To go, or not to go, was never a question.
Not for Vikings fan Dave Gunderson, who is driving 18 hours to Philadelphia even without a game ticket.
Not for Harlan and Christina Hegna, who plan to be at Sunday night’s game and back in the Twin Cities to drop their twin toddlers at day care Monday morning before going to work.
Not for Carol Jensen, a season-ticket holder and lifelong fan who decided to go to Philadelphia after Sunday’s walk-off Minneapolis Miracle touchdown.
Across Minnesota, a purple army of unknown size but intense passion is going to extremes to ensure Vikings players see purple and gold amid the green and white of Philadelphia Eagles fans at the NFC Championship Game.
“I can’t afford airfare; she can’t afford airfare,” said the 54-year-old Gunderson, who is driving with fellow fan Melissa Fennessy. “We’re just going to talk and stay awake the whole way.” Even if they don’t score game tickets, “We’re in the area,” Gunderson said.
Sun Country Airlines sold out two charter flights that went on sale after the win over New Orleans late Sunday. Each aircraft seats 168 people. The flights will leave at 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Sunday and touch down in Minneapolis less than 24 hours later — 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. A first-class ticket was $999. Coach seats went for $599.
To bring everyone together, Harlan Hegna created a Facebook group, “Vikings NFC Championship Tailgating” for Minnesotans going to Philly. He started with six members and by late Friday, he had more than 200 travelers planning a pregame tailgating meetup in the M and N lots. (That’s right, M-N. Could it be a sign?)
The Hegnas found a $650 package for round-trip airfare to Baltimore, a hotel and a rental car. The 32-year-old parents, who live in Eden Prairie, will drive 90 minutes from Baltimore to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Sunday. They’ve got $800 lower-level seats and a 6 a.m. return flight Monday. They’ll land in the Twin Cities, pick up their 2-year-old sons, take them to day care and head straight to work.
“It’s going to be a crazy weekend, but that’s how much we want to be at the Vikings game,” Harlan Hegna said. “It’s an experience.”
Like the Hegnas, season-ticket holders Tomas and Kyli Cruz of Lakeville, didn’t debate before working out child care and travel plans after Sunday’s emotional win. “I’ve had season tickets for a little over 10 years. I’ve been through them all since they were 3-and-13 and 13-and-3,” said Tomas Cruz, 39. “You feel a little invested in it. The whole family’s into it. From an entertainment standpoint, it’s where we spend our money.”
The couple will be in a group of five that plans a whirlwind visit to the Liberty Bell and the Philadelphia Museum of Art to run the Rocky stairs (as in underdog boxer Rocky Balboa in the 1976 classic movie). For direct flights, they paid $800 each and purchased mid-level 50-yard-line seats for $700 each, said Cruz.
That was a bargain compared to the market later in the week. On Friday nosebleed standing-room-only tickets were going for almost $600. Ticket reseller TicketIQ said the game is the most expensive NFC Championship Game they’ve seen with an average ticket price of $1,280. Tickets for the AFC Championship game were about $100 cheaper on average.
With temperatures expected in the low 50s and no rain, snow or wind in the forecast, the trip almost qualifies as a tropical getaway for Minnesotans.
Jensen, 65, of Austin, and daughter Jessica McGuire, 42, bought lower-level seats for $1,100 and scored packages of $350 each for flights, a car and hotel room.
Jensen and McGuire are both members of the fan posse that calls itself Vikings World Order. They know about fickle football fortunes. Jensen said she had planned to follow the Vikings to the Super Bowl in Miami in 2010. But the Vikings lost to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship in the Superdome.
“They keep saying, ‘One game at a time,’ ” Jensen said. But if they don’t get past this game there isn’t another.
Jensen’s got a head-to-toe costume she’s worn to games for years. Her daughter’s got an Adam Thielen jersey. Is she worried about the gear among Philadelphia’s notoriously tough Eagles’ fans?
“I’ve never gone to a game without wearing a costume, so I’m not going to stop now,” Jensen said.
Tom Stritecky, a lifelong Vikings fan from Sioux Falls, S.D., currently snowbirding in Fort Myers, Fla., will meet up with five friends from the Midwest in Philadelphia. They, too, plan to be well-behaved. “You’ve got to be careful, they get kind of ornery,” Stritecky said, adding that they will travel in a group, wear purple and “everyone’s going to keep their yap shut.” They’ll cheer for the Vikings, but they won’t jeer or taunt Eagles fans.
Some of these Vikings fans were alive in 1977, the last of Minnesota’s four losing Super Bowl appearances. These hard-core fans stick with the team in good and bad. They’re hoping, of course, for a win, but will return with memories of the journey no matter the outcome. True Vikings fans that they are, they’re wary of talking about their hopes.
“I feel it happening,” McGuire said. “If not, it will be a long flight home.”
Cruz said he had planned to go to the Super Bowl regardless of the teams, but decided to follow the Vikings instead. If the Vikings bring it home with a win Sunday, Cruz will be tempted by those $4,000-plus seats for the big one back home on Feb. 4. “My emotions might get the best of me,” he conceded.