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Michael Kelly is quickly becoming the MVP of Faegre & Benson alumni. Since joining the Minnesota Vikings in March as executive vice president, he has fielded requests from former colleagues at the Minneapolis-based firm for tickets to the oversubscribed 2000 football season, particularly the team’s upcoming showdown against its longtime rival, the Green Bay Packers. “I probably get calls every week or so asking how this job is going to benefit my friends,” Kelly says. That remains to be seen. But meanwhile, Kelly is basking in the glory of being a first-round pick. Two years ago, when Kelly was a Faegre litigator turning his practice toward corporate work, Red McCombs, a Texas oil and automobile magnate, bought the Vikings and began evaluating its counsel. Faegre had occasionally represented the Vikings, which did not have in-house lawyers. Kelly was chosen to serve as outside general counsel and was able to learn the business along with the new owners. When the vice president slot opened up last February, Kelly was the obvious choice. “It was a perfect situation in that we got to work with him and observe him for a year and a half before offering him the position,” says Gary Woods, president of Minnesota Vikings Holdings Inc. and parent company McCombs Enterprises. Kelly proved his mettle last August when the Vikings’ first-round draft pick, defensive end Dimitrius Underwood, walked out of training camp after receiving a more than $500,000 signing bonus. Kelly “had to file a petition in federal court, freeze a bank account, file an injunction,” recalls Woods. “There were a lot of hoops [Kelly] had to jump through before we could get [Underwood] released from his contract.” Now Kelly, at age 38, is the top-ranking executive at the team’s Viking Drive headquarters. Both McCombs and Woods spend most of their time in San Antonio, Tex., managing McCombs Enterprises’ $3 billion in assets, which include broadcast media and other sports franchises, in addition to the automotive and oil businesses. Kelly “has a maturity and judgment that’s very important to an absentee owner,” says Woods. And, he notes, “in today’s sports environment, a lot of our issues are legal issues.” Still, Kelly admits he had a rather steep learning curve in areas such as sales and marketing. But he’s not shy about deferring to specialists. “My management style, whether it was working with associates at the firm or here at the Vikings, is to really empower people to do their jobs the best they can do,” says Kelly. “I [try to] add value to their jobs, and if I can’t do that, then I leave them alone.” Delegating may leave him a little downtime to pursue extracurricular interests. A tenor soloist at the Basilica of St. Mary, he made his onstage debut last spring in the Minnesota Opera’s production of “Faust.” He also plays softball, soccer, and basketball, though his wife, Gretchen Gates Kelly, an All American basketball star in college, contends that she can take him on their home court. Both have been Vikings fans since their childhoods in Minnesota, and their 9-month-old son, Connor, is already sporting purple and gold garb. The couple met in Faegre’s litigation department, but Gates Kelly left the firm in June 1997 for a position as vice president of legal affairs at St. Louis-based Express Scripts, Inc., a prescription benefits management company. Her career shift set a precedent for Kelly’s move to the Vikings. “I’m sure that seeing me enjoy in-house practice probably contributed to his decision,” she says. Managing the home team has increased Kelly’s public profile, landing him on the sports pages and in negotiations with prominent corporate sponsors, but he was already well known in Edina, the Minneapolis suburb where he has followed in his mother’s footsteps by taking a seat on the city council. His connections with community leaders should help in what Kelly and Woods expect to be his biggest challenge: obtaining support for a new stadium that they hope would help the Vikings rise from second-to-last place in revenue among NFL teams. To achieve this objective, Kelly intends to blitz another sportsman politician — Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. “Jesse has indicated that he’s not real fired up about spending general state tax dollars on stadium issues,” Kelly concedes, but “I will certainly try to convince him to come to as many games as he can fit into his schedule.”

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