Viking Football Fans in North Dakota
For better or for worse, a multitude of North Dakotans are faithful fans of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. In 2003, a Sports Illustrated poll revealed that forty-three percent of North Dakotans regard the Minnesota Vikings as their favorite NFL team. If we do the math, then about 275,000 of 636,677 North Dakotans are Vikings fans. That's almost half. (8% liked the Green Bay Packers best.)
This year, the Vikings celebrate fifty years as an NFL team, and it was on this date, that first year in 1961, that the Minnesota Vikings put an advertisement in the Minot Daily News telling North Dakotans how to buy tickets by mail through the Union National Bank for Vikings home games at Metropolitan Stadium. All you had to do was simply fill out an order form at the bank, make payment by cash or check, and the tickets would be "mailed by the Vikings directly to you." In 1961, reserved seats cost just five dollars apiece! The Vikings management also advertised in the Fargo Forum, and regionally, to create interest in the brand-new team for its seven home games.
The new team started from scratch, and NFL teams expected to clobber these newcomers on the gridiron. However, in the very first game, on September 17, 1961, against the Chicago Bears, the Monsters of the Midway, the Vikings pulled off a stunning upset, winning 37 to 13. On that day, a star was born when rookie quarterback Fran Tarkenton came off the bench to complete 17 of 23 passes, throwing three touchdowns and running for another. As the Fargo Forum proclaimed: "Vikings Off To Smashing Start With Tarkenton At [the] Helm." The Vikings' first season did not go well, however, at 3 wins and 11 losses, but the team improved later in the decade.
North Dakotans did embrace the Vikings as their team, at first by geography and by proximity. Then in 1965, more North Dakotans became Vikings fans when the team drafted Dave Osborn, the running back from Cando who starred UND. What true-blue North Dakotan could resist cheering for hard-nosed Dave Osborn as he bashed and battered his way to three yards per carry and who helped the Vikings reach the Super Bowl in 1969? Who could help but cheer on the Purple-and-Gold-clad Vikings as Dave Osborn played in Super Bowl Eight (in 1973) and Super Bowl Nine (in ‘74)? What fan could help but agaonize over the Vikings losing those Super Bowls and then losing another in 1976 (after Osborn's career with the Vikings had ended in 1975)?
More Vikings fans arose in the 1960s when CBS Sports brought the Vikings to the state's living rooms on TV as the NFL superseded baseball as the national game. The love of North Dakota for the Vikings became cemented forever when Carrington's Jimmy Kleinsasser put on a purple uniform in 1999.
Pro football has changed greatly since 1961 when a Vikings ticket cost only five dollars, however, one thing remains the same - the rock-solid loyalty of North Dakotans to the NFL Vikings through thick and thin. And all ask, will this, the 50th year, be a championship season for Kleinsasser and the Vikings?
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
Vikings advertisement, Minot Daily News, September 8, 1961.
Vikings advertisement, Fargo Forum, September 7, 1961, p. 14.
"Vikings Off To Smashing Start With Tarkenton At Helm," Fargo Forum, September 18, 1961, p. 11.
"Dave Osborn," All-Time Players file, http://www.nfl.com/players/daveosborn/profile?id=OSBO83058, accessed on August 19, 2010.
"Jimmy Kleinsasser," All-Time Players file, http://www.nfl.com/players/jimmykleinsasser/profile?id=KLE428040, accessed on August 19, 2010.
"The S.I. Poll," North Dakota feature, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/features/si50/states/north_dakota/, accessed on August 19, 2010.
"Vikings Results Year-By-Year," 2009 Vikings Team Guide, online at http://www.vikings.com/team/media-guide.html, p. 252-254, accessed on August 19, 2010.