One of our readers, who I will refer to only as "John" in the interest of maintaining his privacy (if he wants to designate himself in the comments, that's his decision) was kind enough to write up his experience at this past weekend's game at Wembley Stadium between our Minnesota Vikings and the Pittsburgh Steelers. What follows is his account of the weekend that took place, completely unvarnished, save for a couple of typos I corrected.
Thank you to John for documenting his experience for us!
I started following the Vikings when I was 15 (some 26 years ago). I liked the uniforms, the fact they weren't fashionable at the time but mainly I'm a Viking fan cos I'm a bit Viking. Both my parent's families come from the islands around northern Scotland which were visited by Viking filled long boats for hundreds of years - I must have Viking blood in my veins.
When I discovered that the Vikings were coming to London THERE COULD BE NOTHING that could stop me being there. I got my ticket as soon as they were available and sorted out a long weekend doubling up with seeing friends from when I worked in London nearly 20 years ago. However no Vikings would have meant no trip south from my home in Scotland.
I kept up with the Vikings in the beginning by having a Medium Wave radio permanently tuned to the Armed Forces Network from Germany: two live games on a Sunday and the Monday night matchup. The sound would come and go depending on atmospherics and was often interrupted by accordion music or speech in a range of languages on 3rd and long! I remember Issiac Holt icing a win against the Bears with a 90 yard pick six which was celebrated silently as the rest of the house slept. Over the years I've been disappointed by Dozier, tested by Tice and revolted by riverboats...
I watched football when I could going to games, my home town team - Kirkcaldy's Fife 49'ers - stopped playing. The Scottish Claymores came and went after a World Bowl win. I happened across a European final in Belgium one year seeing a London side beat an Amsterdam team. Last November my wife and I were in New York and I sought out a game seeing Fordham narrowly lose to Patriot League champions Colgate, (we'll ignore a certain V Lombardi Esq was a Fordham Ram). At times it was almost impossible for me to get more than scores but I remained a Vikings fan. Technology has advanced and now I spend my Sunday nights with Paul Allen and the gang listening to the matches live.
On Thursday night last week it was with a mixture of glee and worry (after the 0 & 3 start) I packed my bag and put my latest Vikes baseball cap aside for an early flight south on Friday morning.
Gameday minus two
Friday saw central London dotted with purple and black as visiting fans toured the sights. Smiles, waves and thumbs up were shared by Vikes fans with polite nods, thumbs down and gentle boo's at Steelers. It was an away game for both sets of fans as many who've flown in are doubling up sightseeing with the game.
I was in Trafalgar Square twice the first time I saw a towel brandishing Steeler fan clamber up to be photographed by her friend on a Lion statue at the foot of Nelson's column. Seeing my Vikings hat and downward jabbing thumb she shouted "The Vikings suck". She laughed at my comeback, "In this game BOTH teams suck!"
During my second visit a pair Vikes were lining up taking pictures of each other so, united by our common bond, I assisted by taking pics of them both. We chatted as my mystified friend looked on (he doesn't do sport). They were brother and sister from Minnesota where he'd flown in from while she'd come from LA where she's now based. We talked about Ponders ribs, AP, the game plan, the Wilfs and the stadium plans. Then having pointed them in the direction of Buckingham Palace we each went on our way.
I won't name the pair as their comments about the average Steeler fan were not kind. Certainly my earlier encounter had hinted that compared to Vikings fans the Pittsburgh fans were less, erm, polite...
Gameday minus one
The main event on Saturday was a block party on Regents Street which for a day was not known for its famous shops. Arriving early I was able to watch uninterrupted the Vikings film of last season which was running on a loop. Hearing Paul Allen shouting, "And he's loose" a few times, always raises a smile.
There were similar set-ups for all four London bound teams, a stage for appearances and football activities for young and old. Avoiding the opportunity to show my lack of talent kicking, punting or passing thru the target holes I wandered along soaking up the atmosphere. It was fantastic. The Jaguars had more things going on but it was good for all comers and busy.
There were more Steelers than I'd wish but clearly fans of many NFL sides had travelled with a range of both languages and accents heard. A father and son who got on the Tube at my stop were from Dortmund in Germany. The Dad seemed more excited, like me, to be seeing the Vikes live for the first time than his cooler kid!
I saw the Skol Drum line guys do their thing - very impressive. The lads were kind enough to take my picture in their midst later on. I saw a fantastic woollen hat, horns and all and many, many 28's, 69's, 4's and at least one HoF 80 for CC.
I was roped into a horde/long boat sized group to stand behind a UK TV guy filming a link. Yes, as always it took more than one take and yes some Steelers tried to crash the shot but they were dispatched with shouts of "Offside" and "Encroachment". Not as it turns out that my wife spotted my appearance!
