ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Zygi and Mark Wilf approached the steps of the Minnesota state Capitol building, and were immediately swarmed by high-fives and cheers from Minnesota Vikings fans.
The Vikings owners beamed as they celebrated finally landing public funding for a new $975 million stadium that will keep the team in Minnesota for another generation.
For two East Coast brothers whose purchase of the team in 2005 was viewed with skepticism and nervousness by a community that has lost professional sports franchises before, the Wilfs sure have come a long way -- in the eyes of the fans and state lawmakers.
"We're here to stay," Zygi Wilf said Thursday night at a press conference to celebrate the passage of a stadium bill.
The Wilfs have been pushing for a new stadium to replace the drab and outdated Metrodome ever since they arrived seven years ago. And no matter how many times they assured everyone they were committed to staying in Minnesota, their lack of roots in the meat-and-potatoes Midwest served to undercut their efforts.
Glitzy Los Angeles always loomed in the background, with fans worrying that the nation's second-largest city would steal the Vikings away from mid-market Minnesota much like it stole the Lakers back in 1960.
As the Wilfs ran into road block after road block, frustrations ran high both inside and outside the organization. They were continually told to wait their turn while other facilities were built for the Twins and University of Minnesota football team, and many thought they would have to threaten to move or sell the team to get any traction with legislators who had grown weary of stadium politics.
From the day they arrived in the Twin Cities, Zygi and Mark steadfastly refused to play that card, perhaps compromising the built-in leverage they had to pressure lawmakers in the process.
"We knew from day one that we were going to fight to ensure that this day would come," Zygi Wilf said. "Our commitment to having Viking football here for generations was always the overriding factor."
It came down to the wire. The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expired last season and setback after setback threatened the franchise's 51-year history in Minnesota.
Separate deals with Anoka County in suburban Minneapolis and Arden Hills in suburban St. Paul fell through in previous years, and this legislative session went into overtime as supporters and opponents vehemently argued their positions.
The Wilfs had to pledge $50 million more to close the deal. The Vikings and NFL will put $477 million toward the project, the state has pledged $348 million and the City of Minneapolis will chip in $150 million.
Now Vikings fans can exhale, secure that Minnesota will not join the list of cities -- Baltimore, Cleveland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Houston -- that have lost NFL franchises and had to scramble to try to get one back.
The new stadium should be ready for the 2016 season, and the two brothers who were once outsiders will have a new home -- in their new home -- for decades to come.
"This will be truly special," Mark Wilf said. "As hard as we've worked for this day, we will commit going forward that this will be first class and special, and something that all Minnesotans can be truly proud of."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press