On Jan. 15, 2016, when kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal in the last minute, his misstep foreclosed on yet another Vikings playoffs dream. My disgusted husband reacted by crushing a can of Great Northern beans.
Our then-toddler was napping at the time, but it was understood that generations of Vikings fans before him have crushed cans of beans, and that our son would one day crush his own can of beans.
So I've always been intrigued when I meet someone whose child cheers for the enemy team. What's it like when you can't share your home-team heartbreak — or jubilation — with the person you created?
Sports allegiances can divide families, and in the case of lifelong Vikings fan Jenn Russo, it's pitted her against her Wisconsin-raised husband, Paul, and their three grown children. All of them root for Green Bay.
"They are true Packers fans," she said of her kids. "It is a little disappointing."
Last Sunday at their home in Eden Prairie, Paul and daughter Olivia sat on a separate couch from Jenn as the family and some friends watched the Vikings trounce the Packers. The Russos' retrievers, Cooper and Tucker, also got in on the rivalry, bedecked in Packers and Vikings bandanas that were tucked under their dog collars.
On the family's kitchen counter, a pair of coffee mugs also tell the story of a house divided. One mug is a Vikings cup, and it's right side up. The other mug is a Packers one, and it's upside down. Every week, Jenn and Paul flip over the mug of the losing team. (The Green Bay mug has been down since Sept. 28. Skol!)
The rivalry has always kept their marriage interesting. In 1998, when they traveled to Lambeau Field for a Vikings-Packers game, the couple wore T-shirts saying, "I'm with stupid," an arrow pointing toward the other. And in an act of what could only be described as true love, Paul bought Jenn a Vikings flag to complement his Packers flag, both of which they fly from their front porch. (However, Paul will not let Jenn touch the green and gold, fearful that she'll inadvertently put a hex on Green Bay.)
Daughter Olivia, 23, said even though she's grown up in Minnesota, her father made sure to instill in her a love for the Packers for as long as she can remember. "My dad was the one who would always put me in Packers jerseys," she said. "Through wearing those jerseys, I conformed to being a Packers fan."
But Olivia's parents always let the children choose their team — even if they chose incorrectly, Jenn says.
How do the Russos keep the peace in the house?
"We don't want it to be evil," Jenn said. "We have our mugs and our flags, but we don't trash talk too much. We also don't talk politics."
The person who inspired this column is the great retired columnist Rubén Rosario. When I first met Rosario in the late 1990s, I was in college attending a job fair in Detroit, and he was on the other side of the table, representing the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Having met fewer than a handful of Minnesotans at the time, I was confused by Rosario's thick New York accent — a lasting byproduct of his childhood years in the South Bronx and Manhattan.
"Out of all the teams he could've picked, it was the team from Boston," Rosario said. "You love your kid unconditionally, ya know? But I had some doubts about putting him in the will."
Joking aside, Rosario advises other parents with rebellious children to embrace the rivalry, as long as it doesn't begin to weaken their bond. "I don't think it should ever affect a relationship between a parent and child," he said. "There are more important things in life."
If only the most unruly football fans could take heed. Violent confrontations in stadiums have gone viral, with spectators punching, headbutting and pulling the hair of rival fans.
I witnessed no such behavior a few weeks ago when I attended the Vikings' home game against the 49ers with my husband and sons. (No beans were harmed in the viewing of this game.) In fact, my family and I, all dripping in purple, were a few rows behind a lovely family with clearly mixed loyalties. When the 49ers got a first down, the dad, donning gold chains and a Christian McCaffrey jersey, would reach over his daughter in a Vikings hoodie to high-five his 8-year-old son, also wearing a McCaffrey top.
The dad, Northern California native Scott Gold, told me he met his future wife, Rosanne, at a dog park. They've been married for five years. Her affection for the Vikings was not a problem (if it were the Cowboys, it may have been). His kids are one apiece for San Francisco and Minnesota. "My son was first a Vikings fan, and I kind of converted him," he said.
The night I saw them was their first time attending an NFL game as a family. Last year Rosanne underwent chemo after a cancer diagnosis, and now they're plunging into all the ways they can enjoy life again.
"She's just starting to get back on her feet," Scott said. "It puts life in perspective. You just want to do fun stuff together. Nothing else really matters."
As for the Russos, daughter Olivia said it was always encouraging to grow up with two parents who supported each other despite their differences.
And their rivalry may continue with another generation. Olivia's boyfriend, Graham, is a Vikings fan. Last season they went to a Vikings-Packers game where her beloved Green Bay eked out an upset. She was ecstatic. And in defeat, Graham revealed his character.
"He's a great loser, if I may," Olivia recalled. "He was nice and let me celebrate, which was awesome."