MINNEAPOLIS — These Midwestern states of Wisconsin and Minnesota have much in common, including an intense dislike of each other’s football teams.
It’s more polite than the East Coast, but this is a true story: An angry Vikings fan was once arrested for trying to light a Packers backer on fire.
So when Brett Favre called off retirement for a second straight summer and did the unthinkable by signing with the Vikings, that loathing toward the NFL’s all-time leading passer formally shifted east to Wisconsin.
Tonight, Minnesota will host Green Bay at the Metrodome in Favre’s first game against his old team.
The still-strange sight of the soon-to-be-40-year-old quarterback in purple will surely spur passion — and, perhaps, alcohol consumption — to new heights on both sides in a regular-season game for the ages.
“I want the Packers to kill him because they’re the Vikings,” said a smiling Mitch Mikkelson, a Beloit man who wore a Packers cap while eating at a sports bar in Eau Claire this week.
“It’s just, he’s a Viking. Since I’ve been a kid, that’s the team that you hate. Minnesota. Yuck.”
Mikkelson had lunch at Milwaukee Burger Co., whose owners plan to burn a Favre jersey in a parking lot barrel during halftime of today’s game as part of a fire safety fundraiser encouraging Packers fans to get rid of their unwanted Favre memorabilia for a cause.
Julie Kolk, the bar’s manager, said she didn’t expect too many contributions due to the cost of the items. But the place is expected to be packed for the game, with fans of each team in attendance. Eau Claire is in western Wisconsin, less than two hours from the Metrodome.
Favre’s switch has been more than just hype. It’s an emotional event in an area where pro football is always a big deal.
Because they share a border, there are thousands of people in each state who either grew up on the other side or even commute to work across the Mississippi or St. Croix rivers. Minnesota was actually Packers-friendly territory before 1961, when the Vikings joined the NFL, and the rooting roots in each region run deep. Kids taunt each other at school, families feud each fall, and office break rooms are breeding grounds for those heated my-team-is-better-than-yours debates.
Greg LeVevre grew up not far from Lambeau Field. He said he still respects Favre, but can’t stand the sight of him wearing No. 4 for the enemy team.
What’s it like?
“Seeing your ex-girlfriend dating an ugly guy,” LeVevre said. “It is Packers first. It always is. The team won’t go away.”
Baby boomers remember plenty of dominant Packers teams, but for the under-40 crowd Favre is the face of the storied franchise’s mid-1990s resurrection. His risky style has been nerve-racking for fans, but his success, personality, loyalty and durability helped him become an icon in Green Bay. It’s a small, down-to-earth community, not all that different than Favre’s Mississippi home save for colder weather and the absence of southern accents.
That’s why, despite the traitorous view most Packers fans have of Favre right now, there probably won’t be all that many of his green-and-gold jerseys burned in effigy.
Steve Brudos, a native of La Crosse, Wis., now living in the Twin Cities, plans to wear his Favre jersey while he watches the game.
“The Packer one, that is,” Brudos said, in case there was any doubt.