When it comes to pregame trash talk, NFL fans need look no further than Bloomington’s Mall of America.
As a line snaked outside the Rybicki Cheese shop for free samples Saturday afternoon, Minnesota Vikings enthusiasts heckled customers for associating themselves with the Green Bay Packers merchandiser. Few dared to venture inside for some cheese while wearing purple.
The good-natured razzing came on the eve of yet another border battle between the arch rivals.
“We tell them we haven’t lost a Vikings fan yet, so we give them a hard time,” said co-owner Carrie Rybicki-Olds. The Packers fans are “pretty harmless; it’s all in fun,” she said.
Although both teams have already secured spots in the playoffs, Sunday night’s title game at Lambeau Field will determine the NFC North champions — a title the Packers have held the past four years. Bragging rights are on the line, along with a home-field advantage heading into the playoffs.
While walking by the shop, Daniel Vukelich’s girlfriend jokingly asked the Vikings superfan if he was sure he didn’t need to pick up some Packers gear. “I would never be caught dead in that store,” he said with a laugh.
The Crosby, Minn., native planned to head back Up North to watch the game with extended family on Sunday. His family will deep-fry a turkey for the occasion.
“[Growing up in Minnesota], you either bleed purple or you bleed green,” he said while donning a Vikings jacket. “We’re in an upswing, so it’s a good time to be a Vikings fan. This is huge. I have goose bumps just talking about it.”
Green Bay fans looking for unique memorabilia can find just about anything at Rybicki’s, a family business that ships cheese and Packers souvenirs all over the country. Cheesehead hats and cheese curds were the hottest-selling items Saturday, Rybicki-Olds said, but devotees in the market for a Packers crockpot or a stone bust of quarterback Aaron Rodgers were also in luck.
Jake Westlie, of Willmar, Minn., bought his 6-year-old son, Jude, a cheesehead shaped like a baseball cap in preparation for the big game. Most of Westlie’s friends growing up were Packers fanatics, and he’s become one too, he said.
“I get plenty of grief for it, but I just ask [Vikings fans] how many Super Bowl rings they have,” he said.
Two floors below the cheese shop, Minnesota gear was flying off the shelves at the Vikings Locker Room, the official team store. Customers streamed in all day, and Stefon Diggs and Harrison Smith jerseys had run out of popular sizes by midafternoon, said assistant store manager Nikki Lillo.
Purple-donning fans tried on Helga hats and outfitted entire families in one shopping spree. Anna Richards, of Duluth, helped her two young daughters pick out T-shirts to rep the team in front of her Packers-loving sister.
“The kids have been instructed that they need to wear their Vikings gear when she’s around,” Richards said.
The girls’ uncle, Tim Erikson, said Minnesotans have their pride riding on this game. “It gets to you. You see the way the Packers have dominated the Vikings the last five years,” he said. “If we win, it will be a big deal.”
Vikings trash can: $24. Team BBQ set: $35. Purple high-heel wine holder: $50. An overdue victory for die-hard Vikings fans: priceless.