Et Tu, Red?

With a potential sale of the Vikings being rumored to be just days away, Vikings fans are forced to wait and see if their team is a commodity or a way of life. Yes, there is a Santa Claus, but is there truly Purple Pride if a sale results in the relocation of the Vikings?

By all accounts, Red McCombs has a big decision between now and Labor Day – be an NFL owner or not. He also has a secondary decision to make – define "Purple Pride."

Over the last 48 hours, the pot has come to a boil on McCombs selling the Vikings. What may end up being the long-term semantics is whether McCombs sells -- or just sells out.

By his own admission, McCombs had made public comments in which he has expressed his frustration with the Minnesota Legislature for its reluctance to build him a new stadium. He has a valid point. More than half of the stadiums in the NFL are five years old or less. Pennsylvania taxpayers have taken on the majority of the tab for four open-air stadiums and one indoor arena to be built in the last three years – five major venues. The fact that Minnesota politicos have trouble handing the keys over to a Texas billionaire is not his problem. Election years always suck, but he's gone through more than a couple with the same problem – which isn't his fault.

What is his problem (and quite possibly his fault) is that, from the day he pulled into Minnesota and became a "hands-on" owner – as opposed to the 10 Stooges ownership group that couldn't agree that the sun rises in the east – he had two words for disgruntled, worn down Vikings fans. Those two words? Purple Pride. Whether he believed them or not isn't relevant. It became a mantra for Vikings fans everywhere.

Red has always been very personable to the local media, including VU – myself included. He has been a consistent proponent of the team and the fans have responded. Prior to him buying the team, four of the eight home games in 1997 didn't sell out. For longtime Vikings fans who remember TCF and the local NFL affiliates putting up the cash required to buy any unsold tickets, those days died when the NFL went corporate. Those fans who couldn't afford to go games – or simply preferred to watch games on TV – were screwed. They had to travel 70 miles to see a home game.

Every game McCombs has been the owner of the Vikings has been a sellout. The fans have come – in droves – to justify their love for their Vikings and, like parrots, spout "Purple Pride" at every opportunity. Why? Because they HAVE Purple Pride. With all the postseason heartbreaks Vikings fans have endured through the years, their love for the team – and reflective association with it – has never waned. Players have come and gone. The fans have remained. Maybe it's time for McCombs to back up and realize that.

For the past two days, Reggie Fowler and his Arizona-based investment group have been the talk of the local media. Then again, so was Tom Clancy and that idiot from Las Vegas who, once actual media types starting doing some investigative reporting, was exposed as a fraud, were going to buy the Vikings. In no way is this meant to disparage Fowler or his investors. As much as some of us have applauded the disintegration of the "old boys" network of the NFL – where weakly veiled mafia ties were exposed years later – you have to wonder what is the motivation of Fowler's group? From here, it looks like the Vikings are viewed by them exactly what it was when McCombs bought the team – a commodity, an investment.

Red bought the team for $250 million. He looks, at a minimum, to double that amount in sale – even in a stadium better suited for tractor pulls than NFL football games. Not too shabby for six years, even if writing off the purchase of more than one purple suit. If Fowler and his group will pledge to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, few people will have a problem with a sale, but will have the same distrust that McCombs unknowingly brought with him. The long and short of it is, if Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor buys the team, it isn't going anywhere – even if he has to honor the ironclad lease on the Metrodome. Fowler remains a wild card and a sad question mark for fans – just as McCombs was when he bought the team.

The buzz that has circulated is that a deal is expected to be done within the next two weeks -- or not at all. If all that Red is concerned about is turning a profit and displacing his frustration onto a new owner, that's how it will be. Like it or not. He has a right to be frustrated. But the problem that will create goes far beyond a balance sheet and not maximizing a profit.

I grew up in Minnesota. The first curse word I ever heard was from my dad when the Vikings lost Super Bowl IV to the Chiefs. Not a scrapbook moment, mind you, but a later realization how much the Vikings meant to my dad. In later years, if the Vikings played on Thanksgiving, my mom was somehow able to time dinner for halftime if the Vikings were playing. I remember where I was when Bobby Bryant blocked the Rams field goal, when Ahmad Rashad made "the catch" and when Darrin Nelson didn't make "the catch." In all three, I was watching the game with my dad.

Both my parents are gone now, but those memories remain. I've done my best to get my daughters to be Vikings fans – a multigenerational tradition that doesn't stop to ponder the conundrum "$500 million isn't enough if some stranger will give me $600 million."

Purple Pride isn't a trademark, Red. It's not a buzz phrase. It's something that has existed since before you were pushing Delta 88's off the lot with free sealcoating. Having NFL football in Minnesota isn't life and death in the big picture, but there have been many lives and many deaths that share the Vikings as a common bond. No pricetag can be applied to that – it's a Visa commercial. Priceless means something – shockingly enough more than quibbling over $500 million or $600 million.

Sell the team if you must, Red. You're a businessman. All good businessmen make as much money as they can. If you didn't, you wouldn't be a businessman – you'd be an employee. But, if you do sell the team and it is relocated outside Minnesota, don't EVER use the phrase "Purple Pride" again. You coined it, but you don't have a clue what it means to those who understood it the second you said it if this team is relocated.

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