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Updated: October 3rd, 2013 1:26pm
P.J.R.: Clancy's failed attempt in 'The Hunt for Purple January'

P.J.R.: Clancy's failed attempt in 'The Hunt for Purple January'

by Patrick Reusse
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A Twin Cities group backed out on becoming a member of the fledgling American Football League in December 1959. Several weeks later, Dallas and the Twin Cities were awarded NFL expansion franchises - the Cowboys for the 1960 season and the Minnesota Vikings for 1961.

The expansion fee was $1 million. The original partners were Max Winter, H.P. Skoglund and Bill Boyer, all from the Minneapolis side of the river. To make sure St. Paul wasn't feeling left out, Bernie Ridder - publisher of the St. Paul newspapers - was brought in as a partner.

Ole Haugsrud, owner of the long ago Duluth Eskimos, was also entitled to 10% of any Minnesota franchise as part of an agreement with the NFL. Ridder and Haugsrud were pals from when Bernie ran the Duluth newspapers. Ridder helped Haugsrud with the $100,000 needed for Ole's 10 percent.

Ownership was stable until 1974. There was some non-voting stock available and Jim Finks, the very effective general manager, wanted to buy it. Winter was serving as team president and he got the votes to turn down Finks' request.

This angered Ridder, a tremendous admirer of Finks. When Finks resigned in May 1974, Ridder's discontent was such that he eventually sold his shares to Winter. In time, Max owned 50 percent with one vote on all business decisions, with the Skoglunds (represented by H.P.'s son John) and the Boyers (represented by Bill's son-in-law Jack Steele) holding 50 percent and two votes.

That was the situation into the '80s, and then things turned chaotic.

Mike Lynn arrived, post-Finks, with a non-football background. Lynn proved effective in business matters over the next five years. Max was particularly grateful to his protégé for getting the bill for a new stadium (the Metrodome) through the legislature.

Max was getting old and Mike was assuming more power. It turned into a feud, and then a long, legal battle after Max sold his 50 percent to Irwin Jacobs and Carl Pohlad in the mid-'80s. Lynn had Skoglund and Steele on his side and eventually his side prevailed in a lawsuit.

He came up with the "white knights'' - 10 guys from the Woodhill/ Wayzata backgrounds - who bought out Jacobs and Pohlad for $50 million (double the money that Big Jake and Carl had paid Winter).

More than two decades later, we've had the drama surrounding the next new dome, the Taj Ma Zygi, and the unkind words and penalties offered by a New Jersey judge toward owner Zygi Wilf and the family's real estate dealings.

Before the Wilfs, there was the attempt of Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler to pay $625 million to Red McCombs for the Vikings in February 2005. Fowler couldn't make it work. He wound up with a small piece - based on his $20 million in earnest money - when the Wilfs bought the Vikings for $600 million a few months later.

So, we had some intrigue with Vikings' ownership in the 1970s with Winter vs. Finks/ Ridder, and in the 1980s with Winter, Jacobs and Pohlad vs. Lynn, and in 2000s with the Zygmeister.

Yet, nothing compares with the 3 ½ months when the great B.S.-er, Tom Clancy, came to town and guaranteed the Purple Faithful that he was going to provide the Vikings with the free-spending ownership needed to win a Super Bowl.

Clancy died on Tuesday at age 66. No cause of death was given, but if what we saw during his introductory press conference in February 1998, I'm guessing it had something to do with cigarettes.

Roger Headrick, Lynn's replacement as the Vikings CEO in 1991 and one of the "white knights,'' was trying to buy the team from his partners. There were several of the owners dead set against this. They came up with Clancy, the author with a fondness for tanks.

Clancy's "group'' was going to pay $200 million. He had to come up with $60 million, to fulfill the NFL requirement for one owner to have at least a 30 percent stake.

The Vikings' board voted 8-0 to sell to Clancy. Jaye Dyer, a Headrick backer, abstained, and Headrick refused to participate.

Marc Ganis, a gadfly in sports ownership deals, was Clancy's spokesman. He gave many assurances of Clancy's financial wherewithal and plans for an aggressive ownership. We were writing paragraphs in the local newspapers such as:

"Clancy's financial resources will help ease the Vikings' long-standing cash shortage, Ganis said, allowing the team to upgrade its personnel.''

When Clancy appeared in public, he was boasting, smoking and making football analogies to military weapons. Minnesotans were excited to have the author of "The Hunt for Red October'' owning our football team.

I received a call from a friend early on the morning after the Clancy news broke to say: "This is going to be 'The Hunt for Purple January,' '' meaning the long-awaited Super Bowl victory.

By May, the Clancy bid was dead. He wanted to come up with $5 million, not $60M, and his estranged wife Wanda wanted more than ever in a divorce settlement.

Red McCombs came to town, offered $240 million, bellowed "Purple Pride'' everywhere he went, and immediately there was "The Hunt for Purple January.''

Except, Gary Anderson missed that field goal.


Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Patrick | @1500ESPN_reusse | The Ride with Reusse