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BEST GOOD TIMING Minneapolis 1999 -

Timing may not be everything, but in the business of professional sports it comes damn close. Throughout his long career as an auto-sales and communications magnate, Billy Joe "Red" McCombs has displayed the typical billionaire's touch for cutting the timely deal. In the '70s and '80s he raked in profits buying and selling two pro basketball teams (the Nuggets and the Spurs). But the 71-year old Texan's timing was never better than last summer, when he swooped in with a "preemptive" bid of some $250 million and snapped up the Minnesota Vikings. At the time, the purchase agreement, which rose from the ashes of the amusing and protracted unraveling of novelist Tom Clancy's offer, seemed a tad rash. The Vikes looked every bit the part of a declining franchise: Home games were regularly blacked out, the team had annually lost badly in playoff game after playoff game, and internal dirty laundry had been hung out in public. When a cheery McCombs speculated during the preseason that the Vikes might go undefeated and proceeded to award head coach/pariah Dennis Green a three-year contract extension, fans and pundits alike shook their heads or laughed derisively. True, the team lost the NFC championship to the Atlanta Falcons after winning only 15 regular-season games. But McCombs is honored here for buying a Cadillac for the price of an Escort.

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