When most of his friends lived for the green and gold, Chip Ek swam against the current.
Ek, born in Shell Lake, Wisconsin, became a Vikings fan in Packers territory at just 6 years old. He and his family moved to a small town just north of Green Bay and lived across the street from Bob Mercer, a longtime friend of Bud Grant.
“I became a Vikings fan because of Mr. Mercer’s relationship with Bud,” Ek said. “My brother Jeff had an opportunity to go fishing with Mr. Mercer and Bud, and at that time he made a bet with Bud [about Bill Brown's production] that year.
“He lost that bet,” Ek added with a laugh. “I think it was a dollar, so my brother mailed Bud 100 pennies.”
Ek’s father worked for a boat manufacturer from whom he received Packers season tickets to take each of his sons to a game of their choice.
“I had chosen the Vikings-Packers game, of course,” Ek said. “I was so excited about it. I wrote a letter to Mr. Grant, and I asked him if I could meet him after the game.”
Following a Vikings 28-17 win at Lambeau Field, Grant and the other coaches and players exited through a fenced-in area that led to the team bus. As Grant walked along the pavement, Ek caught his attention through the chain links.
“I yelled, ‘Hey Bud, Bob Mercer says hello!’ ” Ek recalled. “And he walked over and said, ‘Oh, you must be one of the Ek boys.’ ”
Grant proceeded to sign a game program for Ek and his friend, and other players also stopped to provide autographs for the boys as they walked past.
Sundays were spent watching football at the Jensen home.
As far back as Jill (Jensen) Swofford can recall, she watched Vikings games along with her parents, who in their mid-80s continue to religiously follow the team.
For Swofford, it was second nature to be settled in front of the television before kickoff.
“I clearly remember having some of my girlfriends come over on a Sunday, and I looked at them and asked, ‘Well, where should we watch it?’ And they responded, ‘Watch what?’ ” Swofford said. “They looked at me, and all of a sudden it occurred to me that, ‘Oh. Not everyone watches the Vikings on Sunday.’
“That hadn’t even occurred to me until then,” Swofford added. “I grew up that way, and my parents grew up that way.”
It’s not often that she recalls specifics from the matchups, but one game in 1977 particularly jumped out to Jill at age 9.
On Dec. 4, the Vikings played the 49ers at Metropolitan Stadium. San Francisco racked up a 24-7 lead over Minnesota heading into the fourth quarter, but that’s when Tommy Kramer entered his fifth NFL game.
Grant subbed in Kramer with just over 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and his first play was a 22-yard gain to wide receiver Ahmad Rashad.
Kramer went on to make three touchdown passes, including a 69-yard bomb inside the 2-minute mark to receiver Sammy White, who caught the ball at the 49ers 29-yard line, evaded a tackle and crossed into the end zone to give Minnesota the 28-27 lead over San Francisco.
Swofford was sold.
The Kosteckys are a football family.
Paul Kostecky – now living in Arkansas after relocating from the Twin Cities at the age of 11 – and his family have stayed true to Purple roots that were first planted in Moose Lake, Minnesota.
“I wish I could recall specifically why I chose to write the letter,” Carrie said, her voice trailing off over the phone. “When I was a kid, I used to mail away for things. You could save UPCs of Kool-Aid and mail them in and get prizes. I was into giveaways and mailing things, and [I probably] was hopeful that he would write me back.”
It wasn’t the first time that Carrie had boldly penned a message.
She spoke of her childhood passion for horses and the whimsy that she might actually acquire one. At a young age, Carrie wrote a letter to a program out west with the very real hopes of adopting a wild horse.
“They did send me back a packet of information about how you could adopt a wild horse or donkey,” Carrie quipped. “So it doesn’t surprise me that I would have written Bud Grant a letter.”
In the letter, Carrie told Grant that she wasn’t “really into sports” but confirms now that football was nevertheless a part of her world.
Carrie’s father grew up in Northeast Minneapolis, and her grandfather instilled in him a love for sports.
“I guess it was more of an interest in sports through [my dad]. He used to watch all the games – football, baseball – on TV and would also listen on the radio,” Carrie said. “I would sometimes watch the Vikings games growing up, and they were on the TV on Sundays.”
She remembered that her father and grandfather once met Grant on a fishing excursion – “at Lake Minnetonka or something” – and shared mutual friends with the avid outdoorsmen.
“And we all just knew him as ‘The Coach,’ ” said Carrie, who went on to attend the University of Minnesota and there developed an affinity for college football and an appreciation of the connection between Grant and his alma mater.