Three years ago, a month to remember

As the Vikings stadium takes shape, the anxious times of three years ago in Minnesota have moved to St. Louis.

Fortunately for most sports fans, they are equipped with selective memories. They tend to remember the happier times (like the 2009 season) more than the disasters (like 2010).

Three years ago this week, the long-feared nightmare for Vikings fans officially ended, as Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton fast-tracked a bill passed in the closing days of the Minnesota State Legislative session that approved the funding of a new Vikings stadium. As most Vikings fans know, the Wilf family has continued to increase its portion of the funding of the stadium to make it an iconic showpiece – on Friday, it was announced that the Vikings organization would be increasing its contribution by another $14 million to avoid cutting corners and producing a product that would be great, but not perfect.

It seems like more than three years ago that the very real fear that the Vikings would leave Minnesota and join the inappropriate named Lakers in Los Angeles ended. It had been a long and arduous process that got two owners – the Gang of Ten ownership group and Red McCombs – to bail on ownership after being frustrated by an ironclad lease at the Metrodome. The Wilfs claimed they never threatened the state with leaving, but once the lease expired the Vikings would have been an organizational free agent able to leave at any time.

For those who remember those dark days, they recall the artist renderings of the proposed stadium in Los Angeles – complete with purple seats to send the message that they were eyeballing the Vikings.

But a visit from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to the power brokers of Minnesota politics resulted in an unprecedented about-face and the momentum went swiftly from the Vikings being gone from Minnesota to the Legislature standing relatively firm in their support of a new stadium.

Had that push that culminated on May 14, 2012 not happened, the Vikings could well be playing in a stadium in Los Angeles this year. The plan at the time was the AEG investment group bringing a team to L.A., whether the Wilfs were involved or not. The Vikings had been the latest in a succession of teams that were rumored to be heading to Los Angeles, following in the footsteps of similar threats being thrown out in Oakland, San Diego, Jacksonville and New Orleans.

The landscape in the three years that have passed since has been nothing short of frightening. It would appear that L.A. isn’t looking for just one new team, it’s looking for two. While San Diego and Oakland remain logical suspects, the new team in the crosshairs is the team that started the estrangement of Los Angeles and the NFL – the St. Louis Rams.

Owner Stan Kroenke has been as difficult for the St. Louis media to track down for a quote to explain his motivations about looking to double or triple the value of his franchise. He’s been as hard to find as Osama bin Laden and is just about as popular in Missouri with football fans.

While the Wilfs wanted to work with Minnesota politicians to get a new state-of-art stadium built, Missouri politicians have been scrambling to come up with a viable new stadium solution – with no input or apparent interest in the process from Kroenke. The feeling is that if an NBA franchise like the L.A. Clippers are worth $2 billion on the open market, what would a NFL team based in Los Angeles be worth?

L.A. has been the bargaining chip used by many owners over the years to get improvements to their stadiums or new stadiums constructed. It would appear that the threat stage is over and the Vikings were one of the last franchises that was subject to the aura of moving west to the second-largest media market in the country.

Fortunately for Minnesotans, the decade-long nightmare of the threat of the team leaving is over. With their palatial new digs more than 50 percent completed, the readying process for a grand unveiling in 13 months is on the horizon. The NFL won’t be leaving Minnesota in the lifetime of many of their current fans, and considering the level of opulence that is being figured into the new stadium, it will likely remain a top-10 facility for decades to come, virtually ensuring that you can’t say NFL without mentioning Minnesota.

Three years ago this month, that was far from a guarantee of happening. In fact, the “smart money” was that Minnesota would be the most likely franchise to end L.A.’s NFL drought. Fortunately, the Vikings, Goodell and powerful politicos in Minnesota were able to get the job done, and before it has even opened the major events have already been booked – a list that already includes the Super Bowl and a men’s basketball Final Four, as well as being a perceived frontrunner to potentially land a college football championship series game and Wrestlemania. The investment that the state has made is already guaranteed to be repaid by the influx of money into the local economy that will pay off that investment.

For a city like St. Louis that already felt the heartbreak of losing an NFL team over a stadium impasse, the Minnesota scorched-earth scenario is facing Rams fans. This time, there may not be a Plan B solution if their team leaves, which would be a shame.

For those Vikings fans who don’t have selective memories, we feel your pain. Having lived through it, Vikings fans can empathize with the angst Rams fans are currently feeling, much less going through it a second time.

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