Larry Spooner sent me an e-mail earlier this week, pointing out the season-opening Vikings tailgate would be located in a parking lot on Chicago Avenue, between Washington Avenue and Third Street.
I first ran into Larry on Nov. 30, 2008, when the Vikings were hosting Chicago in a Sunday night game. The Star Tribune had a press box full of reporters covering that game, so I went roaming through the parking lots on that frozen night, looking for a column.
Larry was out there, cooking racks of ribs and getting ready to watch the game on a large television. His tickets were being used by friends, as was the case for most games. Spooner admitted then and admits today that the tailgating and the camaraderie are what inspire his Vikings' fanaticism.
On Friday, Spooner said: "There is a big bunch of us going to the game in Dallas. None of us has tickets. We do have a prime place in the parking lot across the road from the stadium. We'll be there, showing our pride in the Vikings. It's going to be great.''
Are you going to get a ticket? "Probably not,'' he said.
Spooner told me this at noon. He had been in the parking lot since 4 a.m., setting up, getting the coals started on the grills, and starting the slow cooking of his ribs.
Larry became a local media celebrity with his loud, goofy behavior at the State Capitol during the days leading up the passage of a Vikings' stadium bill on May 10, 2012. Clearly, the e-mail I received this week wasn't an isolated case of Spooner notifying the media as to his planned whereabouts on Friday.
One local TV station did a live standup with Spooner at daybreak. Two other TV stations showed up to do interviews with Spooner during the hour I was hanging around with the early-arriving, hardcore fans in the parking lot.
There will be a column on this subject in Sunday's Star Tribune, with another Vikings fan and pro-stadium zealot -- Bill Keech of LeCenter -- as the main character.
I don't know if my reaction to obsessed fans is more amusement or puzzlement. I think it would be a benefit for a sportswriter and sports radio host of my seniority to be able to claim that he understands the mentality, the motivation, with hardcore fans.
The truth is, I'm so far removed from fandom that I can only listen to what the zealots have to say ... I can't get inside their heads.
As a kid in the 1950s, I anguished every time the Gophers took the football field. I learned that from my Dad. When the Twins came to town, I was 15 and as faithful to their fortunes as could be. And the Sunday that the Vikings debuted as a franchise with Fran Tarkenton's frantic destruction of the Chicago Bears at Met Stadium ... goose bumps.
But in 1966, I took a job as a 20-year-old sportswriter at the Duluth News-Tribune, and deadlines started to become a more vital thing in my life than who won or lost.
I went to work for he St. Paul newspapers in September 1968. I've spent 45 years fretting more about finding an angle than who won or lost.
And through those years, I've wondered:
If I hadn't stumbled into the sports media, would I have been a guy wearing a jersey of several XLs, getting to the area of the stadium hours early, drinking for hours on asphalt through my middle age?
Would I have left the Metrodome cursing a missed field goal by Gary Anderson, or figuring out a way to get to New Orleans for the big game, only to die a little when Brett Favre threw an interception?
I'm pretty sure the "drinking on asphalt'' wouldn't have been part of it, since I've been sober since 1981. And I don't think I could've carried my teenage zealotry through the decades, but I can't be sure.
If I'd figured out a way to get a government job, and not in this line of work, maybe I would've been a suffering, celebrating zealot, rather than a very interested party.
As mentioned, it's been so long since that was the case, I can't really relate ... I can only listen.
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