The regular season christening of U.S. Bank Stadium is finally upon us, and the opening opponent couldn’t be bigger. This Sunday, the much-reviled Green Bay Packers will make their way to Minneapolis to take on the hometown Minnesota Vikings in a Week 2 matchup of long time division rivals. Purple people like myself have been waiting a while for this moment. The stadium is an awe-inspiring architectural feat, and while I’m not crazy about how the politics went down, I can’t deny my giddiness towards the finished product. And with a football club that looks ready to take the next step, what better way would there be to break in the new building than kicking the crap out of my all-time least favorite team.
Annoying Packer fans will surely be looking to spoil it for us. Twin Cities-based Cheeseheads have most assuredly swept up their fair share of the tickets, and with a fanbase that travels as well as any team in the league, there is no doubt that plenty of lifelong Wisconsinites will be waddling their way into the stadium as well. If things don’t go the Vikes’ way, which would be less than surprising, “Go Pack Go” chants could very well become distressingly audible through our television set speakers.
This is why the Green & Gold believe themselves to be the greatest fans in all of sports. Their passion and loyalty is difficult to match, especially when it comes to an organization as unfortunate and undecorated as the Minnesota Vikings. But despite outward appearances and all the success and accolades that the Green Bay Packers have amassed on the Vikes, one thing that they don’t have is better fans, and they never will. Here’s why:
Let me start with a concession: The Green Bay Packers are the greatest football franchise of all time. I don’t want that statement to be true, but it probably is. This is Title Town we are talking about after all—home of thirteen NFL championships, four of which were Super Bowls.
Even when they’re not winning titles in Green Bay, they are still winning football games. The Packers are the third winningest team in NFL history, an unsurprising stat for anyone that has been watching football for the past couple of decades. Twenty-two of the Pack’s last twenty-four seasons have resulted in .500 football or better. For Vikings fans my age, that means that the Packers have been winning basically our entire lives.
And winning aside, the team itself is just fucking cool. They are the only professional sports franchise that I can think of that is both named after and located in suburban America—a refreshing phenomenon for those of us who didn’t grow up in one of America’s thriving metropolises. What is more, that suburb owns them. Their system of public ownership is one of the most unique arrangements in all of sports. The stupid certificates that they hang on their walls may be meaningless, but I’d still rather be the pretend owner of a NFL franchise than the real life bitch of a billionaire. At the end of the day, when it comes to storied franchises, there are arguably none more storied than the Green Bay Packers, even if you’re reading that story through purple lenses.
The Vikings story, on the other hand, reads more like a dark satire in which the protagonist accidentally kills himself. We’ve had some good runs, but none that have ended in anything other than epic failure. People tell me that the Vikings once went to four Super Bowls, all of which they unsurprisingly lost. Not that it matters to me anyway, considering their last visit to the big one was in 1977, nine years before I was born.
There have been times in my life where the Vikings have appeared to possess Super Bowl potential, but of course none of those years ended well either. From 1998-2009, we did make it to three NFC Championship games, but two of those ended in heartbreak so tragic that you couldn’t script it if you tried, and the other was a 41-donut blowout.
Other seasons have seen the Vikings rotate between uninspiring mediocrity and laughing-stock status, and in those seasons, us fans have seen some wild-ass shit. We’ve seen our stadium roof collapse in and our star wide receiver attempt to mow down a traffic guard. We’ve had to learn terms like “love boat” and “Whizzinator” just to participate in team-related water-cooler conversation. We’ve witnessed two hardly believable flights down to Hattiesburg and followed the unfolding of an incredibly bizarre child abuse saga in which Adrian Peterson was at one point riding a camel. In a perverse sort of way, the Vikings have always been entertaining, but it has hardly ever been the kind of entertainment that us fans are looking for.
It is not likely that the Vikings will dramatically alter that legacy in 2016. Despite a 1-0 start, Teddy Bridgewater’s season-ending injury has already tempered expectations for what looked like a promising season. A one-time dark horse candidate for the Super Bowl, the Minnesota Vikings would now be lucky just to repeat as NFC North champions, but that seems like a tall order in a division with this year’s odds-on Super Bowl favorite. Even if next Sunday goes our way, this season, in all likelihood, ultimately will not.
