The Minnesota Vikings have played and lost in four Super Bowls, but the stakes for the team may never have been higher than they are this month.
Even before the playoffs have started, the clock is running out on the team's long-term lease in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. It's been the Vikings home since 1982.
The team's lease runs through the end of the 2011 season, and the way coach Brad Childress has been talking, that's none too soon.
"I just think this is a world-class city," Childress said. "It's got professional sport franchises. You ought to be able to play in a great place. Not a place that's falling down."
To be fair, the Dome is probably as solid as ever, structurally speaking, but without a name to sell, a landlocked site and just 113 luxury suites, Forbes magazine says the dome ranks last in the NFL for revenue. It also why the magazine lists the Vikings at second-to-last in its listing of team net worth.
Public money going towards this is a very difficult sell in a budget crisis.
The Vikings landlord, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, is trying to help. Last month they unveiled an $870 million replacement for the Metrodome to be ready in 2013 if the Vikings agree to stick out three more seasons in Minnesota.
However, the plan comes without a key ingredient: money.
The Vikings have offered to put up $250 million of their own for a new stadium, and now they're fielding the best team they've had in 11 years, with one-time, arch-rival Brett Farve at the offensive helm.
But the Vikings share of a new stadium would be less than a third of the total cost, and even the tantalizing prospect of an National Football League championship isn't moving the ball at the state Capitol.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he's unmoved by the team's playoff run.
"I don't think the prospects or the merits of the Vikings request for help with a stadium should rise or fall on whether they win or lose football games," the governor said. "I think the issues are more long-term and significant than just how they're doing in any one year, or how they play football. It has to do with the quality of life of the state, the future amenities the state has, public policies on whether the government should even be involved in such things."
Despite promises of a recessionary bargain on construction costs, and more than 13,000 union construction jobs in a dismal economy, Democrats, too, are skeptical about a new stadium for the Vikings.
DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, herself a candidate for governor, said lawmakers are going to be focused on the state's revenue problems, not the NFL's. Lawmakers are likely to be facing a budget gap of more than a billion dollars when they convene Feb. 4.
"People need jobs in this state; it's an important part of what's going on in the economy," Kelliher said. "However, public money going towards this is a very difficult sell in a budget crisis."
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller says the money hasn't added up, regardless of the state's budget woes.
"You know, the stadium is a business deal, and so you're always trying to find that combination of revenue and private money that can bring you a facility that makes sense business wise for your community, and no one has quite found that yet," Pogemiller said.
A statewide poll released this week by Decision Resources found similarly dismal prospects for the Vikings. Sixty-five percent of more than 600 Minnesotans asked about support for a stadium said no to public funding -- even amidst the team's playoff run.
Still, supporters say it's too early to count the Vikings out.
Cory Merrifield is the founder of SaveTheVikes.org, a fan-based effort to win the team a new home. He said whatever the team's performance in the playoffs, this probably isn't the Vikings' year anyway.
"I would be very happy to see some really strong groundwork laid during the 2010 session, knowing we could come back in the 2011 session with a strategy and a game plan to lock things up," Merrifield said.
The Vikings will have a their chance to prove themselves worthy on Sunday. Their game starts at noon. The winner of will face the victor in Saturday's playoff game for the NFC Championship on January 24th.
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