The Minnesota Vikings’ built their practice facility on the old Northwest Airlines headquarters property in Eagan. It’s a compound built to turn supreme athletes into superstars. There are four full-sized practice fields. An indoor/outdoor weight room with enough equipment to tire out a bodybuilder. Dining halls fit for kings. The main field has a basketball-court-sized scoreboard and concession stands. It’s the kind of thing you’d see in Odessa, Texas. It’s worthy of Friday Night Lights.
After the players finish their week of practice, they head 25 minutes north to US Bank Stadium. Experts named the billion-dollar stadium the best in the NFL. It gets loud enough on gamedays to drown out a jumbo jet. The translucent ceiling allows enough natural light to feel like the game is being played outdoors but offers the comforts of 72-degree heat on a -20 degree day. You can see the Minneapolis sideline behind the far end zone. It’s a far cry from the old Metrodome, which was innovative in the early ’80s and outdated by the ’90s.
The Wilf family has invested significantly in the Vikings. Gone are the days of the parsimonious Red McCombs. Not only have the Wilfs paid for half of US Bank Stadium and upgraded from the Winter Park facility, but they have also shelled out for Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Harrison Smith, and various other stars to keep them in Minnesota. They’re exceptionally loyal to management, a rarity in the NFL. Rick Spielman has been with the franchise since 2006 and the general manager since 2012. Mike Zimmer has coached the team since 2014.
Bill Barnwell recently named the Vikings the best potential head coaching opening in the league because of the talent on the roster and patient ownership. Even with the pending defensive turnover, there are pillars of a good unit in Minnesota. Smith, Eric Kendricks, and Danielle Hunter give any GM something to work with. The offense offers even more. Justin Jefferson is otherworldly, Adam Thielen still has something left in the tank, and Cook is a dynamic back. And regardless of what you think of Cousins, he gives you a high floor while you seek out a young quarterback who has a high ceiling.
The biggest thing holding the Vikings back is their reputation for tugging at your heartstrings with one hand while clipping your aorta with the other. They win enough to engage their fanbase every year. But they lose so dramatically that some Skoldiers shouldn’t medically be allowed to watch them play. Their 54.5% franchise win percentage is seventh all-time, tucked neatly between the Miami Dolphins (55.1%) and the San Francisco 49ers (54.1%). The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens are slightly ahead of them. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers are right behind them.
The difference between the Vikings and those teams? They haven’t won a Super Bowl. It’s not only that, though. Minnesota has a 41.2% win percentage in the playoffs. They’re usually good enough to get there but can’t string together when it counts. Checks out, right?
But here’s the thing: The Patriots were a laughingstock for years — fans in Boston and the surrounding area rooted for the Steelers and the Dolphins. But then a local businessman, Robert Kraft, bought them. He hired Bill Belichick, the team found Tom Brady late in the draft, and now they’re the league’s premier franchise.
It’s not only New England.
- The Seattle Seahawks were such underdogs that a famous national columnist wrote that Seattle sucks at sports before Super Bowl XL. But the Seahawks hired Pete Carroll, drafted Russell Wilson, and became a perennial contender.
- The Kansas City Chiefs won their first championship in 50 years because they had Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, the right coach to maximize him.
- Hell, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (the Bucs!) hired an offensive wizard, Bruce Arians, loaded a team full of weapons, and pried Brady away from the Pats. The Bucs were the losingest franchise in professional sports before that run.
The Wilfs can change the Vikings’ perception. But to do so, they have to acknowledge that Minnesota is a premier destination because of what they’ve built here. Is Rick Spielman the guy to find a transcendent franchise quarterback to pair with the incandescent Jefferson? Keep him. If not, move on.
Who’s the coach who will maximize Jefferson’s otherworldly abilities? Get a guy who has him dancing in the end zone so often that they have to replace the astroturf. Set off so many fireworks that you have to send an intern to Wisconsin at halftime. Don’t settle for winning because of a lucky bounce. Blast your opponents into Iowa or the Dakotas. When the screen pans to the opposing quarterback walking towards the tunnel during the intros (Those who dare to enter), he should consider turning back.
The Vikings have a chance to vault to the next level this offseason. Become a premier franchise — a bona fide contender. But first, they must believe that they deserve to be one.