The Packers-Vikings Border Battle was always special to my Dad and I, as I’m sure it is to many fathers and sons on both sides of the river. The feelings and brain chemistry probably date back to prehistoric times when a father and his brood would share and bond over the hatred and disdain for a rival tribe and vice-versa. However our tradition wasn’t warring over the good pasture lands, but instead getting up to The Dome for the Packer-Viking game at least once every two years, starting when I was nine-years old in 1994.
2007 was the last one.
In that game we were able to see some rookie running back from Oklahoma live in the flesh. As well as watch future Viking legend Brett Favre throw touchdown pass number 421 to future Viking free agent contract Greg Jennings, breaking Dan Marino’s career touchdown record. It was a memorable end to one of my favorite traditions.
Although we didn’t know it was the end. When I went off to college in 2003, Dad walked with a pretty pronounced limp. He’d never had a normal gait for as long as I remember. He had an old football injury (as all men seemingly do), bone spurs in both ankles, and a two-foot long scar on his right leg where he had a disagreement with a chain saw back when he was working construction in Oklahoma. Dad walked like John Wayne after his foot fell asleep.
But the limp had gotten considerably worse by that point. I’d considered grabbing a wheelchair for him for the game, but he was too proud. “I can make it, it just takes a little longer. That’s all.” was the remark he always dropped when people voiced concern over his inability to get around like he used to.
I remember walking down 5th Street towards The Dome. Masses of Purple (and more green and yellow than I cared to see) were streaming their way to the stadium. We had to walk off to the side as everyone was passing us, but Dad remarked, “All for the best. Just get to enjoy the nice day longer before we get cooped up in that damn bubble.” He always thought The Dome was a dump, for what it’s worth.
Our seats were up in the usual upper deck and a few seats into the row. Due to the hip, Dad couldn’t bend the leg fully to sit comfortably in the row without basically standing in the seat. But a nice older couple at the end of the row saw this and gave us their aisle seats. Dad bought them a round of beers for the swap. Again with the pride. He would only accept charity if he saw it as bartering.
The game was less than ideal. Despite the 23-16 final score, it was never really close. The Vikings never lead, Adrian got loose for 112 yards rushing was held out of the endzone, and our leading receiver on the day was Bobby “Who is Bobby Wade?” Wade with five catches for 83 yards.
We didn’t even get T-Jack because he was hurt and had to settle for gosh darn Kelly Holcomb, who put it in the air 39 times while Adrian only got 12 carries for some reason. KELLY HOLCOMB.
The loss dropped us to 1-3 on what would be an uneventful (outside of a certain rookie running back) 8-8 season under second-year head coach and Kick-Ass Offense Impresario Brad Childress.
After the game we stopped for a burger and a beer (I forget where, which is pretty odd). We talked about how we disliked Favre, but respected the hell out of him. I always wondered what Dad would have thought about #4 playing for the Vikings at the end of his career and that run in 2009. Not to be morbid, but if he was around for that season, the NFC Championship game would have surely killed him. Of a broken heart or a massive coronary? Who knows.
The debate that would carry on for the rest of his life was also born that afternoon: Who would be better, OJ Simpson or that Adrian Peterson kid? Dad was firmly in the OJ camp. “Still the best running back I ever saw. Even his last year in San Francisco when he was fat and his knees were shot.” He always reminded about the time he and my uncle went to go see Juice at the old Met Stadium. Sitting up in the third deck that swayed in the wind whenever a stiff breeze shot through Bloomington. “Back when the men were men and no one cared about those damn touchy phones! They actually watched the damn game.” (The iPhone had just been introduced that summer.)
My argument hinged on the fact that Adrian hadn’t committed double homicide and wasn’t in jail for trying to steal his Heisman back, which Orenthal James had just been arrested for two weeks earlier. Note: Yes, OJ was acquitted of the murders but…. Come on. Also yes, Adrian never won a Heisman, but should have as a freshman in 2004 over Matt Leinhart. Splitting votes with Oklahoma teammate and 2003 Heisman winner Jason White and the fact that the voters weren’t comfortable having a freshman winner at the time really hurt him. Ironically in this comparison, it was Adrian who got robbed of the Heisman…
We always parked in this small tucked away lot a few blocks east of The Dome. It was off the main drag, so it wasn’t always plum full and prices were reasonable. It was our lot.
There was an elderly man in a turban named Ray (200/1 odds on if that was his real birth name) who had worked the lot ever since we started parking there in the early 90s. He and Dad always had these long winded conversations every time we stopped. I had no idea what they chatted about. On the surface it seemed like they had nothing in common: one was a white Lutheran from rural Minnesota, the other was a Muslim from Tehran.
What the heck did they talk about? The weather? The geo-political climate? How Bo Bice got robbed on American Idol? Not sure. I do know that Dad could talk the ear off of anyone about anything. It was probably one of his best traits and why people loved him so much. He was the manager guy at the grocery store who always had a smile, a joke, and a “how’s the kids?” It’s a trait I’ve tried to emulate more as I’ve grown up and thought about it. As a young man I was quiet, cynical, and an unmitigated prick at times (some would argue I still am?), but not Dad. He never complained, never had a bad word to say about anyone or anything, and was revered for it.
Dad remarked to Ray that this might be his last game for a while. Ray looked visibly sad. He and Dad said goodbye with a firm handshake and we headed home. We’d never see Ray again.
Two days later, Dad was diagnosed with a malignant tumor the size of a tennis ball in his hip. He’d die the following July.
This wasn’t intended to be a downer on Father’s Day and apologies if it came off that way. But rather, I always think back on memories like this with my dad fondly. Sure, we lost the game that day and it was the last Viking-Packer game we would ever attend, but it was still a helluva good day. And yes, he passed away seven years before he would’ve become the best Grandpa in the world and yes, he missed out on Teddy “The Governor of Louisville” Bridgewater whom he would have adored, but life happens sometimes. It’s not always fair, but it is always memorable. Not every kid has a good father or even a present one. I was fortunate enough to have both for 23-years of my life.
So when you give your dad a call today or drop off the standard gift tie or Omaha Steaks giftcard, let him know that you cherish all of the good memories you’ve shared so far and that you look forward to the future ones. Also ask him who he likes in the right guard battle: Clemmings, Thompson, or Papa Yank.
The preceding was an excerpt from my upcoming eBook “30 Years a Rube: Three Decades of Minnesota Sports” out in December. Or whenever I stop being lazy.