Vikings fans flock to watch party to catch playoff game against 49ers

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Minnesota Vikings fan Tyrmaine Butler of St. Paul
Minnesota Vikings fan Tyrmaine Butler of St. Paul poses for a photo with former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper at a playoff watch party on Saturday at Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minn.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Updated: 3:27 p.m.

Nearly two thousand miles from the on-field action, die-hard Minnesota Vikings fans swarmed an official watch party Saturday to be around others drenched in purple-and-gold passion.

The Vikings distributed 1,700 free tickets to the event — a first for the team — at the Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake. Some in attendance said they wanted to feed off the energy of their fellow fans rather than hole up in their own basement for the showdown with the host San Francisco 49ers.

“Camaraderie. A lot of Vikings fans. Got the Skol Line, rally towels. Better than sitting in a normal bar,” said Aaron Eckley of Minneapolis, who put his nervousness level at a seven on a scale of one to 10.

Jason Anderson of Burnsville came in head-to-toe Vikings gear — flannel pants, jersey, necklace, foam finger and hat. He said he hoped his attire would bring his favorite team luck — but knows that history hasn’t always been kind.

“Maybe we’ll win. That’s been our motto for as long as I can remember — at least since the Metrodome age, hasn’t it?” Anderson said. “I mean, we haven’t won one Super Bowl. We always have that Vikings funeral where we go all the way and just get rammed down.”

Fans gather for a Minnesota Vikings playoff watch party
Fans gather for a Minnesota Vikings playoff watch party on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, at Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minn.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Tyrmaine Butler of St. Paul, a season ticket holder, voiced confidence that his favorite squad would punch a ticket to the NFC Championship game and the chance to get to a Super Bowl.

“We are a team that’s an underdog, and I like that role. I think Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook and the defense are just going to show up and show what Minnesota is. It’s the mighty, mighty north. It’s laughable that people are nervous,” Butler said. “I understand nervousness, but I have 100 percent faith in Mike Zimmer and the team. It’s just that simple.”

Butler said if the Vikings head to the Super Bowl, he’s going, too — apologizing to his fiancee, who attends games with him but wasn’t at Saturday’s party. “Sorry babe, that’s where the money for the wedding is going to go,” he said.

Fans at the watch party were handed purple “Go Get It” towels to wave during the game. Beforehand they got to have their picture taken with former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

Of course, the team’s traditional “Skol” chant reverberated through the room, where eight giant screens projected the game coverage.

Not everyone in attendance considered themselves Vikings fans.

Debbie Smaby of Eagan (lower left) showed up in a Green Bay Packers shirt
Debbie Smaby of Eagan (lower left) showed up in a Green Bay Packers shirt at a Minnesota Vikings playoff watch party on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, at Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minn.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Debbie Smaby of Eagan showed up in a Green Bay Packers shirt. Asked if people were shooting her sideways looks, she nodded.

“Just a few — as in many,” said Smaby, a La Crosse, Wis., native. “As long as it’s in fun, it’s OK.”

A staff member scanning tickets pointed her to the merchandise stand. “Hey I hope you have a terrible day today,” the ticket taker said to Smaby with a joking smile. “Thank you for coming.”

For the record, Smaby wanted a Vikings victory. Couple that with a Packers win against Seattle on Sunday, that would set up a Vikings-Packers game next weekend at Lambeau Field with a Super Bowl trip on the line.

It’s a scenario Eckley relishes.

“I would love to beat Green Bay to go to the Super Bowl,” he said.