Monday, July 23, 2012

Mike Lynn: 1936-2012

Having been a Minnesota Vikings fan since the late 1970s, I remember well the name Mike Lynn. It was announced by his son Robert that he passed away on Saturday at the age of 76.

Possessing more of a business acumen than football prowess, Lynn, the Vikings' General Manager from 1975-1990, was well known for his cold-hearted precision in dealing with players during contract negotiations. Since free agency was non-existent in that era, the players' only leverage was to demand a trade or threaten to hold out from training camp. Lynn was usually the last to blink in some of those memorable battles, as players often acquiesced to the offers put forth since the Vikings organization rarely traded away their top talent, no matter how disgruntled players became.

But let's be honest: what is the first event cited whenever Lynn's name is spoken?

Lynn is perhaps best known for sending five players and seven draft choices -- including three first-round picks -- to the Cowboys for running back Herschel Walker on Oct. 12, 1989. The Cowboys went on to win three Super Bowls, while Walker recorded 2,264 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns for the Vikings in 42 games.

I can tell you that when that trade was made, Vikings country was absolutely ecstatic! We too had swilled the kool-aid early in the '89 season that the final ingredient in a Super Bowl run was a solid running game, to go with a pretty good passing game and the NFL's top defense. Who better to shore up the backfield than the player who finished second in the NFL in rushing yards the previous season? And who could forget Walker's debut with the Vikings, a 26-14 win over the Green Bay Packers?! On his very first carry in purple and gold he literally ran out of his shoe en route to a 47-yard gain. Walker would finish with 148 yards rushing in the victory.

Alas, there were two flaws (aside from the king's ransom surrendered to acquire Walker) in that "only a running game away from greatness" logic. First, the Vikings still needed a reliable quarterback. An aging (and ailing) Tommy Kramer and a solidly average Wade Wilson didn't have the goods to win a duel with the likes of Joe Montana come January. Secondly, Lynn never bothered to confirm with coach Jerry Burns if Walker even fit the Vikings' style of offense (Newsflash: he didn't). I'm inclined to agree that you build your offense around a superstar.....provided he's part of your team in training camp. But when you drop a guy in the middle of your offense week six of the regular season, it's not that easy just to switch things up.

Defining Lynn's career solely by the Walker trade is "ridiculous," Robert Lynn said.

"Anyone connected to the league, when he was with the league, will tell you he was one of the best general managers the league ever had," Robert said. "He did a lot for the league aside from being general manager of the Vikings. He was involved in league affairs. There are a lot of things he did -- a lot of good for a lot of people -- that may never be known, and he probably wanted it that way. In some ways, he was misunderstood."

Robert cites Lynn's trade for Ahmad Rashad in 1976 and "getting Cris Carter for $200 from the Eagles" off waivers in 1990 as shrewd moves overshadowed by the Walker trade.

"He believed in that trade, and he thought Herschel was the missing piece. Some trades work, some don't," Robert said. "He loved the Vikings, he loved the team, he loved the sport."

The Vikings won seven NFC Central Division titles and played in two Super Bowls while Lynn was the general manager.

For me, one of Lynn's more memorable moves came off the field. Tired of the public relations nightmare endured by the organization due to constant off-field indiscretions (some things never change) and clashes of massive egos (glory hog Chris Doleman, perpetual whiner Anthony Carter and the maniacal Keith "my arms are stronger than your guns" Millard, to name a few) in the locker room, Lynn arranged a "unity" outing in the Spring of 1990. A trip to Pecos River Learning Center in Santa Fe, NM was in order for a Vikings team that had the most Pro Bowl appearances in the NFL over the previous two seasons but nothing to show for it in the way of championships. The objective was to build trust amongst Lynn, the coaches and players as they maneuvered obstacle courses and scaled 50-ft high walls while tied together. I recall giving the proverbial eye roll at that whole thing since one of the biggest dissenters on the team (Safety Joey Browner, who once called Lynn a "racist" but later recanted that accusation) didn't even make the trip.

Once again, the perennial underachieving Vikings club would go on to a woeful 6-10 season in 1990, thanks in large part to a preseason knee injury to All Pro defensive tackle Millard and QB Wilson missing the majority of the year with a thumb injury.

It would turn out to be Lynn's final season as GM.

Lynn is survived by wife Jorja, two daughters (Louisa and Lucia) and two sons (Robert and Mike).

"He was the best father in the world as far as I'm concerned," Robert said. "He was a dynamic individual."

Condolences to the Lynn family.


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