CBS televised the Final Four, which opened with a wide shot of the stadium's exterior. "I remember Pat O'Brien set the scene by announcing, 'If it's a big sports event, we must be in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul,' " recalls Sam Sigelman, a producer at local all-sports radio station KFAN. Sigelman laughs sardonically and says, "Today, Pat O'Brien is hosting Access Hollywood, and we're losing all our sports teams."
The last five years have certainly been "quite a deal," as the Minnesotans in the film Fargo would have politely euphemized the sordid events that have happened during that span. First, in 1992, the Stanley Cup-finalist North Stars moved to Dallas, their owner staying one step ahead of a sexual harassment suit filed against him in the Twin Cities—and later settled out of court. (St. Paul has been promised an NHL expansion team in 2000, but that's contingent on the building of a new arena.)
Two years later the NBA Timberwolves moved to New Orleans. "I bought a house there and looked forward to warm weather," T-Wolves guard Doug West says. But the league nullified the deal, and the team was saved for Minnesotans by a white knight named Glen Taylor, who bought the T-Wolves in March 1995 for $88.5 million. Last Oct. 1 Taylor signed 21-year-old forward Kevin Garnett to a six-year, $125 million contract extension, after Da Kid (as he has nicknamed himself) rejected Taylor's initial offer of $103.5 million. This occasioned much statewide hand-wringing, and several waiters and bellhops called local newspapers to out Garnett as a poor tipper.
Six weeks later, on the snowy night of Nov. 13, the state legislature rejected the Twins' final stadium proposal by an 84-47 vote. The capitol switchboard had received nearly 500,000 calls in the preceding three days, and several legislators said after the vote that abortion could not touch the stadium as the hottest-button issue they had ever encountered.
Meanwhile, on Halloween, the Vikings had announced that they too could not survive without a new stadium. They also let slip that their team was for sale, and three barbarians were at the gate: ownership groups from Birmingham, Los Angeles and Toronto.
Somewhere in there, Vikings coach Dennis Green had published his autobiography, in which he said he would sue some of the team's 10 owners if they didn't sell him controlling interest. Asked what his KFAN callers thought of all this, Sigelman said, "They're just tired of what's happening."
I had intended to call George Mikan, the former Minneapolis Lakers great, who still lives in Minnesota, to find out what he made of the state's sports landscape. (I had been told he was devastated when the Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1959.) Then I read in a new biography of Mikan that he works with aspiring pro sports owners around the country to facilitate franchise relocations. I left the telephone on its cradle, too depressed to make the call. Instead, I set out to interview the principals, among them Pohlad, Taylor, Garnett and Roger Headrick, who's a Vikings owner and the team president.
I spoke to Headrick on the day the legislature shot down the Twins' stadium for the final time. The Twins had argued that the Vikings were trying to sabotage their new-stadium chances and drive them out of town, but Headrick appeared sobered by the bloodbath at the capitol, which he followed all day live on television. "We could certainly take the position that in turning down the Twins, they're turning down professional sports," Headrick said. "They're sick of dealing with a problem that looks as if it has no long-term solution. I mean, how much is enough, and where does it all end?"
How much is enough? As San Diego, Washington, Baltimore, Nashville, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Detroit all help pay for new or radically renovated stadiums that their NFL teams will move into between now and 2002, Minnesotans appear to have said, Enough is enough.
Where does it all end? In a proud and peculiar and perhaps enlightened state. Along with Pittsburghers (who rejected a proposal to build new stadiums for the Steelers and the Pirates on Nov. 4), Minnesotans are speaking a heretical sentence in turn-of-the-century America: "Stop the sports world, we want to get off."