Vikings mascot and No. 1 fan Ragnar was born in Milwaukee on Aug. 17, 1961, once helped raise money at a Packers charity event and has developed a mutual fondness with -- gulp -- Brett Favre!?
"Dangit!" said Joe Juranitch, aka Ragnar, the authentic-looking seafaring Viking, when told he had been exposed by Favre during a conference call with reporters this week.
"Oh, well. You got me. But I think I speak for all of Minnesota and every Vikings fan when I say you have to admire and respect Brett Favre. We'll go out there [today] and yell and scream, 'You're going down, Favre!', but I believe nobody would want to see Brett Favre get hurt. I would have a tough, tough time with that."
Favre will make his 241st consecutive regular season start today when the Packers face the Vikings at the Metrodome. He'll move past former Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff into second place behind former Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall (270). And chances are Favre also will spend some time on the field before the game talking to his favorite NFL mascot.
Last year, when it appeared Favre might be making his final Metrodome appearance, he sought out Ragnar.
"I don't know if you've seen all the important people who are walking around the sidelines before games," Juranitch said. "But Brett walks onto the field, walks right past all those people who are way, way, waaaay more important people than I am. He walks right up to me and says, 'Hey, I'm not sure if I'll be making this trip again. If not, I really enjoyed all your antics throughout the years.' He wished me the best, and I wished him the best. He's a humble man."
Juranitch said the Packers' game is his favorite every year because there's always good, playful interaction with the Green Bay players.
"It's not like the Bears," Juranitch said. "The Bears want to fight."
Juranitch hasn't shaved his beard since he won the Ragnar job among 3,000 applicants in 1994. The last thing he looks like is a dean of students at Hopkins High School, which he is.
First impressions usually aren't accurate when it comes to meeting Juranitch in full Ragnar gear for the first time. That certainly was the case the first time Juranitch crossed paths with Packers security director Jerry Parins.
"Let's just say I don't look like mainstream society," Juranitch said with a laugh. "So here I come out of that Viking ship riding my motorcycle. The crowd is going crazy and I'm pointing at Brett and yelling at him. I never swear or use foul language, by the way, but still, people tend to take a defensive posture when they see me. And Jerry absolutely hated me."
Early in his Ragnar career, Juranitch caught Parins standing too close to his motorcycle.
"I barked at him, 'Get away from my bike!'" Juranitch said. "He started to come back at me, and I winked and said, 'Go ahead, hop on.' Then I asked to try on his Super Bowl ring. I told him, 'Hey, now I'm the only Viking with a Super Bowl ring.'"
The two have been friends since. Two years ago, Juranitch rode his motorcycle to Green Bay, where he participated in and was guest speaker at Parins' Cruise for Cancer bike rally.
"You know, I hated [Juranitch] at first," said Favre, who once accepted a "Ragnar" doll from Juranitch before a game. "He looks real. A couple of years ago, we won the game [on Christmas Eve]. He came over and said, 'Hey, I admire you and respect you. I'm a Vikings fan but I like watching you play.' It was nice. He does a heck of a job for them."
Juranitch said he might approach Favre first today.
"I hear Brett likes to hunt and fish," Juranitch said. "I got a place up in Ely. I might go up [today] and say, 'Let's go up to Ely and go fishing sometime.' Can you imagine Brett Favre and Ragnar sitting on a lake up in Ely?"
Mark Craig firstname.lastname@example.org