The paragraphs above illustrate a lot of the reasons why Packer fans view themselves as “better.” They have a better team, better icons, better stories, better legacy…But while the success of their organization is indisputable, it is also that success that has turned Green Bay Packer fans into a bunch of spoiled little brats, brats who have zero conception of the tenacity and resilience that goes into creating better fans.
Packer fans may be as passionate and loyal as they come, but they have never had that passion or loyalty truly put to the test. I’m passionate about my team when they are winning too, but heartbreak hardens a person, especially when you experience it in the immense doses that you do when rooting for the Vikings. And how challenging is it to be loyal to a team that so regularly provides the positive reinforcement necessary for the continuance of that commitment? Live through 1998, 2009, and all the mediocre-to-terrible seasons in between, and maybe then you’ll have something to write home about.
And then there is the quarterback position, the most important position in team sports. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers are two of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play football, and they are the only two quarterbacks that have started meaningful games for the Packers over the last twenty-plus seasons. You know how many starting quarterbacks the Vikings have had during that time? Me neither. But I can tell you that that group includes names like Tarvaris Jackson, Christian Ponder, and two separate stints of Brad Johnson, which is really all that you need to know.
It also says a lot about why Vikings fans are the way that they are, and likewise, why Packers fans are the way that they are. Last year’s post-season is a perfect example. A week after Blair Walsh’s infamous blunder, Vikings fans, recuperating from another spirit-crushing loss, were doing what we do every post-season: hitching our wagon to another team, preferably the one that would next be playing the Green Bay Packers. Hence, we were all Cardinals fans that weekend, and vociferously voiced our new found fanship on social media as they took on the Pack in a Divisional Round showdown. Bitter after a heartbreaking loss of their own, Packer fans struck back, chastising fans of the Vikes for their shameless celebration of schadenfreude. “Don’t you have anything better to do than root against our team?” they whiningly asked. “Isn’t it pathetic that your team is so terrible that you have to get your kicks by rooting against ours?” they complained annoyingly. No, we don’t, and yes, it is, but what those Packer fans don’t understand is, as fans of the Minnesota Vikings, that’s all we’ve got. That’s all that we’ve ever had.
Packer fans do not understand that in the entire history of the Minnesota Vikings, there has never been one single year that has ended in a Viking’s celebration. Every season in the Viking’s fifty-plus years of existence has either ended with an unsuccessful regular season campaign or a painful post-season defeat. We have no legacy to hang our hats on—no Super Bowl victories to revisit. At some point in every season, rooting for, or against, other teams is literally all that we have been able to do.
Packer fans pretend that they are different—that they are the league’s shining example of sportsmanship, too pure to participate in the sadistic ritual of reveling in another team’s misfortune. But it’s easy to be a good sport when you’re sitting inside of a trophy room packed wall-to-wall with proof of past seasons’ successes. If that room were as dust-filled and depleted as that of the Viking’s, perhaps they wouldn’t be so gracious.
Being a Vikings fan, on the other hand, is not easy. Being a Vikings fan is hard. Us Vikings fans have weathered some shit. It would probably be easier for us to just pack away our purple jerseys, pick a different team or a different sport, and put an end to all of our self-inflicted misery once and for all. But what makes Vikings fans great is that we don’t do that. We’re still here, still cheering on our club, still singing the Skol song in spite of all the reasons that our team has given us not to. We’ll be there this Sunday, we’ll be there next Sunday, and we’ll be there the Sunday after that. We’ll be there next season and next decade no matter how many blown ballgames, and embarrassing controversies, and season-ending injuries we endure. That’s because we are Vikings fans. We’ve been disappointed, heartbroken, and humiliated all our lives, but we always come back for more. That’s what makes us better. That’s what makes us the best.
Someday it will all be worth it. On that fateful evening when the Vikings finally lock down that first Super Bowl championship, all that stockpiled suffering that we’ve carried with us for years will be suddenly transformed into a sensation so sweet words won’t suffice to describe it. It will be an elation that can only result from decades of misery and hardship—a feeling that a privileged Packer fan has never and could never know. For once we will have something that we can truly celebrate. For once we will have a team that we can really be proud of. For once the Minnesota Vikings, as an organization, will be as great as the fans that represent it. And if that day never comes, well, we’ll still be wearing purple.