Following the Second World War when the United States economy was expanding, the NFL enjoyed a competition free growth that was now fuelled by the new media outlet of television with money to spend on sports rights.
The fifties and sixties saw a boom in American sports and pro football was no exception. The NFL saw its future in expanding to accommodate the growing interest while a new rival the American Football League (AFL) recognised the potential for an alternate league to be set up.
At the beginning of August 1959, the AFL announced the teams in their infant league including one in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolis. It was estimated that it would cost an estimated $1 million to put and keep a Twin Cities team in the new league.
Accepting their monopoly was going to be broken, the NFL fired warning shots across the bow of the new AFL ship by recommending membership for teams in Houston and Dallas, two of the cities that were also proposing to join the rival league.
Without teams in place, the AFL held their draft on November 22, 1959 with each team in the first round given first call on any player at a school within 100 miles of the selecting team. To ensure all the teams had a hard core of overall strength, the league introduced the innovative idea that saw players selected in the first eleven rounds fill the core eleven squad positions.
As the draft was taking place, a Minneapolis sports editor revealed that 10 of the 12 teams in the NFL had agreed to accept a request by Minneapolis-St. Paul for membership into the senior league.
In a leading article two weeks later in the Star Tribune, the newspaper declared it would be unthinkable for Minneapolis-St. Paul to pass up the opportunity to get into the National Football league just because existing investors were committed to the American Football league.
“These gentlemen may be committed personally, and we give them credit for getting into it, but they cannot commit the city, nor can they commit Metropolitan Stadium. If these cities are offered, or have a chance to go and get a National league franchise, nothing should interfere” the article urged.
In early January 1960 without the resources to fight the NFL, the AFL announced it had abandoned its intention to put a franchise in Minneapolis-St. Paul because of the “hostility” on the part of the NFL forces and what founder Lamar Hunt called “sabotage” of the NFL franchise in Minnesota. This allowed the Twin Cities to withdraw their application without the threat of legal action and provided an incentive for them to attend the NFL meeting at the end of the month.
Some of the owners in the NFL were not in agreement over expanding the number of teams with the Redskins’ George Marshall accusing his fellow owners of favouring expansion to Dallas and Minneapolis as a means of “destroying” the AFL. The Bears’ George Halas retorted that the NFL expansion would be the “culmination of five years of planning.”
Joe Foss, commissioner of the AFL, made a direct appeal to the rival league not to destroy his fledgling pro circuit suggesting if the NFL wanted to expand, it should direct its efforts towards cities the AFL did not propose to serve. Even politicians joined in the controversy with the influential Senator Estes Kefauver promising a senate investigation if there was any evidence the NFL was “pushing around” the AFL.
Going into the January 20th NFL meeting, the promoters of the Minneapolis-St. Paul franchise were optimistic of having their bid accepted. On the eve of the meeting, Bill Boyer gave a 45-minute presentation before the twelve current NFL owners that included a proposal to increase the seating in the Metropolitan stadium from 22,000 to 35,000.
Dallas and St. Louis also made representations in anticipation of being granted franchises.
The decision on expanding the league was delayed while the owners squabbled over a replacement commissioner for the league. Six days and 23 ballots later, the NFL elected Pete Rozelle, former general manager of the Los Angeles Rams, as the youngest commissioner in the league’s 40-year history.
With the new commissioner in favour of expansion, the NFL finally amended their constitution to pave the way for expansion teams in Dallas and Minneapolis-St. Paul. The AFL declared the award of a franchise to Dallas as an “act of war” designed to wreck the infant league.
With the allotment of the franchise, the Minnesota Pro Football Corporation was formed. A decision on the name of the team was on the agenda with Voyageurs, Miners, Explorers, Chippewas and Bisons being suggested. It was also felt that the use of just “Minnesota” would draw more fans as opposed to using “Minneapolis-St. Paul” that they felt would restrict the fan base.
In September, the new team revealed its name as the Minnesota Vikings, reflecting the Scandinavian influence in the area. The team’s president William Boyer said, “Ideally, a nickname for an athletic team serves a dual purpose. First, it should represent an aggressive person or animal imbued with the will to win. Secondly, if possible, it is desirable to have the name connotate the region the particular team represents.”
A year later, the Vikings played their first game on September 17, 1961 against the Chicago Bears with the next day’s sports headline proclaiming “Vikings Blast Bears 37-13.” The team won three games in their debut year, but at the end of the decade made their first appearances in the Super Bowl when they lost to the Chiefs.
Within seven years, the Vikings suffered three more Super Bowl losses. After the final 32-14 defeat by the Raiders, Minnesota’s All-Pro running back Chuck Foreman lamented, “When you get here as many times as we have and can’t win, what can you say? Most people never get here and you don’t know if we’ll get another chance.”
Forty years later, the Minnesota Vikings are still waiting for that opportunity.