In the midst of a 26-16 victory over Detroit on Sunday, Minnesota Vikings fans at the team's home opener at TCF Bank Stadium noticed someone missing.
Ragnar, the team's bearded, motorcycle-riding mascot for more than two decades, wasn't there. And in a Facebook post that day, Ragnar — whose real name is Joe Juranitch — made it clear that it wasn't because he didn't want to be there.
"It doesn't feel right sitting at home," read the post, which was paired with a photo of Ragnar looking forlorn with the game on TV in the background. "This is not by my choice … I don't make those decisions. At this point it was made for me. I miss all my fans and your support … let's all stay positive as we move forward."
The Vikings confirmed Monday that they had parted ways with Ragnar, offering few specifics in a statement other than to say that the two sides couldn't reach terms on a new deal. Messages left for Juranitch were not returned.
The Vikings' statement read: "This offseason, Joe Juranitch's (Ragnar) contract with the Vikings expired. Since then the team has had multiple conversations with Joe but has not been able to reach an agreement on his role with the team moving forward. The Vikings greatly appreciate what Ragnar has meant to the organization and to the fans over the last two decades. We intend to honor his 21 seasons on the field during a 2015 Vikings home game and we will welcome him to future ceremonial events. We will always consider Ragnar an important part of Vikings history."
Ragnar had asked for $20,000 per game over the next 10 years, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. With eight regular-season home games per season, that would be $1.6 million over the decade. He had made about $1,500 per game last year, according to the source.
Ragnar first appeared at a Vikings game in 1994 after winning the job over 15 other finalists. Since 2007, he has been coexisting alongside newer mascot Viktor.
"Knowing kids like I do, if you win the heart of a child, you're going to win the adults," Juranitch said in a 2013 Star Tribune story. "You couldn't argue with the response that I got."
That support endures. Brad Onstad on Monday started a petition on Change.org to "reinstate one of the greatest mascots in the history of the NFL, and sports in general." By late evening, it had garnered more than 7,800 signatures.
Onstad, 46, considers himself a die-hard Vikings fan. He said he got to know Juranitch 30 years ago when he was a student at Minnetonka High School and Juranitch was an employee.
"He was a great guy when I knew him," Onstad said.
Facebook comments on Ragnar's post had a similar tenor: "Miss you!!! Bring back Ragnar!! Vikings aren't the same without you!!!!" read one.