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Wilf tries to repair Vikings' soiled reputation

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Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf said pending the results of the investigation into what happened during a Lake Minnetonka excursion at which players allegedly engaged in sex acts with strippers, he'll dole out punishment. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
Minnesota Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf is pledging to turn around the team's performance, both on and off the field. Wilf has spent the past two days traveling the state outlining his plans for the troubled Vikings before civic groups. Wilf is speaking to groups around the state, trying to repair the team's repuation in the wake of an off-field scandal.

St. Paul, Minn. — In St. Cloud Wilf appeared before a lunchtime gathering of the local Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club, telling the group of about 150 civic leaders that he'll handle problems with the Vikings, including allegations of lewd player behavior on a recent Lake Minnetonka boat cruise, much in the same way parents might deal with their kids' behavior problems.

"When difficult times have come for our organization, as it has right now, we have to deal with it as a family. We have to instill the proper disicpline but also give them the confidence that they need. We can't go ahead and just go ahead and criticize as we would not just criticize our own children," he said.

The Vikings say Wilf's recent appearances were scheduled before the boat incident. The team says the new owner kept the three engagements -- Duluth, Rochester, and St. Cloud -- because he wanted to hear directly from Minnesotans. In St. Cloud he spoke for only a few minutes but he answered a number of questions.

Wilf said pending the results of the investigation into what happened during a Lake Minnetonka excursion at which players allegedly engaged in sex acts with strippers, he'll dole out punishment. He would not rule benching players. He also said there could be fines.

Above all, Wilf said, he'll work with the Vikings' newly hired security director to instill in his players expectations of conduct and to help them become model citizens.

"The most important thing is not just the ability to impose fines and penalities, but to make the players understand their role in the community so that this will not happen again," he said. "They need that guidance, they need that leadership, they need those boundaries established. Boundaries, to be quite honest with you, have not been established for a long time."

Regarding the Vikings dismal 1-4 record, Wilf said he thinks demanding more appropriate off-field behavior will improve the Vikings' play on field.

Once again drawing on the family analogy, Wilf said he stands behind coach Mike Tice. Wilf said a lot of work has to be done to rebuild team morale and he suggested this weekend's home turf match-up against arch-rival Green Bay could serve as a turning point for the Vikings.

On the stadium issue, Wilf said Minnesotans have a responsibility to help put together a deal.

"I was asked this morning, why should they help a private business? The truth of the matter is, as I found out and as many of you know, the Vikings are almost a state institution. It's a responsibility for us to make sure that we represent ourselves and, of course, the Vikings, as I find out, represent Minnesota more than one can ever imagine throughout the whole country," Wilf said.

Wilf said as the Vikings continue to work with Anoka County toward a new stadium in Blaine, more efforts will be made to reduce the current request for state assistance in paying for the proposed facility.

The St. Cloud Rotarians and Chamber members warmly received Wilf. The Vikings say their new owner had positive receptions in Rochester and in Duluth as well.

Mike Mullin, says he went to the St. Cloud lunch skeptical about what he would hear from Wilf. Mullin left impressed.

"He did a masterful job of communicating his message and I thought he moved this crowd, wherever it was, certainly closer to his vision for the team and his goals so I thought it was very, very good," he said.

Asked by a reporter whether his dream to own an NFL franchise has become a nightmare, Wilf said it has not. But nightmare is exactly how the Viking's vice president for public affairs characterized the team's current situation to reporters as the lunch was getting underway.

That executive said Wilf is trying to turn the problems into opportunities.

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