Until recently, the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer, a former Illinois State linebacker, never had met the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer, a former Illinois State linebacker.

And no, this wasn’t the result of some existential crisis. Rather, it’s the story of two men in unusually similar circumstances with the same name. It’s the kind of story the media tends to adore, and we’re going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

The first Mike Zimmer, of course, is the new head coach of the Vikings. The second is Mike Zimmer the linebacker, who the Vikings signed recently out of a tryout camp. And yes, they both attended Illinois State and played linebacker there.

But no, until the Vikings started holding informal practices, they never had met.

“I’d heard a lot about him from older alumni, but that’s about it,” the younger Zimmer said.

He had an inkling, though, that they might make an acquaintance. Zimmer graduated from Illinois State in 2013 and spent training camp last year with Jacksonville. When he didn’t stick there, his agent arranged a tryout this year with the Vikings — where Zimmer the player caught the eye of Zimmer the coach for more than just his name.

“He was a good player in college and then he went to Jacksonville a year ago,” Zimmer, the coach, said. “He’s a good, smart, instinctive player. He needs an opportunity like everybody else that is here.”

Still, the humor in the strange name game is not lost on either Zimmer.

“We had player introductions, and I said my name, and he kind of laughed,” the younger Zimmer said. “But other than that, it’s just been passing words, joking around about who was the better athlete in college.”

Teammates have been surprisingly merciful when it comes to teasing, too.

“There have been small jokes,” he said, “but overall the guys have been great.”

It was all business Thursday, as the Vikings went through organized team activities — a pretty fancy string of words that basically amounts to a practice. Zimmer, the player, went through drills while Zimmer, the coach, shouted instructions.

Would it be tough for Zimmer to cut Zimmer? Well, here’s where we find a difference.

Said Zimmer the player: “I would think so, but anything can happen.”

Said Zimmer the coach: “No, it won’t be hard. Hey, they will cut me. I’m not worried about cutting him.”

Michael Rand