WASHINGTON (AP) – Instead of introducing its first black majority owner, the NFL unveiled a substitute feel-good story: a son of Holocaust survivors who looked and sounded a bit nervous – and who vowed never to move the Minnesota Vikings.

NFL owners on Wednesday unanimously approved the $600 million sale of the Vikings to a group led by Zygmunt Wilf, a soft-spoken New Jersey shopping mall magnate who has an enthusiasm for old-time football and the real estate acumen necessary to get a new stadium to replace the Metrodome.

“To me, this is not a matter of economics. This is a matter of passion. I’ve always been a strong NFC fan,” said Wilf, a decades-long supporter of the New York Giants. “We will be in the Minneapolis area forever. Look, I’m not changing that at all. We will do our best to make sure that we get the best venue and right location.”

Wilf will purchase the team from Red McCombs, with the closing date expected in June. McCombs has owned the team since 1998. The image-conscious NFL hoped the Vikings sale would break the color barrier among its lead owners. Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler was the original leader of the group that agreed to buy the team from McCombs, but Fowler didn’t have the liquid assets available to complete the purchase and cede control to Wilf. Wilf said Fowler will remain an active investor in the group, which also includes Wilf’s brother Mark, cousin Leonard and East Coast real estate businessmen Alan Landis and David Mandelbaum.

“I think everybody feels it would be nice to continue to diversify our ownership and to have an African-American businessman in the general partner position,” commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. “But I think we ended up with a very strong ownership group.”

In other developments Wednesday:

• Tagliabue said there will be five special meetings over the next five months to deal with revenue sharing and labor issues, with hopes of reaching a new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union by late October.

“Hopefully by then we will be signing an agreement and not looking like pumpkins,” Tagliabue said.

Tagliabue said progress was made on revenue sharing, a delicate issue which has split large-market and small-market teams. He said possible compromises include a plan to share previously unshared revenue beyond a certain percentage, and a plan to have a “blended rate” percentage for sharing all revenues.

The revenue sharing dispute has stalled talks with the union, and Tagliabue hopes these plans will jump-start the discussions.

“We’re still kind of at a dead end with the players’ association,” Tagliabue said. “It takes two people to dance, and it takes two people not to dance, so each side has to look in the mirror.”

• Tagliabue said he was going to call the governor of Louisiana, and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson to see if he can get talks resumed over the Saints’ stadium situation. Benson on Tuesday left open the possibility that he could move the Saints after this season if he can’t reach a deal for a new stadium or a renovation of the Superdome.

• The 2009 Super Bowl was awarded to Tampa.

Wilf, 55, was born in Germany and was two months old when his family moved to the United States. His father had a chance to buy the AFL’s New York Titans in the early 1960s, but the family had yet to get a full appreciation for football. The Wilfs soon became fans, buying Giants season tickets and later a luxury suite. Zygi, as he prefers to be known, went to the Giants’ three Super Bowls. He still has a football given to him in the Giants locker room after a game in the 1960s as well as a Lawrence Taylor jersey. He’ll hang on to those, but he has a new favorite team.

The Wilfs have also built a business that is among the largest owners of shopping centers in North America. Garden Commercial Properties has 109 sites in at least five states, primarily in New Jersey.

On his parents’ experience in the Holocaust, Wilf said: “I draw upon what they went through and how they were able to be successful in this country, and I draw upon their optimism in life and transfer that to the people who work for me.”

During his news conference, Wilf exhibited the unease of someone not used to the spotlight, even when he made an emphatic point – such as his desire to have an outdoor stadium so the Vikings can re-establish a home-field weather advantage.

“It is a good advantage to have some of the other teams come up to our nice, warm Minnesota winters,” he said facetiously, “so they can enjoy playing football up where it hurts – a la Green Bay.”

AP-ES-05-25-05 1920EDT


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