McFeely: Local Vikings fans not feeling the heat in Philly
PHILADELPHIA — Eric Naatz might be the outlier in this city—a Minnesota Vikings fan who got harassed by Philadelphia Eagles fans.
Naatz is a Wheaton, Minnesota, native who played college football at Minnesota State University Moorhead in the late 1980s and graduated from North Dakota State University. He was walking down Market Street downtown near Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in his purple Vikings hoodie on Saturday, Jan. 20, when a car passed and the passenger rolled down a window to deliver a succinct message.
"(Expletive) you!" the Eagles fan yelled at Naatz, accompanying his words with a one-finger salute.
Naatz, who now lives in San Jose, California, said that moment has been the exception.
"Most people have been very nice. Other than that one person going around being crazy, we've been treated well. But we'll see how it goes tomorrow," Naatz said.
Is Naatz brave enough to wear purple to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, when the Vikings play the Eagles in the NFC Championship with a berth in the Super Bowl on the line?
"Dang right," Naatz said without hesitation.
That is a courageous outlook, considering all the warnings put forth by media and travel agencies in Minneapolis and Philadelphia about possible harassment or violence that might be directed toward Vikings fans in this allegedly rough-and-tumble sports town. Flight attendants were telling Vikings fanatics coming here to tone down their clothing. Philadelphia residents on those same flights concurred.
"I think the stories you hear happened 15 years ago," said Vikings fan Paul Ellefson of Milnor, North Dakota, who was walking with his wife, Luann, near the Liberty Bell. "I think they've cleaned things up. Everybody has been really nice to us."
Then again, Ellefson wasn't wearing anything purple that was too visible. He had on an NDSU windbreaker and was wearing a Bison cap. Peeking out above the zipper of his jacket was a hint of a Vikings T-shirt.
Dean and Sandy Eggermont of Moorhead, Minnesota, are also in town for the game. Dean's sister bought several family members tickets to the game, including their 82-year-old father from Marshall, Minnesota, who is a massive Vikings fan. The Eggermonts don't feel too passionate about the Vikings, but are united in their love for injured Eagles quarterback and former Bison Carson Wentz.
"Since Carson isn't playing, I am totally 100 percent cheering for the Vikings," Sandy said. "If he was playing, there might be some plays when I'd be cheering for him. But with him out, it's all Vikings."
Dean was wearing an NDSU T-shirt while touring the historical sites downtown and said he and his wife brought along Bison stocking hats to wear to show their support for Wentz—and to avoid any potential problems with Eagles fans.
"My dad is a crazy Vikings fan. He'll be wearing the braids, the hat," Dean said. "He's a party guy, loves a crowd, loves excitement. We're just here to have fun. We hope nobody gets hurt and we're hoping for a good game."
A good game for NDSU graduates Mason Gast of Wahpeton, North Dakota, Morgan Lubben of Buffalo, Minnesota, and Brady Vandenberghe of Fridley, Minnesota, would be a Vikings victory. They booked flights to Philadelphia on their phones just minutes after Minnesota pulled off a shocking victory over New Orleans in last week's playoff game and spent more than $700 each for their tickets to Sunday's game.
They arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon and were walking downtown—of course—not wearing Vikings gear. They, too, had heard the warnings about the potential for trouble. Gast and Lubben were wearing Bison pullovers and Vandenberghe wore a Minnesota Gophers shirt—although underneath he wore a Vikings T-shirt.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Lubben said. "This might be it. The Vikings might finally do it."
After making four Super Bowls in the 1970s, the Vikings have failed several times to get back to the big game. The Miracle in Minneapolis victory over the Saints has fans believing the franchise's luck has changed.
Eagles fans feel the same way about their team. Philadelphia won an NFL championship in 1960, long before the birth of the Super Bowl. The Eagles have appeared in two Super Bowls, but haven't won one.
Both fan bases feel their team is overdue for a title, fueling the passionate support they are showing.
But as far as Eagles fans being nasty to Vikings fans in this great old city, there hasn't been much of that. Of course, there is much time and much alcohol to be consumed before Sunday's nighttime kickoff. We'll see how friendly the City of Brotherly Love is on game day—especially if the Vikings win.