I didn't truly become a Vikings fan until I was surrounded by the enemy.
As a kid growing up in Austin, Minnesota, I didn't give my sports allegiances a whole lot of thought. Cheering on the Twins and North Stars and Vikings was as natural as downing lefse at a family get-together. I remember taking giant family trips to the Metrodome where I'd eat hot dogs and malt cups out of my baseball glove--because Kent Hrbek could knock one out of the park at any moment at all, and I had to be ready just in case. I remember the North Stars being poached by Dallas and feeling a general sense of indignation because everyone in Minnesota felt at least a general sense of indignation at a bunch of southerners stealing our hockey team. And I remember going impromptu to a Vikings-Bears game when I was thirteen and witnessing the Vikes come back from 20 points down to win in the wildest football game I'd ever seen with my own eyes.
And still, I wasn't a real Minnesota sports fan. Not yet.
In 1995, I moved from Austin to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, a miserable boy torn away from my friends just weeks before my sixteenth birthday. I'd lived in Minnesota since first grade, and I was pretty comfortable, dammit! I knew who I was, and even if I was a desperate nerd for books and role-playing and video games--and a very casual watcher of sports--I understood that I was all those things.
Lucky for me, the Green Bay Packers were on the rise in 1995, and the Vikings missed the playoffs that year. From a fan's perspective, it was the best thing that could've happened to me. Everyone in Stevens Point was talking about Green Bay. Hideous green and gold sweatshirts littered my new high school, and once the kids inhabiting those sweatshirts discovered that the new guy was from Minnesota, they inevitably started to ask if I was a Vikings fan.
I'd been the new guy enough times to know that if I said yes, they'd have ammo--and I didn't know enough about football yet to fire back. Still, I hadn't been afraid to stand out a little back home, and I was--at that point--fully Minnesotan. It didn't feel right to betray my upbringing and my family.
I also didn't like the look of those sweatshirts, and since I was fifteen-almost-sixteen, that was probably the deciding factor. I told them I was a Vikings fan--and once that was out, I was committed to a lot of very immediate misery.
Naturally, the Packers won the Superbowl the very next year. That was rough. I was surrounded by the enemy, and the enemy was merciless. I laid low. I took my licks. I bid my time.
In fact, I didn't get a whole lot of relief until my freshman year of college--and then Randy Moss destroyed the Packers on Monday Night Football, and, pretty lit up on cheap schnapps, I finally turned the tables on all my Packer fan friends. All the things I'd wanted to say for three years but couldn't because they weren't actually true I got to say. I was the jerk I always knew I could be, and it was glorious.
And then, on a cold, sad day in January, Gary Anderson missed a kick.
I think it was then--down on my knees in a dorm room deep in the heart of Wisconsin--that I truly became a Vikings fan. Alone, surrounded, I felt for the first time the full weight of my allegiance to a team that's done nothing but play relentlessly with my feelings ever since.
Still, though, Teddy's looked really good in those Twitter clips. He's moving around super well. And did the time off allow him to work on his upper body? I think it did. He looks stronger! Yup--he's absolutely on the comeback trail. They're saying Week 10, maybe, and I believe it.
And Super Bowl LII? Surrounded or not, I'm optimistic.