ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — On this postcard-like spring day, when the lake and the links are beckoning, Larry Spooner and his purple van are spending more of their vacation time parked in front of the Minnesota Capitol.
Supporting the Vikings is a lifelong passion for this 51-year-old suburban Minneapolis warehouse supervisor, who’s the same age as the NFL franchise. If the team fails in its latest bid to secure public funding for a new stadium, and the Vikings are eventually sold and moved out of state, it won’t be for Spooner’s lack of trying.
Decked out in his Adrian Peterson jersey and purple-trimmed camouflage shorts, Spooner was joined Wednesday in his dawn-to-dusk lobbying efforts by two fellow season-ticket holders. This, the jersey-clad men said, was their democratic duty as Vikings fans.
Spooner also said it was a way to simply pay back the team for all the fun he’s had being a fan.
“Sports is a different industry. You don’t have the general public gathering and high-fiving each other and hugging each other when 3M’s stock splits,” Spooner said, referring to the Minnesota-based manufacturing conglomerate. “It’s a different animal, no doubt about it. That’s why it’s such a hot potato subject.”
This year’s legislative session is already in overtime, and the path to a deal remains as winding and murky as ever.
Gov. Mark Dayton and his fellow Democrats are pushing a $975 million plan that’s supported by the team and Minneapolis leaders to build a fixed-roof stadium downtown to replace the 30-year-old Metrodome. But Republicans control the Legislature, and their leaders are backing a less expensive plan with a different funding mechanism.
The main sticking point is funding. Dayton’s plan would heavily rely on tax revenue from gambling, which Republicans and other critics argue isn’t a stable funding source and would leave local taxpayers responsible for the cost if gambling proceeds decline.
Despite the ongoing argument, Spooner believes lawmakers will eventually come to an agreement, noting the “immeasurable” financial impact on a community with an NFL team.
“I go to eight different stores in preparation for a game with my ribs, my beer, my food, my special sauce, my propane,” he said while sitting underneath a purple canopy behind his van with two fellow tailgating enthusiasts, Tom Nickerson and Herman Abrams.
Both men are here for the same reason.
“We need to come down and show our support. Of course it’s hard. You don’t think I want to be out fishing on a beautiful day like today?” said Nickerson, a restaurant server from the northern Twin Cities suburbs. “If we don’t do it, nobody’s going to do it.”
Abrams, a recently laid off rail yard worker who lives in St. Paul, said he received simultaneous text messages on his cellphone from fellow Vikings fans — one in Fargo, N.D., and another in Texas — wanting to find out the latest news during one of the hearings. The smartphone, he noted, allows him search for jobs while he’s helping stump for a stadium.
“I’ll be more involved in the process now. Not just in the stadium, but with everything when I vote. I thought that I was paying attention before, but I really wasn’t,” said Abrams, who sported a black Brett Favre jersey.
The gathering was small Wednesday, with the Legislature recessed until Thursday, but Spooner was prepared for any size group with his 46-inch television in the back of the van and Rolling Stones tunes blaring from his speakers.
Nickerson, who was wearing a Jared Allen jersey, said he estimated that about 150 fans showed up Saturday when an expected vote on the bill never took place.
Some people walking by have criticized their cause, and some school children leaving the Capitol Wednesday taunted: “When you win a Super Bowl, then you can build a stadium.” But the majority of the feedback they received was positive.
They are on a first-name basis with the State Patrol officer on security duty, a Vikings executive stopped by to say hello on his way out, and a state lawmaker even plopped down in a purple chair and started talking about the bill’s chance of passing.
One of the stadium bill authors, Spooner said, even approached him recently to thank him for his effort.
“Like it or not, Viking football has been part of the culture for 50 years,” Spooner said. “It’s kind of part of the brand. It really is.”
When the legislative fight is all over, Spooner added, he’d like to get out his grills and cook ribs for legislators.
“Burnt hot dogs for the no votes,” he grinned.