The question that I always seem to get asked is why do I root for the Minnesota Vikings? Why can't I support the hometown New York Giants or New York Jets? Maybe if I lived in East Rutherford or went to games at Giants Stadium as a little kid, I might be a fan and actually care. But I just never really had any interest in the home teams. I'm not taking anything away from people who root for their home teams, but I never got why it's frowned about if people cheer for an out of town team. I think that people just stay loyal to their local team because it is expected of them per society's rules. Also, maybe because it's easy and convenient, and many people don't like to explore the unknown. Sometimes, I wish people would think outside the box.
Anyway, here is the big answer to the mystery as to why I became a hardcore fan of the Vikings. It all started back in 1989. I was a big fan of Kirby Puckett and the Minnesota Twins in baseball back then, and Kirby's #34 jersey number held a special meaning for me. It might have just been a regular number to the average person, but to me it was a number of prestige. I also liked Herschel Walker because his first name sounded like my last name, which any 12 year old would think was neat. My brother had seem him play for the NJ Generals of the USFL in 1985 and gleefully told me he was amazing. Walker also happened to also wear #34 and when he was traded to Minnesota, I began to turn my attention to the Vikings. Wouldn't it be fun to root for the baseball and football teams in the twin cities? My mom also told me that my cousin's brother was Mike Lynn, who was the general manager of the Vikings that had pulled off the infamous trade with the Dallas Cowboys to get Herschel Walker. Of course, true NFL fans know that Mike Lynn will always be remembered for this bonehead trade that gave Dallas a bunch of #1 draft picks which they used to draft key players that would be cornerstone players for their championship teams. Those draft picks ended up being Russell Maryland, Darren Woodson, Kevin Smith and Emmitt Smith. Herschel Walker's career in Minnesota was less than mediocre, and probably cost Mike Lynn his job. My quote on quote cousin later created the World League before fading into obscurity. But the fact that I was somehow related to the GM of the Vikings sealed the deal regardless that Herschel Walker turned out to be a bust. And for the past twenty years, I have stayed loyal and have rooted for the Minnesota Vikings, the only professional sports team I remain passionate about.
I'll admit that it has been hard to be a Vikings fan. I've been there through a lot of the crap: the 15-1 season in 1998 that didn't end in a championship, Gary Anderson's missed field goal in the 1998 NFC Championship game after not missing one all year, Mike Tice's horrible coaching, Randy Moss and his criminal ways, the love boat incident, Korey Stringer's death due to heat exhaustion in training camp, Dante Culpepper's knee breaking in three pieces, Onterrio Smith and the Whizzinator, Bubby Brister, Spergon Wynn, missing the playoffs on the last play of the season against Arizona, and of course the 41-0 spanking from the Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship Game. During my life on this earth, the Minnesota Vikings have not only never won the Super Bowl, but they have never even played in the big game. Also I have never had the opportunity to hit the Twin Cities to see a game played at the Metrodome. The excuses were always lack of interest, lack of money, and the obvious being that it's too damn cold. But that all changed in 2009, thanks to my brother-in-law who was able to score some tickets to the Vikings/Baltimore Ravens game. Thanks to my frequent flier miles, and Bryan's travel rewards program, I was off to Minneapolis with my dad and brother (in-laws) for a free ride. This was a special trip twenty years in the making and with my father-in-law Ken Boardman along, how could it not live up to the hype? Expectations were high for this to be one of the biggest vacations of my life.
Besides the Metrodome and the Mall Of America, there isn't much to see in Minnesota. In terms of pop culture references, the only thing to check out was the spot where the Mary Tyler Moore Show infamous opening credits scene was shot. "Love is all around, no need to fake it, we're gonna make it after all!" Not try to get that song out of your head. Pretty cool, but unfortunately the show was before my time. I never was much of a fan of Mary Tyler Moore, although I will secretly admit she was pretty damn hot in the 80's. To simply add to my pop culture attraction photo collection, I posed in front of the statue honoring the classic moment. Okay, so maybe there was only the mall and the stadium to check out, but these are pretty special places that I have waited a long time to see in person with my own two eyes. Analyzing and ranking shopping malls is a hobby of mine, and it was finally time to see if the Mall Of America would live up the hype.
Simply put, the Mall Of America is like the Palisades Center on steroids. There is a full blown amusement park on the first floor of the mall. There are four levels of mall packed with your typical corporate branded stores like The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch. A total of two food courts and I'm happy to express there was an Arbys in one of them!! What makes the mall unique is the plethora of sports stores dedicated to Vikings gear. I think we counted fifteen stores featuring the hometown team. In one spot, there also was a Packers store with an interesting assortment of tasteless T-shirts. One of which featured a bare Minnesota Vikings trophy case covered in spiderwebs. If you wanted to buy some cheese and the Packers cheesehead, this was the place. The mall has a lot of kitschy specialty stores that you probably wouldn't find at any mall in the metro area. Some other random observations about the Mall Of America: No CVS or Rite-Aid, only one large Barnes & Noble but no small bookstores, no Dave & Busters, no Hard Rock Cafe.
Chris Rock sure was right when he said the only black people in Minnesota were Kirby Puckett and Prince. I counted only of a handful of black people, many of which weren't even African, but from the Carribean. In fact, there were no other people from other cultures. Minnesota is like a wintergreen Life-Saver, pure white. Totally a far cry from a typical walk in New York City or even the local malls here in Jersey. Interesting, but very sad that there is little diversity in Minnesota. Two special guests were signing their latest books at Barnes & Noble: America's hero Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (the dude who safely landed the 747 airplane into the Hudson River) and Christian Siriano (the Season 4 Project Runway Winner). What does it say about our society when Siriano's line was triple the size of Sully's. The youth of America cares more about a reality TV fashion designer than a real American hero. Pathetic! Of course, I made sure that we covered the entire mall, which we were able to accomplish in four hours of which I have the blisters on my toes to prove it. Because my wife is the #1 shopper in the world, I had to buy her a Queen Of The Mall shirt from the biggest mall in the United States. And I spent a little bit on myself purchasing a new jersey to wear with hopes that Jared Allen isn't leaving the team anytime soon. The Mall Of America did live up to the hype, and I'm proud to say it might be the best mall I ever went to. Although the ranking might only be as such because of all the Vikings merchandise all around me.
Part 2 tomorrow including a breakdown of the Metrodome, the attitude of the fans and their fear of losing their team, a review of the city of Minneapolis, and a story of how I almost insulted the Minnesota Vikings QB coach while watching the Yankees game on Saturday night. Good times, indeed. Part 2 promises to be a lot more to fun to read, I promise.