Now that Reggie Fowler has agreed to purchase the Minnesota Vikings, a franchise he has doggedly and diligently pursued for more than a year, the Arizona businessman must next pass muster with NFL officials.
The scrutiny of the league's powerful finance committee and the questions that will be asked about the real wherewithal of Fowler and his partners to complete the purchase, figure to be tough ones. At least one interested party, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who had flirted with the notion of buying the Vikings in the past and who last week made an 11th-hour bid, has suggested Fowler could have a tough time surviving the pending league inquisition.
Fowler, who will become the first black owner in modern NFL history if he consummates the deal, will need a three-quarters vote of the 32 teams to gain approval.
But the queries Fowler faces from the finance committee, as in-depth as they will be, still might pale in comparison to the questions that loyal Vikings fans will have for him. And gaining their approval, in the wake of the late-season collapses of the past two years and the palpable uncertainty that hangs over the franchise in some areas, might be even more important than an endorsement by his future peers in the elite NFL ownership fraternity.
The three most significant football-related questions confronting Fowler:
Whither Randy Moss?
To borrow an old Watergate term, the rhetoric that's emanated from some quarters of the Minnesota franchise regarding plans to trade Moss are little more than non-denial denials. In the "Tip Sheet" column last Friday, it was suggested some of the Vikings executives who were denying Moss trade rumors were the same ones who had started them. Poor choice of words, "executives," on our part. Suffice it to say that some people in the organization were sources for the trade reports they then scurried to debunk.
Under the ownership of Red McCombs, there was a better than 50 percent chance that Moss would be with another team in 2005. But McCombs, who once again added to his track record of buying a sports franchise on the cheap (he got the Vikings for just $246 million in 1998) and selling high, probably won't be the guy making the call on Moss' future.
It might take as many as two or three months for the Fowler consortium to officially close on the purchase of the Vikings and McCombs, in theory, could deal Moss in that period. It would be uncommon, though, for an incumbent owner to consummate major personnel moves without the consent of his eventual successor. That means the Moss affair could linger into the summer, which probably would diminish trade scenarios.
Those close to the very private Fowler define him, in part, as a good listener. So look for him to speak with people who count, Moss' teammates like Daunte Culpepper, about what to do with the talented but flawed wide receiver. And, remember, Fowler, himself, was a player, a linebacker at the University of Wyoming who had a brief fling in the NFL, so he knows the importance of locker-room chemistry.
Also look for Fowler to consult with Phoenix banker John Mistler, a former NFL wide receiver who is one of his closest confidants. It isn't believed Mistler will have a formal role in the Vikings' organization, but he does have Fowler's ear and is a key ally.
The coaching front
Head coach Mike Tice is entering the option year on his contract as exercised by McCombs. He couldn't get an extension out of the current owner and probably won't get one from the new owner, either. At least not immediately.
That has nothing to do with Tice or his record. It's just that anyone in Fowler's spot, inheriting a staff not of his choosing, probably will want to observe his top football guy before making any decisions on his long-term future. That is just common sense. So look for the status of Tice and his staff, the most underpaid coaching assemblage in the NFL, to remain unchanged.
If Tice guides the very talented (at least on offense) Vikings to their potential in 2005, he could earn an extension. If the team sputters again, and Tice is held responsible for an underachieving campaign, Fowler could make a change and not suffer the financial strain of having to pay off a staff with big contracts remaining.
One area that might change quickly under new ownership is the Vikings' administrative payroll, which currently ranks as the NFL's lowest. McCombs basically maintained just a skeleton staff to help make the franchise more attractive to suitors. But the Vikings need more people, in general, to get up to league standards. And some of the best people already there, and doing stellar jobs, probably need raises.
Given their lease at the Metrodome, the Vikings rank among the lowest teams in the NFL in revenue, one of the reasons the franchise had such a low value. McCombs attempted for years to land a new stadium and the issue became a contentious one. State legislators, it seemed, not only tired of the message, but also the messenger. Truth be told, Fowler can't have any worse shot of getting a new stadium than McCombs did.
The league, which will be thrilled at the prospects of its first black owner, will do what it can to help supply muscle.
Fowler met some months ago with officials from Anoka County and is said to have made a favorable impression. The Anoka County Board last year approved a sales-tax increase to help fund a stadium. There is a 750-acre site in Blaine, Minn., that has been targeted for a new facility. Hearing a new voice, rather than the worn-out harangue of McCombs, could make the state legislature more inclined to commit funds.
Timberwolves owner Taylor, a former state lawmaker, probably had the best shot of convincing his onetime peers a stadium was necessary. But he dragged his feet on trying to get the Vikings for himself, waiting until the Fowler bid got serious before making a proposal to McCombs, and is left standing at the altar.
Give credit to Fowler for this much: Unlike McCombs, who lived in San Antonio and only traveled to Minnesota for games, the new guy is committed to relocating to the Twin Cities and has no designs on being an absentee owner. That should sit well with fans and, just maybe, with taxpayers as well.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.