The Detroit Lions, the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers and the Vikings have been in the same division since Minnesota was placed in the NFL West as an expansion team in 1961.
The Vikings have been a successful regular-season franchise, and a tidy share of that can be traced to two games per season vs. Detroit. The Vikings are 78-39-2 all-time vs. the Lions, in contrast to 61-57-2 vs. the Bears and 55-63-3 vs. the Packers.
Bud Grant's road to the NFL Hall of Fame would have been more difficult without a 26-8-1 record vs. the Lions. Brad Childress and Mike Tice were a combined 16-1 vs. Detroit.
The Lions have been the comfort animal for the Vikings, including a current seven-game winning streak that has pushed Mike Zimmer's record to 64-47-1.
Frank Ragnow, Chanhassen High, Class of 2014, is not promising to change that for the Lions. What he does promise is maximum effort in trying to do so.
"The goal never changes," Ragnow said. "You're always trying to win the next ballgame. Prepare 100 percent. Play 100 percent."
Ragnow demonstrated this last Dec. 13, when the Lions (5-7) were playing a last-chance game vs. Green Bay in Ford Field. Ragnow, in his third season, had been the Lions center for 100% of the 2020 snaps at that point.
He maintained that streak in a 31-24 loss to the Packers, even though his awkward hit on a double team against a linebacker in the first quarter led to a Laryngeal fracture.
That's a broken throat.
Ragnow quickly knew there was something wrong, not from the pain that's part of life for an NFL lineman, but when he tried to talk.
"My voice went from 100 percent to a broken squeaky dog toy," Ragnow said in February on the weekly "Unrestricted with Ben Leber" podcast.
"I missed the two games after Green Bay, but then played all the snaps the last game against the Vikings," he said last week. "No problems now. I'm 100 percent ready to play."
And in other areas. The Lions first confirmed last week a record contract for Ragnow as an NFL center. The new deal replaced the two years remaining on Ragnow's original contract as the 20th overall selection in the 2018 draft and adds three years:
In total, five years, $70 million, with $42 million guaranteed.
"I'm very fortunate, but I'm going to be the same guy," Ragnow said. "I'm not going to change, although I might buy some new fishing equipment."
Starting with a boat?
"No, I did that when I signed my first contract," he said.
Ragnow and his fiancée Lucy Rogers, also a Chanhassen graduate and former athlete (gymnast), could also upgrade the centerpieces when they get married in June.
Frank has been home in Minnesota and has had a couple of brief meetings with new Lions coach Dan Campbell. He has not yet met new quarterback Jared Goff other than on Zoom.
"One great thing is that Hank Fraley stayed as our coach for the offensive line, and he's great," Ragnow said.
He offers that salute to several coaches, and those accolades come off as fully sincere.
Bret Bielema was the head coach that recruited him to Arkansas. When Frank's father and role model, Jon, died suddenly of a heart attack during the 2016 season, shattering Frank, Bielema and his wife flew back with him to Minnesota.
"Bret's a great human being," Ragnow said. "He can be blunt, but he cares deeply about his players. I'm rooting for him to do well at Illinois."
He's also rooting for Sam Pittman, the second Arkansas head coach since Bielema was fired after the 2017 season.
"Sam was my line coach for my first two seasons at Arkansas," Ragnow said. "He's an amazing person."
Ragnow said the schools recruiting him, including Minnesota, all saw him as a left tackle.
"Bret and Sam said, 'You're going to be a center,' " he said.
Left tackles make a lot of money. Recently, centers have started to get deserved respect in that area — and Ragnow is now Example A.
There was another monumental event for Frank at the same time contract negotiations were ending: a deep-sea fishing excursion out of Fort Myers, Fla., with his brother Jack and friends.
"Out of one boat, we caught four and took photos with four Goliath groupers over 300 pounds, and also giant stingray," Ragnow said. "That thing was amazing … 160 pounds. Captain Bo Johnson's boat. Look him up."
Ragnow's passion for fishing can be traced to a cabin in Canada that has been in the family for over a century, with access only by boat or floatplane.
Frank Ragnow, the affable, line-moving standout, was given a question he wouldn't answer.
"I'm going to keep that to myself," he said. "The fish up there don't need more company."
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