Fowler Out As Front Man

With the NFL owners meetings two weeks away, the prospective ownership group is changing on the fly -- reason enough for already-nervous Vikings fans to worry about the future.

Just when mothers everywhere are hoping their children/husbands will step up and make Sunday a day to remember, the Vikings ownership saga has taken another interesting turn – throwing an ominous cloud on the horizon of Vikings fans (mothers or otherwise).

When the initial sale announcement of the Vikings back in 1998 was made public, fans were skeptical. And why not? When the Scandinavian politburo that used to run the team was "Minnesota scared" by a Denny Green manuscript, the NFL threw up red flags on the next prospective owner – author Tom Clancy. His ownership bid was brief, but eventful. At least one adviser had said hooking up with the NFL was a good idea. That adviser was right. Unfortunately for Clancy, his business attorney and his divorce attorney had a chasm between their beliefs on his net worth. The end result? His ownership group – which included such luminaries as Tom Selleck – fell apart like a house of cards. Enter Billy Joe McCombs, stage left.

The immediate terror of a Texan buying the Vikings – much less an owner with the pro sports pedigree of buying low and selling high – sent shock waves through Vikings fans. Red's "Purple Pride" mantra and a legislative guarantee on the grave of Pete Rozelle that Minnesota would have a team in the NFL let the "Chicken Little" belief that the sky was falling get pushed to the back burner.

Those same concerns were raised when McCombs reached a tentative agreement on the second sale of the Vikings – what many Vikes fans consider being taken hostage for a second time – in seven years. When the sale to Reggie Fowler was announced, it was clear to most of us with knowledge of the climate in Minnesota that McCombs had tried – and failed – to get a Vikings-only stadium. He threw in the towel – a nice toss for a $625 million selling price on a $240 million purchase (well done, sir).

The reaction to Fowler was swift and direct at his first meeting with the Twin Cities media. "Who are you?" "Do you have the money?" "Who is in your ownership group?" "Do you have the money?" "How did you meet McCombs?" "Do you have the money?" "Do the partners in your group have names?" "Do you have the money?"

At the time, some of us thought the line of questioning was more in keeping with tabloid news or a press conference more comfortable in the 1970s. If Fowler was white, would he have been badgered like that? The story had all the elements. There was an enthusiastic owner (who hadn't given up on a new stadium) that was sayng all the right things to allay fan fears, but not backing them up with action. The nagging questions of money and the "silent partners" in the shadows stayed in the foreground.

The pending official announcement that Fowler is no longer the point man on the purchase of the Vikings should be coming within the next couple of days, and the NFL owners meeting in two weeks takes on added significance. Zygmunt Wilf is going to be announced as the new front man on the purchase – a man nobody in the local media has been able to get to return a phone call. After having the last meeting of owners two months ago not even discussing a Vikings sale, it would appear we're heading down the same cloudy path heading into the next round of "official" talks.

The sad reality of this 11th-hour change of plans is that, whether well-intentioned or not, it is hard to fathom 25 NFL owners agreeing to add the current prospective ownership group to their fraternity. In three months, all they've decided is that the man they put out front hasn't delivered and the man pushed into that position isn't locked into the one site that has sought the franchise and doesn't believe a stadium in Minnesota catering to the luxury box crowd needs a roof. Those signals don't inspire confidence.

The Fowler saga appears to be over … at least in respect to who signs off on future contracts. The Wilf saga has begun – and all Vikings fans can do is sit and wait. Happy Mother's Day.


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