Zygi Wilf's first season as Vikings owner has been far more difficult than he could have expected, but a victory Sunday over the host New York Giants would go a long way toward making things better.
Wilf grew up a Giants fan and spent his youth attending the team's games at Yankee Stadium. He still has a signed Lawrence Taylor jersey and a team scrapbook he made as a kid.
"For me as a Giants fan, I'll always be deep inside a Giants fan, but now I have my team to really root for," said Wilf, whose Garden Homes Development, a retail and private residential development, is based in New Jersey. "I still have a lot of sentiment toward the Giants. I don't think that ever goes away, but certainly I think for my team, it will go a long way for us to beat them."
The Vikings enter Sunday's game with a 3-5 record and without starting cornerback Fred Smoot, who is sidelined for four to six weeks after fracturing his right collarbone last Sunday against Detroit. Minnesota also has yet to win a game on the road this season, going 0-4.
All of these factors make the Vikings a long shot to pull off an upset victory.
"Certainly, we would like to come in with a winning record, but I think that we're getting more consistent," Wilf said. "I think the guys are getting comfortable in their positions, and I think to start the second half of the season in New York could really set the tone for our team for the rest of the season. So I have no mixed feelings about where we are right now."
The Vikings ownership contingent also includes Zygi's brother, Mark, who is the team president, and a cousin, Leonard Wilf, who is vice chairman. The Wilfs have a suite at Giants Stadium and the visiting owner's box also will be available. But Zygi Wilf probably will watch the game from field level.
"I haven't determined where I'm going to watch the game," he said. "But (to be) quite honest with you, I really feel, probably for the first time, probably the only time, that the only place that I'm seeing right now in my head feeling comfortable is to be on the sideline with my team. It's the only place where I really feel at home, when I have my players around me."
Wilf said he hasn't spent much time on the sidelines this season.
"I really haven't," he said. "I have not done that and I don't know I'll ever do it again. But I know for this game, when I was thinking where I should be, I realized that the only place that I'll feel at home will be with my players."
Last year, Kevin Lewis was the Giants' starting middle linebacker, and he started all 16 games. This year, he was released.
Last summer, the first training camp in the reign of coach Tom Coughlin, Lewis was pitted in competition with young Nick Greisen for the middle linebacker job and he won.
Greisen was relegated to the bench, even after each man received equal time in the final preseason game - and Greisen had 12 tackles to Lewis' two.
The choice, made by Coughlin and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, remained a mystery all season. But now Lewis (the linebacker) is gone, and has not been signed by any other team. Greisen was again denied a starting job at the start of the 2005 season.
The three linebackers who opened the season were Antonio Pierce in the middle, Carlos Emmons on the weak side and Reggie Torbor on the strong side. That involved a switch of positions for Emmons, always a strongside operator.
But then things happened. Torbor didn't play well, Emmons was moved over to strong side and suddenly Greisen, a four-year veteran, had a job at weakside linebacker. Then Emmons was hurt, Torbor came back to play on the strong side and Greisen stayed on the weak side.
Lucky thing, too. He has been playing phenomenally well, with 34 tackles, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two passes defensed - and he has even added six special teams tackles.
But since his reprieve, Torbor has played well, too. And when Emmons returns (his partially torn right pectoral muscle should heal soon but not on time for Sunday), he's going to get his job back, as befits a quality performer of 10 years.
So what happens to Greisen?
"Nick is playing exceptionally well," said Coughlin, who didn't add that the 6-1, 245-pound Wisconsin product has also filled in at middle and strongside linebacker. "I don't see as to how you would want to take him out of the lineup now."
Nor, perhaps, was there any solid reason to deny him the job a year ago.