LAS VEGAS — Eric Buring was born in California, grew up in New York and has lived the last 38 years of his life in Alaska. He didn't set foot in Minnesota until the 2000s.
Yet he was standing in a Buffalo Wild Wings just off Las Vegas Boulevard early Friday morning wearing a Vikings sweatshirt as a Twin Cities radio station broadcast live. And live, Minnesota time, meant 4 a.m. Vegas time.
"I was a Fran Tarkenton-Chuck Foreman fan," he said in explaining his long-distance fandom. "And it's the coolest logo in the NFL."
Buring is the president of the Arctic Vikings Club, based in Anchorage, Alaska. The club has operated for nearly 30 years, and about 80 dedicated members meet weekly at the 907 Ale House and Grill in Anchorage to watch games.
When the NFL schedule was released, with the Vikings traveling on this weekend to play the Raiders for their first regular-season game here, Buring had two words for the membership: "Who's going?" Several members jumped on board, and by early Friday morning, some of them had already arrived with others en route. Several thousand — tens of thousands, actually — other Vikings fans had the same idea.
On Friday and Saturday, they arrived in packs — purple-clad Rat Packs. They disembarked from flights landing at Harry Reid International Airport wearing Vikings gear. By noon Friday, hundreds were walking up and down Las Vegas Boulevard toward functions themed just for them, with live music for Vikings fans and purple-and-gold decor.
Opposing fans have rivaled the number of Raiders fans in the stands of Allegiant Stadium here this season. Vivid Seats, a ticket resale site, claims it has developed an algorithm that uses proprietary data (which means we can't check their homework) that determines which team will have the most fans in the stands. As of Friday, Sunday's game was expected to consist of 54% Vikings fans.
After my walkabout Friday, this seems entirely possible.
On the other side of the bar from Buring on Friday morning sat Sheila Roux, who eagerly awaited a "Skol!" chant so she could record it on her phone for posterity.
"Two of my favorite things in one weekend: the Vikes and Vegas," she said.
Roux was born in Bagley, Minn., grew up in Fosston and later moved to Ada, where she graduated from high school. She once held the school record for three-pointers at Minnesota-Crookston before embarking on a coaching career, mostly as an assistant. She did spend one season as head coach of Columbia University. She knows Twins pitching coach Pete Maki, who was at Columbia at the time. She also knows Dawn Plitzuweit, the new Gophers women's coach, and believes she will be successful at Minnesota.
Roux left coaching for commercial real estate in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area but her Minnesota fandom remains strong, as she makes annual spring training trips to watch the Twins. She had a reaction when she saw the NFL schedule including Vikings at Vegas: "How can I make that happen?" she said. "I love Vikes fans and being around Minnesota sports fans, and what better place to do it than Vegas?!"
Roux traveled with her partner, Dan Rooney, who was born in Toronto. As they later ate breakfast at the Ellis Island Hotel and Casino, his day was altered by having to monitor social media to verify if Shohei Ohtani was really visiting the Blue Jays, while Roux sat next to him, in a Vikings shirt, on the phone trying to close a real estate deal back in Florida.
Then, there was George. George is from Hawaii and still lives in Hawaii. But, somehow, he's a Vikings fan.
"The Purple People Eaters, man!" George said as he attended the KFAN broadcast. "I loved that team."
More details from George are lacking because he was disturbed that the questioner was wearing a Bears sweatshirt.
The power of the purple has compelled fans to convene and watch the Vikings attempt to rebound from a stinging loss to Chicago while welcoming back a now-healthy Justin Jefferson. Joshua Dobbs will get the start at quarterback, so he gets to throw to the electrifying Jefferson for the first time. But his leash might be short if continues to be turnover-prone.
With the Packers also at 6-6 and putting heat on the Vikings in the wild-card race the Vikings need to take care of business while their fans tear up the Strip.
The NBA is here this weekend for the semifinals and finals of its first in-season tournament, despite the best team in the league, the Timberwolves, being unable to reach the final four. It's also Cowboy Christmas this week, as the National Finals Rodeo has begun.
But there is plenty of room in Sin City for a Vikings convention, one that includes fans from Alaska, Florida and Hawaii. Out here, it's a weekend of hoops, horseplay and Helga Horns.