A female Vikings fan - she had a tutu on - handed me a purple and gold necklace which was surreal. Reassuringly I saw a few others wearing them - one chap was clearly pleased to see another guy wearing one. I bumped into the brother and sister from the day before again, he and I shared a smug grin as she lamented not having anything purple to wear for the day. What a basic error! ;-)
Just after I left I was sent a message by a former colleague inviting me to join him and some mates who were heading along. That displayed the broad appeal to all football fans of the event and I think is why it is so successful. It was all building up nicely towards when Paul Allen would be giving his trademark "BOOM!" at kickoff.
GAMEDAY - It's Showtime
As they say on Vikings Radio, "Are you ready for Vikings football?" I was ready before noon for a 6pm kickoff. Years of support with most of that time spent thinking I'd never see them live hurried me up. My hotel was in sight of Wembley and despite trying to take it easy and chill out I was ready, early. Passing through reception there were a pair of Vikings fans, one sat looking pensive, "They'll be fine" I said. "I hope so", she replied.
I walked over to the stadium with the numbers of game shirts of all colours increasing the closer I got. It was great for a Rookie like me. I was struck by how many more Vikings shirts there were on show and wandered around the ample facilities north of the stadium. I joined a LLOONNGG queue for merchandise adding to my Vikings stuff and got a couple of programmes.
I watched Randall McDaniel, Dante Culpepper and Ahmad Rashad on stage talking about the game - which was a real treat. I then met a legend, despite as it turns out him living less than 10 miles from me, I met and chatted with my favourite Fife 49'ers player from the late 80's! Des James was a step above those around him - he played like Joey Browner.
My friend Chris had travelled down on the day called so I set off to meet him and missed him at the first attempt. Why I hear you ask? Well despite there being 84,000+ people at the game guess who I met? Yup, the brother and sister again. We talked quickly about the game and I insisted that we'd not see each other again on Monday! After meeting Chris we joined a queue to get in - we are British after all.
In through security and up the escalators we were some of the first in our seats. Sitting looking out on the corner of the end zone, good seats as long as Marg Simpson and her twin weren't in front of us a great clear view. There were purple flags for each seat but more importantly Vikings on the field, going through their warm ups and getting loose. I had my binoculars on Messrs Loeffler, Locke and Walsh combining to fire field goals over from up to and including the 48!
As the stadium filled there were more and more Vikes fans on view. As kickoff approached I nipped off, for the obvious reason, during Tiny Tempa's performance, he/they seem to be a young people's popular beat combo and despite the name appear to have no link with the Buccaneers. Gene Simmonds sang the US national anthem, the some lass did ours. The atmosphere was building and hit its peak when AP emerged from the smoke to run down the double line of players. It was amazing - at last I was seeing my team.
"Boom!" I said as the game kicked off and Patterson took the out ball from deep. I'll limit my comments on the game there are much better folk than me to do that here on the Daily Norseman. I'm a veteran of only one NFL game after all... The Walsh 54 yard Field Goal was made sweeter by a Steeler behind me expecting a punt. Jennings was kind enough to run into our end of the End Zone on his 70 yarder and AP - what a guy - was cheered home by me and many, many others in purple on his 60 yard TD. I could have got in on his second TD, most of us could, so good was the blocking.
At the half the stats were pretty poor except for the two big plays, but that's why those guys get the big money. Seeing Jared Allen rope in a few sacks and the D stepping up was well timed, as was Simpson's fumble recovery. Big Ben was as slippery as a particularly slippery thing and did a great job keeping them in the game, to be honest far too in the game for my liking! The penultimate play was my ultimate play - at the far end from us I saw the sack but was one of the first around me to see the signal for a first down to the Vikings, with it a first win for the team and an unbeaten record for me cheering them on in person.
Whether I agree or not with the comments made about the Steelers fans back on Friday well I'm not going to say too much other than on Monday the Vikings fans were a lot more obvious and less subdued than the Steelers fans!
Looking back from a couple of days on I can still barely believe it. I was there, I've seen the Vikings, a real NFL game and a big fat deserved W. For most of the 26 years I've followed the team we love I never thought I'd actually get to see them, then with London games there was a chance. I still can't really express how happy and fortunate I feel having seen the Purple up close. Nor can I truly express my jealousy of you guys and gals who can make it to games more often than my fellow far flung fans. Those of you in the US are lucky and if this game proves anything it proves there are a lot of Vikings around the world united by a love for the team and the game.
Now how do I convince the wife we need to be in Minnesota when the new stadium opens?!?