Dedicated Viking ultra-fans a constant presence in stadium debate

Dedicated Viking ultra-fans a constant presence in stadium debate

It’s easy to make fun of people you only see on television, so let’s deal with the pejorative clichés up front. They have jobs. And they don’t live with their parents.

Because the state Legislature did not take up a Vikings stadium bill on Monday, the folks in the purple face paint and funky Vikings costumes will be back at the Capitol on Tuesday, on Wednesday, and as long they need to until they get what they want — an up or down vote.

Preferably up, they hope.

Talk to the ones who are here most often, and you learn they aren’t the drunken screaming yahoos that TV often shows piling out of the Metrodome after Vikings victories. Some are in their 40s or 50s, married, with kids. Through this process, many learned how state government works, and how to talk to lobbyists and elected officials.

“You’ve got to keep your emotions in check,” said Diggz Garza, a 40-year-old from St. Paul who works with developmentally disabled adults at two group homes. “You can’t be out yelling and cursing and screaming, because you’ll get thrown out of there. If you don’t know the process and don’t do it right, they don’t have to time for you.”

The sun had just punched through the overcast on Monday afternoon when Garza returned after a quick change. He arrived earlier at the Capitol in football pants, a No. 19 jersey (combining the numbers of his two favorite Vikings, No. 10 Fran Tarkenton and No. 9 Tommy Kramer) and a helmet with two enormous horns.

But when the Senate adjourned quickly on Monday without taking up the stadium bill, Garza stopped home and changed into a floppy hat, shorts and a purple short-sleeved camo top — standard issue for his military-style group, Vikings World Order.  The top exposed Garza’s burly, heavily tattooed arms.

So why did he spend his day off here?

‘It’s my whole life’

That’s a silly question to ask someone who painted his front sidewalk purple.

“It’s my whole life,” he said. “That’s why I come down here. It’s my team.”

Two of the other 27 VWO members joined him in camo — Josh Lynch, a 27-year-old from Red Wing with an enormous mohawk who deals blackjack on the third shift at Running Aces, and 49-year-old David Gunderson of Brooklyn Park, who works in an electric machinery factory.

“I’ve been following the Vikings since I was 6,” Gunderson said. “They leave, I leave. I’m closing up shop.”

This week, Garza and other supporters will caucus at the hand-painted purple 1997 Chevy Astro Van in front of the Capitol that belongs to Larry Spooner of Plymouth, notable for its vanity plate — SPOON — and the Vikings canopy stretching behind it. A few tossed a football, stopping to return a cheer from the sixth-grade class at Grand Meadow School near Rochester, on a field trip to the Capitol. Seven of the 28 students wore Vikings jerseys.

Long before the Capitol halls attracted people in purple Superman costumes and horned helmets, Spooner was there, offering a fan’s support to various Vikings stadium initiatives. A season ticket holder, Spooner knows so many people in the state government that his application for a permit to park on the Capitol grounds this week was not only approved but expedited.

“I spent $85 on parking last week,” said Spooner, a Vikings cap on his head, and a Vikings satin jacket over a No. 28 Adrian Peterson jersey. “Obviously, I have a lot of passion.”


MinnPost photo by James Nord

The group of supporters thanking (and high-fiving) Rep. John Kriesel for his support.

Now Spooner’s van is the gathering place for like-minded fans, from Garza and two pals in purple fatigues to a blond-haired drifter with a Bible who asked to sit in one of Spooner’s four purple papasan chairs — the big circular numbers that look inviting but tumble over if you’re not careful — to watch his flat-screen TV. (He’s got a DirecTV dish.)

“Do you support public funding for a Vikings stadium?” Spooner asked him. Not taking the hint, the drifter rambled a bit about the Vikings and Alan Page, who he correctly identified as a state Supreme Court justice. So Spooner asked him again, politely adding that anyone opposing a publicly funded stadium could rest a bit but not hang out. That, he got. “Oh, yeah,” he said.

Super-fan Spooner longtime activist

It’s an issue that first brought Spooner, a 51-year-old warehouse supervisor from Plymouth, to the Capitol 15 years ago. Spooner co-chairs Minnesota Momentum, a pro-stadium group sanctioned by the Vikings. (Former coach Bud Grant is another co-chair.) Spooner has testified before various committees as a fan representative, most recently before the Senate Jobs Committee last week.

Among the signs surrounding the van are an oldie but a goodie that dates to at least 2006: “New Stadium Yes/Don’t Let Us Become The 3rd Dakota.” (This, obviously, predates North Dakota’s oil boom.) Another sign asked people to choose between a fixed and retractable roof by signing their names. Spooner stacked the deck on that one, leaving three times as much room in the retractable column for signatures.

Spooner can’t camp out overnight — the permit doesn’t allow it — but expects to be here the next two days as the Legislature tries to finish its business, which he hopes will include a Vikings bill.

