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ST. PAUL, Minn. National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II met with Minnesota governor Mark Dayton and legislative leaders Friday morning, serving a "reality check" on the Minnesota Vikings' struggle to get a new stadium built with help from public funding.
On Monday, a House committee voted, 9-6, against a 975 million stadium bill that seemed to have bi-partisan support less than a month ago. The vote dealt a major blow to the Vikings' decade-long quest to replace the outdated Metrodome.
"I believe they served us a reality check, and it's very appreciated," said Sen. Julie Rosen, an author of the current bill. "It's time now to get this bill done."
There is concern about the recent setback -- not just on the part of Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf but also from the league, which has seen the Vikings place 31st out of 32 teams annually in stadium revenue. With growing viability in Los Angeles for an NFL team, the Vikings and Goodell have reiterated the need to get approval on a bill during the current legislative session. That session is scheduled to end April 30 but could be extended through May 21.
Goodell said his appearance wasn't about threating local legislative leaders but about sharing the concern the league has regarding the Vikings in Minnesota.
"There were no implied threats or any threats at all," Goodell said. "What we talked about is the importance of creating a solution that works for the team and works for the community. This has been discussed here for several years, and I think the legislative leaders and the governor understand that the time is now. Let's get this addressed."
Goodell and Rooney, the chairman of the league's stadium committee, met with Dayton and six legislative leaders for nearly an hour in Dayton's office at the state capitol. Dayton and Goodell had spoken by phone on Thursday, but Friday's meeting demonstrated the increased importance to both Dayton and the NFL.
The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome ran out last year. In hopes of getting a new stadium during this legislative session, the Wilfs agreed to play the 2012 season in the Metrodome, creating a situation that leaves the team on a year-to-year basis. The Wilfs were not present for Friday's meeting, and the Vikings didn't have representation in the meeting.
On Tuesday, Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley told reporters, "there is no next year" for a stadium bill.
"Well, they are frustrated," Goodell said of the Wilfs. "But they are committed to this community. They want to be here. They recognize for them to continue to operate here successfully and field a competitive team, they need a new stadium. And I think there's recognition by everyone in this community that a new stadium is needed."
The Wilfs have maintained that they don't want to move the team and have worked extensively with the legislature to get a deal done in Minnesota. But the presence of Goodell and Rooney should get the point across that the matter is gaining urgency.
"It seems like it was a productive meeting," Rooney said. "When I got a call from the commissioner asking if I could come up here, I said, Sure we can do it after the draft.' He said it was urgent and, You need to come right away.' We came to express our concern about where the situation is and do everything we can to encourage that action needs to be taken now."
The viability of the team moving to Los Angeles was certainly a subject in the meeting, first broached by Minnesota legislators. Approval of league owners is required for both the sale and relocation of a franchise, along with other necessary requirements. But Dayton said that he was informed most of those commitments have been met. A move can't be made now, but there could be approval before the 2013 season, if needed.
"There is no ultimatum, but we did clearly talk about L.A.," Rosen said. "We did thoroughly talk that, that is an open market. There is a feeling amongst some legislators and some in the state that they would never leave. I think it was good to hear from the NFL and from a very prominent team owner that they do have the right to move or to be sold. For us it was good to have everyone at the same table."
Dayton has been in support of a stadium deal for months, and surprisingly the House committee vote Monday was largely struck down by Democratic leaders, going against the wishes of the democratic governor.
The bill calls for the state to cover 398 million of the costs, with 150 million going to the City of Minneapolis and 427 million covered by the Vikings, with the new stadium being built largely on the current Metrodome site. The bill was set for action later Friday in a Senate committee. If the bill gets through the Senate, it could be revived in some way for a House vote.
"The fact that they came here today, very short notice and cleared their schedules is something that indicates the importance that they attach to this decision, and the gravity of the situation and immediacy of the situation that faces the decision-makers here at the legislature in the next few days," Dayton said.
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* Though it may seem like this year's field of NFL playoff teams is less than stellar, it's worth noting that 2011 marks just the second year ever that at least six teams enter the playoffs with 12 or more wins (New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans). The only other time as many 12+ win teams qualified for the postseason was in 2003.
* Perhaps being in the wild card round isn't such a bad thing for the Steelers. After all, winners in the opening round of the playoffs have gone on to win it all seven times. And in five of the past six seasons, at least one of the two teams participating in the SB has been forced to win three games beginning in the wild card round to punch their ticket to SB Sunday.
* With the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions both qualifying for the postseason this year, Buffalo now becomes the lone team in the NFL not to have made the playoffs since realignment in 2002. Yes, even Cleveland has been invited to the postseason party. Just once though back in the very first year of realignment ('02).
* Speaking of realignment, the Steelers have made seven playoff berths in the past 10 years since 2002. Those seven playoff appearances are tied with the Green Bay Packers for second most among playoff teams in 2011, trailing only New England who's been playoff bound eight times in the past ten seasons. Interestingly and impressively enough, the Patriots won the AFC in each of those eight seasons. This will be the second time the Steelers have entered the postseason as a wild card rather than the AFC North champion. The last time, of course, was in 2005, and we all remember how they fared that year.
* And to round out the realignment related tidbits...for the first time since 2002, there were seven new divisional winners. Only the Patriots were repeat winners of their division.
* Exactly one half of this year's field has won a Super Bowl since 2000. They are? The Steelers ('05, '08), the Patriots ('01, '03, '04), the Ravens ('00), the Giants ('07), the Saints ('08), and the Packers ('10). With the Steelers and Pats winning multiple Lombardis, a total of nine of the past 11 Super Bowls have been won by teams in this year's playoff field.
* The Steelers qualified for their 27th playoffs, tied for third most with Green Bay, and trailing only the Cowboys (30) and the Giants (31) for most in league history.
* The Steelers may not have been able to gain any ground on the Packers in the previous category, but they can inch closer to the all-time winningest playoff record if they can fare better than the defending champion Packers. Entering this year's playoffs, the Steelers sport a 33-20 record (.623) compared to Green Bay's record of 29-16 (.644).
* There's only one team that can catch the Steelers in all-time SB wins this year. That team is the San Francisco 49ers, who, along with the Cowboys, have captured five SB titles. Green Bay, who seeks to become the ninth repeat champion in NFL history, has four SBs. Their remaining nine league titles came in the pre-SB era.
* I'm not sure this will make for a quality football game, but Saturday's matchup between the Houston Texans and Cincinnati will be the first time in NFL history that two rookie quarterbacks will face off. T.J. Yates aims to return to lead Houston to a victory at home against the Andy Dalton led Bengals in what will be the first playoff game in franchise history for the Texans.
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain
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