Vikings finding ways to cope with work stoppage

Published 7:46 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — When he’s not parenting or punting for the Minnesota Vikings, Chris Kluwe plays bass guitar in a rock group called Tripping Icarus.

Yes, even band practice was affected by the NFL lockout.

Now living in California after spending previous offseasons in Minnesota, Kluwe was in the Twin Cities this week for what became a five-day cram and jam session in the studio so the group could take advantage of his time in town and record eight new songs. Unable to work out at the team’s headquarters, Kluwe has made plans to kick and train for 2011 at a high school near his new house.

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“Normally I’d be working out at the facility, but since we can’t get in the doors I have to figure out something else,” Kluwe said.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and president Mark Wilf told employees in a meeting last month they wouldn’t resort to layoffs or pay cuts for the foreseeable future, a move head coach Leslie Frazier recently pointed to as a morale boost for the organization.

To some extent, because it’s only March, players are still in business-as-usual mode with their offseasons. But as time goes by, routines will be altered more and more even if a specialist like Kluwe can essentially keep on the same track save for the occasional all-night music session.

“Punting is punting. There are only so many ways you can kick the ball, and I think we’ve covered just about all of them in the six years I’ve been here,” Kluwe said.

For special teams players, this is potentially lost time getting to know new coaches. For the offense, there’s a new scheme to learn. For everyone, there’s health insurance to buy, now that their coverage with the team has ceased.

“It’s very complicated and very expensive,” said safety Tyrell Johnson, reflecting on his experience buying COBRA health coverage. “I know it’s just the way of the world right now. Some jobs give insurance to the employees and some don’t.”

NFL players, even those at the bottom of the scale, earn far more money than most but they’re still saddled with financial uncertainty.

“It’s tough, because you don’t really know when you’re going to get your next check,” Johnson said. “In any real-world situation you plan your finances on your next check. Obviously you’re going to save, but you do have a life to life. It’s hard to plan when you don’t know when you’re going to get paid again.”

Johnson said he doesn’t splurge or spend much, so he’s not concerned about making ends meet.

“The owners are looking at it like eventually we’re going to run out of money and we’ll be hurting and we’ll come begging back and just take any deal that they throw at us, which is not right,” Johnson said. “It’s just a bad perception that NFL players get that we spend a lot of money on nonsense. We don’t really spend any more than any other people making the same amount of money, I don’t think.”

The Vikings haven’t made any officials available for comment on the lockout or any related matters. The Wilfs co-signed a recent letter to season-ticket holders, spelling out the team’s refund policy in case of any lost games and promising a “sincere commitment” to keep fans informed during the process.

“We look forward to helping the Minnesota Vikings return to the top of the NFC North and then achieving our ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl,” the Wilfs wrote.

To get there, much work remains to be done with the roster after the NFC runners-up from the 2009-10 season devolved into a 6-10 team. Who plays quarterback is the most pressing question, but there are many other unresolved positions with pending free agents and players unsure if they’ll return.

Kicker Ryan Longwell is one of those. He has been sharpening up his golf game — he’s good enough he got an invitation to play in the Bob Hope Classic in January — and trying to keep from sweating about his status.

“There is so much outward chaos with the CBA, with being a free agency and not knowing where we’re going to be, that there’s almost a peace to all of it because there’s so much going on,” Longwell said.

Defensive tackle Kevin Williams expressed the same attitude, even with some of the coaching changes.

“My position you know is pretty much cut and dry. We might do some things a different way, but for the most the part I’m going to line up with my head down and play ball,” he said.

All the players interviewed mentioned their concern for the fans, trying to stay optimistic about what lies ahead.

The effects of a protracted work stoppage stretch could stretch far beyond the players. Last year, a University of Minnesota study determined that the Twin Cities area would lose at least $9.1 million just from out-of-town visitors for every home game lost.

Michael Rosenstiel, the general manager of Maxwell’s American Pub near the Metrodome, sees a six-fold increase in sales on Sundays when the Vikings are at home.

Maxwell’s has already had some practice with lost games, when the dome’s roof collapsed and two games were relocated. Rosenstiel said he hasn’t laid anyone off but that he has had to cut shifts and would likely have to do more of that in the fall if Vikings games were to be wiped out by a lockout.

“It’s getting tough, giving the hours out to the servers that we have,” he said. “We do the best that we can to try to keep all the people employed, because we’re loyal to our employees.”

Basant Kharbanda, who owns and operates about 1 million square feet in downtown building space, runs a four-story office building across the street from the Metrodome that relies heavily on parking revenue from Vikings games. Kharbanda said he employs 23 people.

“We’d be laying off people if this drags on, there’s no question, but there’s nothing we can do,” Kharbanda said.

Due to the relocation and closing of businesses and the move by the Twins from the Metrodome to Target Field last year, Kharbanda said he’s already lost 75 percent of his parking revenue in recent years.

“We’re hanging on to the last one-fourth, which is the Vikings,” he said.