Vikings Facing Watershed Year

With a budget defecit and competition for other pro sports franchises, the Vikings are facing a critical year in 2003 -- perhaps the most important in the last two decades for the franchise.

As far as Minnesota sports go, the Vikings have always been the state's Big Kahuna. But that has changed in the last year or so and the Vikings prepare for the 2003 season with team insiders understanding that this year is perhaps the most critical season for success in a long time for the Vikings.

Compounding a pair of double-digit loss seasons, the Vikings have taken a back seat to the Twins -- who will win the hapless American League Central for the forseeable future -- the Timberwolves -- who set franchise records for wins -- the Wild -- whose improbable playoff run has bandwagoners jumping on fast -- and even the U of M hockey team -- which has two straight NCAA titles.

In a sports climate that caters more to corporates than the average "Joe Lunchpail," the Vikes are no longer the only show in town. It should be noted, however, that the same sportswriters and talking heads (usually the same animal) that called for Denny Green's head when the Vikings annually made the playoffs and lost aren't after Flip Saunder's job for NBA playoff futility reaching record-book proportions.

For the last decade, the Vikings were the most successful sports franchise in Minnesota. That has changed -- big time. Whether Red McCombs owns the team, Glen Taylor owns it or Minnesotans pony up the money to go "the Packer route" and subsidize a team, the Vikings are facing a watershed season. One more act of futility and the Vikings will be compared to the Lions or Bengals. This season will be critical -- perhaps for more reasons than meet the eye.

2004 is a huge election year in Minnesota. Stadium financing for the Vikings will be a hot-button topic. When the Twins were wallowing at 90-100 losses, nobody cared about a new stadium for them. But, with some success, they jumped to the front burner. The same will be true for the Vikings. No career politician will jump on the pro-Vikings bandwagon if the team sucks. However, as is the disingenuous, waffling trademark of career politicians, if the Vikings return to glory in 2003, they will be back on the stadium bandwagon.

If you think that point has been lost by the suits at Winter Park, you are sadly mistaken. They know it. 2003 could be the most critical year in Vikings history. Fans have packed the Dome for five straight years -- good or bad -- but may not be as willing to part with cash if the team keeps losing. This season will determine in large measure the support the Vikings will generate for a new a stadium -- a must to ensure they stay here.

The team has done a solid job in building a foundation for the future, but this isn't a five-year plan. The Vikings must win now -- or become a winner in Los Angeles when the moving vans roll out of town.

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