Some Minnesota Vikings fans are laying down a couple of hundred dollars for a personalized piece of granite that will line the western plaza of the new stadium.
So far, some 1,600 fans have paid $160, $295 or $360 to buy pavers with sentiments from the nostalgic to the spirited and hopeful.
"Skol Vikings!" likely is the most popular offering. Others express hope: "Super Bowl Championship Banner Coming Soon." Two confident men have purchased pavers to pop the question.
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) started selling the pavers at the end of March. With space for up to 12,000, sales will continue for at least another year — until the plaza is finished. The least expensive paver has less surface area. The other two are bigger, and the most costly one has a Vikings logo.
Affiliating one's self with a pro sports team in this way isn't unique to the Vikings: At Target Field plaza, the Twins offered fans a chance to have their names engraved on wall panels. The MSFA is collecting the money for the Vikings bricks and will use it for plaza enhancements.
Among the fans who bought in was Mike Hatfield of Sebastopol, Calif., whose paver will read, "Lost dime bet on random team vs. Dad's fav in 1970 SB IV, Die-hard Viking." As a 7-year-old in Indiana, he bet against his father's beloved Kansas City Chiefs in the 1970 Super Bowl. "I literally had 15 cents," Hatfield said. His dad bet him a dime.
Somehow losing two-thirds of his net worth started Hatfield's lifelong affection for the purple. "It was hard not to love that team in the '70s," he said.
Hatfield has had season tickets since 1994, flies in for most games and already has seats in the $1 billion stadium that opens for the 2016 season.
Hooked on a feeling
Kerry Cox doesn't get to many games, but he grew up near Pine River and is a long-distance lover of the Vikings from Oklahoma City. His paver will read: "Dad taught me to tune a radio for the 1st Vkg game." Cox said when he was 10, his dad was away for the season opener in 1961 but told him how to hear the game. The Vikings beat the Chicago Bears and he was hooked on the team and its rookie quarterback, Fran Tarkenton.
Now 63, Cox remains a faithful fan with a collection of team helmets with autographs from every member of the Purple People Eaters to Adrian Peterson. Of the paver, he said, "I thought it was a neat idea and I thought it was a nice way to say thank you to dad."
Robert Smiley also recalled his dad with a paver that reads, "In remembrance of Dr. Don Smiley Viking MD 60-81 Smiley Family." Although Smiley lives in Kentucky now, he grew up in Roseville. His orthopedic-surgeon dad was the Vikings team doctor and the family named their German shepherd "Tark" for their favorite player. Smiley said he considers the pavers a "unique enhancement" to the stadium.
"It just helps build the excitement," he said.
Sentimental (and sneaky?)
University of Minnesota associate professor of sports marketing Stephen Ross said commemorative bricks are common now for new sports facilities. "Being a fan of any team for these die-hard superfans becomes a part of their life, they want to be attached," he said.
He calls it a "strong psychological commitment" for fans, but is personally cynical about the "sneaky" ways teams make money. Even if the team doesn't collect the cash, it still goes to offset costs, he said.
The MSFA has guidelines for what can be said on the pavers. No corporate logos, hashtags or telephone numbers, for example. Tanya Dreesen, the Vikings' manager of new stadium partnerships, said sticking with fans only gives the pavers a more "colorful, spirited message."
She said head coach Mike Zimmer was the first staff member to buy a paver. His will read, "Out work. Out run. Out hit. Coach Zimmer."
Lyle Franke's paver will remember his work as a vendor at Vikings' games from 1963 through 2013. "I've worked more events than anyone in Minnesota," he said.
Even when his career took him into the union office as a business agent, he kept working games until a diagnosis of ALS in 2014 sidelined him. His paver will read: "Lyle Franke A Vikings beer vendor over 50 years! An avid fan."
Then there's a 41-year-old man who will use a paver to propose to his longtime girlfriend. He spoke on the condition their names not be used because he's going to wait until the paver is in the ground and he's at the first game with his would-be bride.
The paver has her name and his. In between it reads, "Will you marry me?" He said he will point out the paver, drop to a knee with a ring in hand and ask the question that he's confident his girlfriend will answer affirmatively.
"She will. I have no doubt," he said.