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Stadium authors, Vikings fans overwhelmed by last-minute victory

The stadium bill’s passage was virtually certain, but fans’ eyes didn’t stray from the blinking green and red lights until the final vote was recorded: 36-30.

Vikings superfan Larry Spooner and 'Sir Gunnar' hug after the state Senate approved the Vikings stadium deal, sending it to Gov. Mark Dayton for approval.

The energy in the Senate gallery on Thursday afternoon was palpable as dozens of Vikings fans — not an odd sight these days at the Capitol — waited for the big moment.

They stared intently at the large vote tally boards on each side of the chambers.

The Vikings stadium bill’s passage was virtually certain, but their eyes didn’t stray from the blinking green and red lights until the vote reached finality: 36-30.

Finally, the stadium bill had passed. There were no more hurdles, no more committees and no more dissenting lawmakers to lobby.

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When the Senate, the final legislative stop, approved their beloved stadium — after weeks of rallies and thousands of calls to lawmakers in support — the diehard cadre of super-fans cheered.

They streamed out of the Senate chambers and crowded outside the entrance.

Lanning, Rosen receive cheers

Then they hugged the legislation’s chief authors, Republicans Rep. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead and Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont, and cheered some more.

It’s a wonder the floor wasn’t littered with swords, shields and horned-helmets, and that the lawmakers weren’t smeared with purple and yellow face paint.

There was also the Vikings fight song to be performed, as inevitable as the bill’s passage itself. “Skol Vikings! …”

“This is Minnesota. We are the Minnesota Vikings, and now we’ve got a stadium that we can be proud of!” one supporter said.

They surged around Lanning and Rosen, who had spent years — individually and working together — getting to this point. They emerged victorious from a hard-fought fight with both the most conservative members of their party and the most liberal Democrats to arrive at a deal they believe will help the people of Minnesota.

The $975 million stadium proposal had many hiccups along the way.

At any time, Capitol watchers were split on whether it would ever have a chance to pass. Progress ebbed and flowed, momentum built and died, but the votes — and legislative maneuvering — just kept coming.

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“My knees are shaking a little bit. I’ll have to admit that,” Rosen, with tears in her eyes, said after the vote. “I’m speechless. I’m speechless.”

“It’s nice to be involved in such a monumental event like this,” she said. “In my career, in my lifetime, I probably won’t see another stadium built like this. You only get one chance in a lifetime to do something like this.”

“We had our colleagues that were standing up yelling at us,” Lanning said. “What she has had to endure is unbelievable. But she’s handled it with grace, she’s handled it with dignity, in a very professional way, and that’s why we got to the end.”

Getting to the end required numerous committee stops in both houses, hours of debate on the chambers’ floors, months of negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton and the team, and steel nerves.

“It’s kind of like childbirth,” Rosen said. “After it’s done, you’ve got the product and you’re like, ‘I’m sorry I was angry at you. I’m sorry I ripped you’re head off, but that’s Ok.’ ”

Update: Capitol lovefest

Later, Gov. Mark Dayton, officials from Minneapolis, lawmakers and the Vikings’ owners held a bipartisan Capitol lovefest where they applauded the deal.

Lanning and Rosen repeated many of their earlier comments and credited the stadium proposal and the team for bringing Minnesota together.

 “The process does work in a very bipartisan manner,” Rosen said. “It doesn’t matter if you [are] Democrat or Republican … we can accomplish something good for the state.”

More than a dozen TV cameras — and even more fans — crowded into the Governor’s Reception Room to watch the ceremonial back-patting, and fans cheered for all the lawmakers in the room.

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Dayton thanked team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf for choosing to stay in Minnesota and to make their stadium investment here.

“We’re going to teach you to say, ‘You betcha,’ ” he said, implying a long relationship between the state and the team.

Not surprisingly, the Wilfs, who arrived in Minnesota Thursday afternoon, received the loudest cheers from fans in the room

“I’m very, very proud of all our fans,” Zygi Wilf told the crowd. “I want to thank the fans out there throughout the state, throughout the country who really made this happen.”

One ‘super’ super-fan

There was also one fan that followed it all along the way.

Larry Spooner had been camped out in front of the Capitol all week. He’d testified in committee and lobbied lawmakers to keep his favorite team in Minnesota for months, and he looked delirious after the win.

“I don’t know if I’m an emotional guy,” he said rambling in excitement. “I don’t watch romantic comedies, yeah, I don’t know. I have been here all week. I haven’t ate. I haven’t slept. I’ve been here now for 52 straight hours. I haven’t taken a shower. I lost it. I guess I lost it … You’re not supposed to cry if you’re a guy … It’s just cool.”

 Spooner stood at the base of the steps heading up to the second-floor Senate chamber in the Capitol. He sported his purple Vikings cap, jersey and purple-painted nails. He was with a girl who is hearing impaired. Usually, she sells concessions outside the House and Senate chambers.

“We brought her up into the gallery,” Spooner explained.

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The girl, also decked out in Vikings gear, held a notebook where she wrote notes to Spooner.

“What will we do now,” she scribbled.

He waved outside toward the purple Vikings van parked near the Capitol’s front lawn, but she just looked at him quizzically. “Party,” he wrote.

“Where and when?” came her response.

Spooner turned back and started talking again.

“I can’t believe this day is actually here,” he said. “I’m not sure if I’m sleeping right now.”

“When you dream, sometimes it feels like it’s real.”