A story of two Vikings: NFL, norsemen come to life
MOORHEAD, Minn. — In this part of the country, when you say the word "Viking," the image that might come to mind is of a blond, braided horn-wearing Norseman clad in purple and gold. To many Midwesterners, viking means Minnesota Viking, not the conquering Scandinavian warrior-adventurers of the 8th to 11th centuries.
That is definitely the case after the NFL team's dramatic win over the New Orleans Saints on Jan. 14. After the "Minnesota Miracle," we are far more likely to think of Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs than Erik the Red or Leif Eriksson.
Just how different are today's Vikings (more specifically Minnesota Vikings fans) from the Vikings from our history books? Who better to ask than the experts?
Tim Jorgensen is the director of Viking Connection, a program run by the Historical and Cultural Society in Moorhead. He has also coordinated the Midwest Viking Festival, a celebration of Viking culture. He and Kyle Jameson are both members of the River Ravens, a Viking-age living history group. They have also both worked as gatekeepers at Minnesota Vikings games while the team played at TCF Bank Stadium, the temporary home of the team.
Paul Bougie is one of the most well-known Minnesota Vikings fans in the region. The long-time radio personality and member of The Front Fenders band is also the featured Vikings fan in television commercials for Fargo restaurant Tailgators. Jorgensen, Jameson and Bougie all showed up at the base of the Viking ship at the Hjemkomst Center to spell out the differences in Vikings of past and present.
Historical Vikings wore wool, linen and animal skins. Colors came from the natural dyes from plants. Men wore tunics and trousers while women wore long dresses with pinafores. Cloaks would protect them from the cold winter winds.
Minnesota Vikings fans have a lot more options than the Vikings of old. Clothing options are nearly limitless for men, women and children. Authentic NFL jerseys are a favorite. But whose jersey is most popular? According to NFLShop.com, Adam Thielen jerseys are the top-selling Vikings jersey and the fifth best-selling among all teams. How's that for home state pride? (Thielen hails from Detroit Lakes, Minn.)
Everyone knows that real Vikings wore horned helmets, right? It's on the Minnesota Viking logo and in cartoons like Hagar the Horrible. But the fact is, the horns are a myth created in the 19th century when costume designer Carl Emil Doepler drew them for Norse characters in the Wagner opera "Der Ring des Nibelungen." He might have been inspired by the entrenched belief that Vikings were barbarians and pagans with horns like Satan. Real Viking helmets were more likely to be made of iron or leather with a guard around the eyes and nose and not a horn in sight.
Today's Minnesota Vikings' fan is far more likely to wear a horned helmet than his or her ancestral counterpart.
The word "Viking" is believed to have derived from the Old Norse word, "vikingr" which means someone who goes on an expedition or adventure, particularly at sea. All of this traveling was bound to make a Viking hungry. That's why he or she filled up on hearty foods like roasted birds, fish, horse meats, vegetables and fruit.
Today's Vikings usually only walk from parking lots a few blocks from the stadium or across the living room to the kitchen. So nourishment isn't quite as hearty, (but at least it doesn't include horse meat). The choices are almost limitless, but among the most popular selections are nachos, popcorn and hot dogs. A favorite is the Skol dog at the Prairie Dog stand in US Bank Stadium. It features an all-beef hot dog, sweet and smoky bacon jam, yellow mustard and purple potato chips.
Real Vikings drank ale, mead and buttermilk on a daily basis. For today's Vikings fans, it's mostly pop or beer — lots of beer, including Minnesota's own Grain Belt, Lift Bridge or Summit.
During the Viking age, Old Norse, a North Germanic language, was the language of choice. Jorgensen and Jameson say Viking language is probably closest to today's Icelandic language. The popular phrase "Skol" was used, but was more likely pronounced "Skull," which is appropriate given the folklore behind the word. Viking warriors were said to drink beer or mead from the skulls of their opponents after battle. Other accounts say the skol was simply a bowl shared among friends and "skol" was a way of saying "Cheers" to someone you respect.
Bougie says you probably can't print some of the words uttered by Vikings fans, especially during the heartbreaking, snakebit moments in their history. But he and "real" Vikings Jorgensen and Jameson are hoping the curse is over and this weekend and on Feb. 4., they'll all be yelling "Skol!" and celebrating a Super Bowl championship.