Flashback Friday: Clancy's Bid to Buy Vikings Had Plot Twists Worthy of a Novel

February 02, 2018 10:54 AM

It was a tale with enough plot twists and drama to fill the pages of a best-selling novel.

But author Tom Clancy didn't write this one, instead he played a leading role.

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Twenty years ago this week, an ownership group headed by the famed espionage and military science novelist submitted a winning bid of around $200 million to purchase the Minnesota Vikings - a team which at the time had an ownership group of 10 individuals, none of them holding a majority share.

The Clancy group came in highest among three bidders, outpacing a group led by then-team president Roger Headrick (himself one of the 10 owners) and San Antonio businessman Red McCombs.

The author flew into the Twin Cities for a luncheon and press conference  Feb. 5, 1998, and the team's fans initially seemed to respond positively to the idea of a high-profile new owner.

"The team only exists because of the fans," Clancy told those gathered. "Professional sports is about fans. It's not about the players. If not for the fans, the players would have nothing to do and I'd have to go back to writing books all the time. My primary mission as owner of the Vikings will be to make sure this team is a part of the community."

But complications arose almost immediately, and not just because Clancy said he had lost his wallet during his trip to Minnesota.

As part of the existing ownership group, Headrick claimed he had the right to match Clancy's bid, a claim the rest of the team's owners disputed.

The NFL eventually ruled against Headrick, who through a representative said his busy schedule this week made an interview for this story impossible.

But concerns were already emerging over Clancy's ability to come up with his share of the financing, largely arising from divorce proceedings the author who was already a minority owner of Major League Baseball's Baltimore Orioles was going through at the time.

"We let it be known to the league that the team was on the market," recalls Philip Maas, then one of the Vikings' 10 owners.

"Clancy came in and made the top offer. I remember he gave everybody signed copies of one of his books," Maas said. "But he was going through a divorce at the time and his counsel wouldn't let him reveal his balance sheet."

Maas said he wasn't aware Clancy was interested in the team until he submitted his bid.

"Not really," recalls Maas, who now resides in Lexington, Kentucky. "I think he made contact with somebody with the league in New York, and that's how he came into the picture."

But the concerns piled up, and they weren't helped when Clancy didn't attend an NFL meeting to discuss his bid. He eventually withdrew from the process in May.

McCombs then submitted a bid to buy the team for a price reported around $250 million that summer and took over as owner just in time for the Vikings' 15-1 regular-season finish that fall.

He, in turn, sold the team to a group led by Zygi Wilf for a price reported to be around $600 million in 2005.

Clancy, who had featured the Vikings as one of the teams playing in the Super Bowl when terrorists detonated a nuclear device in the 1991 novel "The Sum of All Fears," died at age 66 in 2013.

"The league needed the financials, and he couldn't get it to them," Maas said. "That's what it really came down to in the end."

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Frank Rajkowski

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