Vikings fans cry, cheer over stadium deal

ST. PAUL, Minn. — It was hard to make sense of it all, the face paint and the costumes, the chanting that bordered on delirium in a building whose stone walls suggest a serene quiet. But on Thursday, the noise was fine, a rallying cry as the men in horned football helmets and jerseys shook hands with others in tailored suits and polished shoes.

It wasn’t quite real life.

But for the Vikings fans who descended on the Minnesota State Capitol, reality was temporarily put at bay after the Senate voted, 36-30, to approve the $975 million stadium plan. As fans streamed down the stairs and out of the Senate chamber and gathered, the group began to sing, led by crying Vikings superfan Larry Spooner of Excelsior, who said Thursday was the best day of his life.

This was the men in the offices and suites mingling with the masses, hugging them and patting them on the back. This was everyone’s chance to tell his story, from the most senior Vikings official to the lifelong, faceless fan. This was an explosion of contained energy, the imposed quiet of the chamber too much for St. Paul’s Diggz Garza, who was pleased to finally be able to cheer like he would at any game.

Some, like Spooner, had been camped out at the capitol for days. Others, like Nick Hanson of Fergus Falls and Kyle Nagorski of Zimmerman, have longer commutes to St. Paul and have made the trip whenever they could.

“I debated whether to come down today, and I said to myself that I had to,” Nagorski said. “I owed it to myself and to everybody. I just knew I had to be here.”

Nagorski, sporting a cloth Vikings hat with yellow braids attached, was subdued, bordering on shell-shocked. He described the feeling as “beyond excited” after so many moments when he doubted the bill would pass. He’d been worried about the team leaving if a deal wasn’t done soon, and for him Thursday was less celebration than happy relief.

Not everyone had Nagorski’s composure, though. As Hanson described his happiness with the decision, he had to break off to join the chanting mob surrounding Spooner, whose emotions moved quickly past the point where he could speak — or make much sense.

“Honest to God, this is the happiest day of my life,” Spooner said. “I’m sorry; it’s a simple life. This means we’re cool. We have a shot to play. We can worry about our tight end, our quarterback. Life is more than just going to bed with $8 million. You’re not happy. I bet you Steve Jobs would trade my life for his right now.”

For fans like Spooner, Thursday afternoon was about football and nothing else. Taxes, funding, other ramifications were for later, maybe never. They got what they’d been waiting for, and their beloved team will have a home that will keep them in Minnesota. On Thursday, there was no detracting from that.

“For me it’s about getting the stadium done, and I think it was the right deal for the Vikings, the state, Minneapolis,” Hanson said. “Ultimately, it’s going to benefit everybody in Minnesota.”

Fans like Hanson will benefit when the stadium opens, but one contingent at the capitol had a more immediate stake in the bill passing: the construction workers, some sporting orange shirts, some work boots, some hard hats. These are the men who will benefit from the jobs the stadium will create, and their happiness rivaled that of the most passionate fans.

“They put a lot of energy, and they made a lot of good decisions at the end of this session,” Donnie McMillan of Minneapolis said. McMillan is a member of the Minneapolis Building Trades, Minneapolis Labor Federation and Carpenters Union who’s likely to get a job related to the stadium’s construction.

By the time the Senate voted on Thursday afternoon, approval seemed close to a foregone conclusion. It had already approved a version of the bill once, and the House of Representatives had voted its support of the new bill earlier Thursday. The deliberations lagged, but the Vikings’ supporters didn’t budge. Only the two women and toddler bearing signs criticizing the stadium and Vikings owner Zygi Wilf retreated down the stairs, so that by the time the votes were tallied on the tiny television, it was the pro-stadium contingent that remained.

“This is the moment for Minnesota,” McMillan said.

It was a nearly perfect moment, the applause and the mingling, the unadulterated joy. It was all as it should have been for the team’s supporters. But it was just a moment, and now the actual work begins.

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