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After years on sidelines, Wilfs step up to chase Super Bowl bid

ATLANTA — Vikings owners Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf have been a part of the NFL’s annual Super Bowl sweepstakes since 2006, watching successful pitches from old-hands Houston, Phoenix and Miami, as well as from novice Indianapolis, Dallas and their home state of New Jersey.

Now the Wilfs are competing for the chance to host the ultimate sports party, which league owners will award today at their spring meeting in Atlanta.

Chairman Zygi, younger brother and president Mark and their cousin Leonard, the team’s vice chair, are stepping up this week as high-stakes salesmen after years on the sidelines, spent mostly detailing failed legislative efforts to build a new stadium in the Twin Cities.

But in May 2012, the Wilfs shifted their narrative after successfully lobbying the state to contribute $498 million in taxpayer funds toward a $976 futuristic indoor facility scheduled to open in July 2016 in downtown Minneapolis.

“For them to get a stadium of that quality is deserved,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Monday. “To take the work and the route it took to get it is a tribute to being hearty, being in the cold, being a Viking. I like all that.

“I think the Wilfs represent that, and I’m proud for them and I’m proud that the NFL’s going to get that new stadium in Minnesota.”

After striking the deal with the state, the Wilfs immediately started gunning for Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, 2018. They partnered with corporate and civic leaders on a bid to return the championship game to Minnesota, host to Super Bowl XVI in January 1992 at the recently demolished Metrodome.

Richard Davis, CEO of U.S. Bancorp, and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson Cos., will make the 15-minute presentation to the owners. It will include taped speeches touting Twin Cities virtues by former Vikings coach Bud Grant, star running back Adrian Peterson, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn of Burnsville and TV chef Andrew Zimmern of Edina.

Mark Wilf will deliver the closing argument.

However, the Vikings president is not talking publicly. Wilf has declined several interview requests to discuss Minnesota’s Super Bowl bid, leaving surrogates to make the case.

“The stadium resolution was a big issue,” said Lester Bagley, vice president of public affairs/stadium development. “The NFL has stated they want to get the game around to different markets and different venues. As soon as we passed the bill, our owners began immediately to reach out to other owners, to the commissioner, the front office of the NFL, about the Super Bowl.”

Wilf and Minnesota’s delegation need to convince at least half of the NFL’s 32 owners to beat out Indianapolis and New Orleans.

If none of the bid delegations can secure a super majority of 24 on the first two ballots, the lowest vote getter is eliminated and a simple majority of 17 votes is required to win. Voting is conducted in secret, although Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce the winner live on NFL Network.

Unlike Jones, the flashy Cowboys steward who spends game day prowling the sideline and delivering post-mortems to the media, the Wilfs eschew the limelight. They limit public appearances and prefer general manager Rick Spielman speak for the franchise on football matters.

“I think they’re outstanding owners,” Jones said. “I know first-hand what a challenge and what persistence it took to get that new stadium done. I have a lot of respect not only for them as owners but the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and the sporting fans that area has.”

Zygi is on the NFL’s investment committee, Mark counsels on business ventures and Leonard holds a seat on the legislative committee. Yet on meatier topics such as rules changes, playoff expansion and labor, the Wilfs have rarely spoken out.

“They’re not over the top,” Bagley said. “They’re solid, steady, stable owners who participate. They’re active. To a degree, they kind of keep their head down and do their job. They’ve done a good job of building relationships and been steady owners who have not rocked the boat but been firm and steady hands on the wheel.”