Playoff failures by the Vikings have been happily chronicled by Denny Green's "Posse of Three" – a hatred that had its roots based on Green's approach to dealing with the media but, over time, was borne out.

When Mike Tice took over, the Vikings were the whipping boy of even the most objective of observers – even shameless homers who finally admitted that basketball isn't the only winter/spring sport in Minnesota.

While it may not be the popular opinion right now, the Vikings face a serious problem they haven't faced in 15 years. For those of us in the media who have covered Minnesota professional sports for any period of time, the Vikings have always been "the show" in the way of sports. Granted, the Vikings haven't made a Super Bowl since John Madden was a coach (as was Bud Grant), but they were making the postseason when the Twins were losing 100 games and winning playoff games when the T-Wolves became the "one-and-out" standard of Minnesota sports.

But that has changed. It took the fledgling Minnesota Wild to bear out that point. Anyone in Minnesota can attest that, if people wore Wild jerseys prior to the last month's postseason ascent from expansion dregs to Stanley Cup contenders, nobody noticed. Minnesota has been a Vikings state since most younger fans can remember cheering for any team.

If someone was to ask the average sports fan which team it follows the most earnestly, the Vikes are still No. 1. But, with the Twins in the "Little Sisters of the Poor" division in baseball, the Timberwolves having the longest consecutive postseason streak of any franchise in Minnesota and the Wild having the bandwagon jumpers coming out of the woodwork, the Vikes are in a difficult situation. While fans of the Wolves may have cooled on their annual "one-and-done" finish, the Twins and Wild have torn allegiances away from the Vikings. The Vikes are no longer the "Big Daddy" of Minnesota. After going 11-21 over the last two years, the bandwagon has plenty of available seats.

What does this mean? Two things. One, the Vikings don't have the luxury of being the best show in town. In a four-sport metro area, three teams have proved to be playoff contenders – the Vikes being the only one that isn't. Two, with Red McCombs threatening – whether publicly or more veiled, to move the Vikings to Los Angeles - this is no time to jump off the bandwagon.

The 2003 Vikings are going to be MUCH better than the product fans have seen the last two years. That isn't kissing the ring of the master – VU doesn't do that. It's the truth. The sports fan bar has been raised by the success of the other three pro franchises in town. The Vikings have to respond. They've made a lot of the right moves already, but they still have salary cap money available to finish the deal. Minnesota and postseason bandwagoners have become synonymous. It's time the Vikings reclaim their spot as Big Daddy.

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