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Adrift on Lake Woebegone
October 24, 2005
A night of debauchery aboard two yachts is the latest scandal for the Minnesota Vikings, a once proud franchise that has become a rudderless ship
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October 24, 2005

Adrift On Lake Woebegone

A night of debauchery aboard two yachts is the latest scandal for the Minnesota Vikings, a once proud franchise that has become a rudderless ship

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The rookie party is a longstanding Vikings tradition. First-year players are required to pay for a team activity, planned by certain veterans, that typically takes place during the bye week. In past years, said one former Viking, the party consisted of "us eating 32-ounce steaks and downing Heinekens" at a downtown restaurant. Recent parties have continued at a bar or a club.

"That s---'s been going on every year," said another former Viking, "and every year it has escalated." In 2004, the player said, he attended the dinner portion of the party, which was held at a glass-enclosed restaurant in the Mall of America, overlooking Camp Snoopy, an indoor amusement park. The player said the party included dozens of women who had been flown in for the event. "It was, like, nine at night, and they were supposed to close down the mall to accommodate the party," the player said. "But people were seeing Vikings through the restaurant windows and made a point of looking in as they left." The player said he left the party, which later relocated to a downtown Minneapolis club, after witnessing a shopper with two preteen daughters ascending an escalator near the restaurant. "The restaurant had set up a deejay booth," he said, "and right as the three of them came up the escalator, a big ol' stripper was up there on the mike doing an explicit rap." The stripper's lyrics, the player said, detailed her aptitude for performing a certain sexual act.

Indeed, what surprised several former Vikings about the allegations surrounding this year's party was not that such conduct might have occurred, but that it purportedly happened in such a public context. "This ain't the first time Vikings players have been on Lake Minnetonka with some [women]," one former Minnesota player said. "I went out there several times with a few other guys and some strippers, when all of us were single, but we would go on a boat that one of the guys owned, so everything happened in private. Those [Al & Alma's chartered] yachts are for romantic cruises; it's where you'd take a girl you'd just started dating, to have a few drinks and stare at the big houses. To have a wild party out there.... It doesn't take a genius to figure out that's a horrible idea."

None of the eight crew members aboard the Avanti and Avant Garde, five of whom are women and most of whom are in their early 20s, has spoken to the media, and they declined SI's interview requests through Doyle, whose law firm was contacted by the owners of Al & Alma's when they saw a television news crew in their front yard. Details of what allegedly occurred come from Doyle, who sat in on all police interviews with the boat employees. A law-enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation confirmed the general outline of the crew members' allegations.

From the moment the passengers boarded, crew members were buzzing around every corner of the three-level yachts, filling drink orders and serving food--doing what some of them did on as many as 200 cruises each summer. Soon after the boats pulled out into Cook's Bay (the first one just before 10 p.m., the second 15 to 20 minutes later), the servers noticed that many of the women had changed into G-strings and lingerie. These scantily clad women moved into the main cabins and other parts of each boat and began dancing for some of the male passengers, removing what little clothing they had on and grinding on the men. Crew members told police that the lap dancing soon escalated, with male passengers and some dancers groping each other.

The floor was covered with dollar bills, crew members told police, and at least one female server was asked by male passengers to dance for money, a request that was declined. Servers were yelled at for not pouring drinks fast enough and for running out of Grey Goose vodka. Partygoers began performing more-salacious acts, including one that took place on the bar and another involving a sex toy as onlookers shouted out encouragement and instructions.

Not all of the passengers were engaged in the debauchery. Some drank or shot dice. A few, including one identified to police as a Vikings player, apologized to the crew for the actions of others. But in various parts of the boats, sex acts were being performed in the open. After the two captains communicated with each other and with the boat owners on shore, they cut short the event and returned to the docks around 11:20 p.m. As the partygoers departed in their limos, crew members were left to clean up the mess on the boats--including used condoms, empty containers of lubricant and sex-toy wrappers. "These are innocent young people," Doyle said on Sunday, while watching the Vikings' loss to the Bears at a Minnetonka sports bar. "Most of them have never been in a strip club, never seen a lap dance before, and then they witness this."

as he sat in a coaches' meeting at the Vikings' facility on Monday, Oct. 10, Tice saw Tom West, the team's assistant director of public relations, standing outside the door and correctly assumed he was about to receive bad news. When West informed him of a report by local TV station KARE detailing the boat-party allegations, Tice recalled, "my stomach flipped." It was another setback for the fourth-year coach, who even as he guided the Vikings to a playoff appearance in 2004, was telling players he expected to be fired at season's end. Three players who were with Minnesota in 2004 say that during one contentious late-season meeting Tice offered to fight any team member who wanted a piece of him.

The tension carried over into 2005, which began with lopsided defeats to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cincinnati Bengals. A day after the Vikings' 30--10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 2, Tice delivered a speech to his players about not giving up. Several veterans told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that they felt the coach had delivered the opposite message; one stated that Tice had "quit on us." Still, Wilf has publicly pledged to retain Tice, who is in the final year of his contract, for the duration of the season. It could not have been easy for the coach to discuss the incident for the first time with Wilf, on the morning of Oct. 11 at the Oak Ridge Conference Center in Chaska, Minn., where the owner had convened a two-day team retreat at which he had already planned to introduce an organizational code of conduct.

One reason for Wilf's ire over the allegations was that they likely derailed his quest to get public funding for a proposed stadium in Anoka County. The Vikings have been rebuffed in their attempts to replace the 23-year-old Metrodome for nearly a decade, but Governor Tim Pawlenty had gotten behind Wilf's plan, and there was talk of a special legislative session at which the Vikings' proposal, along with plans submitted by the Twins and the University of Minnesota, would be discussed. Now, said Johnson, the senate majority leader, "the lights have been dimmed on that." Stadiums for the Gophers and the Twins are considered a higher priority, so this latest embarrassment might be reason enough for politicians to table Wilf's deal for a year or longer. "They need to stop doing these bad things," said state representative Andy Westerberg, the sponsor of the Vikings' bill. "How can you trust someone if they keep doing things wrong?"

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