Joseph Juranitch, best known as Vikings mascot Ragnar, can empathize with beleaguered quarterback Christian Ponder.
"My fourth game when I first got hired, somebody put up a bedsheet and wrote 'We don't want you, Fagnar,'" he recalled, drawing parallels to the boos the young Vikes passer currently endures. Ragnar's advice for Ponder is the same that fellow mascot Vikadontis Rex gave him: Not everyone is gonna love you.
But most everyone seems to love Juranitch, a man who seemed predestined to roam Metrodome sidelines as Ragnar -- the bearded, tattooed, motorcycle-riding Norseman booster. "When you see me coming out a tunnel, it looks like I should be in a mental hospital," he quipped.
A Wisconsin native, Juranitch grew up in Ely, Minn., and works promoting his family company, Razor Edge Systems Inc. He engaged in competitive beard shaving as a young man, PR stunts that earned him the world record for shaving one's beard with an ax (8 minutes and 43 seconds, according to Ragnar's website).
For Juranitch, 51, the 1980s were marred by alcoholism. After finding God, he's 26 years sober.
"Hopefully, [people struggling with addiction] might take a step back and say 'Hey, Ragnar's right, and I gotta make a change,'" he said.
In 1993, 3,000 applications to replace Vikings mascot Hub Meeds were whittled down to 16 finalists, including Juranitch. Students from the Hopkins school system where he and his wife worked, along with parishioners from their church, turned out to the Mall of America rotunda in droves to support the wannabe mascot.
"Knowing kids like I do, if you win the heart of a child, you're going to win the adults," Ragnar said. "You couldn't argue with the response that I got."
Nearly 20 seasons later, Juranitch still loves his job (other coaches consider him the league's top mascot, he says). His wild-man heart bleeds purple, but he's all about sportsmanship.
Ragnar recalled an early encounter with a young Green Bay quarterback: "He said 'Hi, I'm Aaron Rodgers.' And I said, 'Yes, you are, and lemme tell ya something: You are not a Brett Favre and you never will be -- don't ever let anybody tell ya otherwise.'"