“Can my testimony actually change minds? Probably not,” he said. “But what if? What if the one person who changed his mind happened to be the one vote deciding whether this thing goes through or not? Even if the worst happens, I can say I did everything I personally could in my power.”

A sympathetic boss allows Spooner to juggle his schedule and use sick time and vacation days to be here. Spooner’s wife, Lynn, joined him Monday, taking the afternoon off from her job at Starkey Laboratories in Eden Prairie. “When there’s a cause, you find a way,” she said. “I worked a half a day and said, ‘I have to come down.’ ”

The on-site supporters appear more civil that the folks in cyberspace, at least according to several legislators. State Sen. Scott Dibble, an opponent of the stadium bill, said he’s received more vile, vulgar and threatening emails about the stadium than other hot-button issues like same-sex marriage and gun control. He estimated 5 to 10 percent of the hundreds he received, most from outside his district, crossed the line. Dibble is gay, and he said some of the emails contain homophobic slurs.

“I know a lot of people support the stadium with principle and passion. That’s fine,” he said. “I’m not OK with people using swear words, threatening tones, calling people vulgar and vile names. Sometimes I wonder if the lack of personal contact and anonymity email affords somehow gives people permission to forget their manners. Or has political discourse and our civil engagement become that coarse? Do people think they can be more effective the ruder they are?”

Dibble said no stadium supporters on site have approached him. “Just being present, I think that’s fantastic,” he said. “People of all perspectives should be here all the time, calling attention to their issue and to their perspective in whatever creative fashion, in terms of decorum and civility, they can think of.

“My sense is, a lot of those folks are quite jolly and in pretty good humor,” he said. “That’s great. It adds to the theatrics and the color and the interest of the issue we’re debating.”

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/01/2012 - 09:05 am.

    Fans?

    Am I the only one who thinks this is actually kind of sad?

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/01/2012 - 09:18 am.

      No.

      “It’s my whole life.” I feel bad for the kids of a person whose whole life revolves around a losing football team. Heck, I’d feel bad for them even if it was a winning football team.

    • Submitted by mike torres on 05/02/2012 - 02:40 pm.

      My thinking is every Sunday me and my family gather to watch the game and those are priceless moments of family bonding. For everyone to sit here and act like we’re going to lose money on this is ridiculous, we’ll at least make back twice as much. And in closing if this doesn’t past you’ll see how passionate we are in November because we wont forget

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 05/01/2012 - 10:01 am.

    Actually, I feel sad AND bad..

    for people who judge others simply because they feel passsionate about something. Apparently, you’re only allowed to be passionate about certain, pre-approved things.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/01/2012 - 10:23 am.

      Not really

      You can be passionate about something and not have it be your “whole life.” I’m passionate about a lot of things, but the people in my life will always take precedent over those things. Further, I don’t think anyone’s passion is worth a billion dollars to everyone else. Be passionate, fine. But don’t expect me to foot the bill for something only a few people can afford to enjoy when the bill’s all paid up.

      • Submitted by mike torres on 05/02/2012 - 02:45 pm.

        Obviously your don’t know what its like to be passionate about something. Were coming for all the lawmakers against this if it fails,we will have the last laugh

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/01/2012 - 10:34 am.

      It’s a matter of degree…

      Jackson, there is passionate and then there is passion to the level that you’ve lost proportion and good judgement. A guy with purple face paint is not going to be taken seriously. If he can’t see that he has lost his ability to think rationally. You can love a woman but when you “love” so much you’d abandon your life, you’d stalk her, you’d quit your job to follow her around, then you have gone too far. I’d argue that once you start painting your face and wearing a costume it becomes about something other than just being a fan.

      And we are supposed to subsidize these guys to the tune of 77 dollars a ticket. That is sick.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/01/2012 - 10:26 am.

    Pre – approval

    I’m not saying a persons not allowed, I’m just saying it can be sad. The Vikings are your life?

  4. Submitted by Peter Mikkalson on 05/01/2012 - 10:41 am.

    Re: OTT Vikings Fans

    What a perfect union: ding dongs with no jobs (and no prospects) shilling for millionaire absentee owners, from the majority (average taxpayers) simply trying to avoid either extreme.

  5. Submitted by Jason Walker on 05/01/2012 - 11:03 am.

    “I love them” is not enough

    The only reason these fans give for wanting the stadium is, “I love the Vikings.” “They’re my whole life.” That’s not a good reason. I am passionate about beer, but I don’t expect the state to give $400 million to Summit to build a new brewery. That’s absurd.
    These guys have to do more harm than good to their cause. It’s hard to take seriously a grown man in face paint and purple regalia. If people took all the time wasted on the Vikings and spent it doing something that actually benefited the public – now that would be something to be passionate about.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Anderson on 05/01/2012 - 11:55 am.

    Homeless people with no place to go are sad. This is just pathetic. These are grown men.

  7. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/01/2012 - 01:35 pm.

    Here’s an idea

    How about these ultra-fans chip in and pay for the stadium themselves? Leave the rest of us out of it.

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