MINNEAPOLIS — There are likely not more than a few people inside U.S. Bank Stadium today for Super Bowl LII who know the name Morrie Lanning. But walking around the concourse before the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots played, and seeing the biggest sporting event in the United States getting cranked up to full hype, it was hard not to think of the former longtime Moorhead state representative.
Lanning was the politician who championed a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings and their owners, the Wilf family. His stance was not popular, and remains that way (in some cases for good reason) among many Minnesotans. But without Lanning’s bulldog commitment to cobble together a bill during the 2012 legislative session to help finance the stadium, this game would not be played in Minneapolis.
It’s that simple. If the Metrodome still stood, the Super Bowl would not be in Minnesota. It’s likely the Vikings would have vacated the state, too.
“I’m convinced if this wouldn’t have gotten done, we would’ve lost the team,” Lanning said Sunday from his home in Moorhead. “The Wilfs made clear they were under no obligation to keep the team hear and I believe they would have sold them for a nice profit and the team would have moved to Los Angeles or some other city.”
Lanning didn’t have tickets to the game, so he was going to watch the Super Bowl on television like hundreds of millions of other football fans. He was invited to the Wilf family’s Vikings Celebration on Thursday night at St. Paul’s Union Depot where Sting and comedian Frank Caliendo performed.
Lanning probably deserved a toast all his own. The Wilfs and the NFL have put hundreds of millions of dollars into U.S. Bank Stadium, but the $1.1 billion project would not have happened without state funds. And the Wilfs have profited handsomely. The Super Bowl being awarded to Minnesota, a cold-weather city when the games are usually held in warm climes like Miami or San Diego, is openly viewed as a gift from the league to the Wilfs.
“I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish. What we accomplished was nothing short of a miracle when you think of all the obstacles we had to overcome,” Lanning said.
The 2012 legislative session, while perhaps tame by today’s polarized political environment, was at the time one of the most combative in memory. Lanning, a Republican, carried the Vikings project from the start and took a pile of heat and ridicule from both political parties and the media. He was threatened by e-mails and phone calls.
The deal nearly fell apart on the last night of the legislative session, but Lanning brokered an 11th hour deal after telling the Vikings they would have to add $50 million to its contribution or the deal was off.
The original deal was for a $975 million project, with the state paying $348 million from tax revenue that was projected to come from an expansion of low-stakes gambling on pull-tabs and bingo.
The city of Minneapolis put up $150 million, with the Vikings responsible for the remaining $477 million that included sources like naming rights and a contribution from the NFL.
Lanning said Sunday he’s proud state funding has remained the appropriated level and the Wilfs have increased their contributions as some costs rose.
“It has been very heartwarming this week to hear all the compliments the stadium has received from the national media and others who are at the Super Bowl,” Lanning said. “I’ve heard many say they believe this is the best stadium in the NFL. It has been a tremendous asset for Minnesota and the whole region, not only for football but for a number of other great events.”
Lanning retired after the 2012 session, always insisting the fight over the stadium was not the reason. He had a 39-year career in public service, including serving 22 years as mayor of Moorhead. He was a former vice president and dean at Concordia College.
His legacy is that, plus being the driving force behind building the stadium in which the Super Bowl was played.