Lurtsema's Reaction: Meeting The Wilfs

New Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf grew up New York Giants fans, and Viking Update's Bob Lurtsema played for the Giants and Vikings. Find out Lurtsema's impressions of the Wilfs after meeting them twice this month.

VU: You met Zygi Wilf over at Winter Park right after the sale was approved by the NFL. What were your impressions of him then, and did they change at all the second time you met him at the Vikings golf tournament?

When I first met Zygi and Mark over at Winter Park, you could tell right off the bat they had a passion for football. They are known to be great New York Football Giants fans. The neat part about it is they might be wealthy, but you'd never know it. You'd know they love winning, they have a great sense of humor and they absolutely just love football. Even though it's the Giants, I tried to have a little fun with them, having played five years with the New York Giants, but they said, ‘No, we don't talk about the New York Giants. It's purple and gold now.' But we had a chance to tell a couple of stories about the old days at Yankee Stadium and when they were both there. You could tell how well-structured they were business-wise. By that I mean they delegate responsibility and authority, they felt good about the people they had delegated the authority and responsibility to, and they are very confident on that level. I can see why they're successful businessmen.

VU: Did you get to meet Leonard Wilf, their cousin?

No. At the Viking Children's Fund tournament, they both spoke and when they were both up there you could see the tremendous sense of humor that they had. It's fun and refreshing to see that in very successful people. They both pretty much said the same thing about giving back to the community already, how honored they were to be owners of the Minnesota Vikings as well as being able to be accepted so well as part of the community. They're giving Mike Tice all the bullets he needs for his gun. They said, ‘Here you go, take her to Detroit (site of Super Bowl XL).' There's no reason Mike Tice can't do that with support like this from the new owners.

VU: Did you talk to any of the sponsors at the golf tournament about their impressions of the Wilfs?

I never really talked to anybody about that, but I kind of kidded both of them about making enough money off of my autograph to be able to buy the Minnesota Vikings and to put my name up on E-bay. When Zygi got up to talk, he came back and said, ‘Wait a minute, I do have your autograph and did put it up on E-bay, but I never got a bid.' He brought the house down with it. He's just a breath of fresh air. I wish everybody could have been at that golf banquet on Wednesday night. They really just wowed the crowd. When Mark came up there, he said ‘Basically I work for Zygi, he's the general manager.' Zygi goes up there and he says, ‘No, the general manager is (Mark's) wife. That's who your general manager is, and that's my general manager as well.'

VU: Personality-wise, give people a comparison between Red McCombs and Zygi.

(Laughs) Well, here's probably the easiest way to describe it. Red was real nice to me. Red has a passion for money. (The Wilfs) have a passion for football. That's the thing that's the most obvious. Sure, Red wanted to win, but it was a business deal for him and we all knew that. Red was a very nice person and I had no problem with him. The difference is the matter of fact that they have a passion for football. I think that's very, very unique. There are a few of them that feel the same way. The Maras feel that way out in New York and it's kind of contagious. Of course, Jerry Jones in Dallas. Many of the owners, they're in it for the business aspect of it – strictly business. (The Wilfs) are in it for two reasons, I think the passion for the game is actually higher percent-wise than the business aspect.

VU: Zygi said he'll be at training camp, he'll be at all the games, home and away, and then he said he'd be in the locker room before and after games, win or lose. As you're a former player, do you want an owner in the locker room?

Before a game, I wouldn't want to see an owner. Everybody has their own psych (routine) with what they're going to do. If (the owners) are going to have a speech or something, I'm not really into that at all because I'd kind of shut them out. I was more adept to listening to a coach brief me on the game, but as far as the owner goes, I really don't like them in the locker room before a game. Afterwards, I think it's no problem whatsoever.

VU: Is there any added pressure on the players if they see the owner and they're going through a rough stretch, that's there's added pressure that they're job might be on the line?

The media overplays that. If you are losing and the boss comes in there, that puts no more pressure on you. At that time, the only pressure on yourself is that you want to do the best you can because you have to be an individual. They also talk about the team, but you have to be enough of an individual and take a pride factor in the way you execute your assignments and your consistency, and at a high level. At that time before kickoff, I was always scared to death. I wasn't scared about getting beat up – I got beat up every game – but it was just a matter that I did not want to fail that day. I didn't want that to be the worst game of the season. That's what you fight all the time. If you work hard like that, percentage-wise you'll be a lot closer to that 100 percent that you're looking for.

VU: As the level of competition gets up there to major college and the pros, they talk about the thing that separates those that have great athletic ability and those that are really at the top of their professional game is a drive. Do you think the desire to win is greater in top athletes or the fear of losing? To me, there is a big difference there.

There is no fear of losing. It's fear of failure for those around you, the fact that you might let your teammates down or let the fans down. That's the greatest fear because if you go out and, no matter what business you're in, give it the best that you have, you can always walk tall. You're not hollow inside. You've done the best to your ability. There's never embarrassment in that. If it happens to come up where everything goes wrong, those things happen in professional sports, or high school or college. It doesn't matter. Those embarrassing things happen, but if you're giving 50 percent, that's when all of the sudden you don't want to look at anybody, you don't want to talk to anybody, you lose your sense of humor. You just become a dog.

  • Bob Lurtsema was a 12-year veteran defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins for a weekly Q & A session, and his column appears in the magazine.

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