More than two decades ago, Paul Holmgren, Minnesota born and raised, said he did a “knucklehead thing” when he bought a Vikings cap and put it on before walking the sideline of his beloved team during a game against the Eagles at Veterans Stadium.
On the sideline, Holmgren was talking to Vikings backup quarterback Rich Gannon, a Philly native who was a huge Flyers fan, when the shouts began from Eagles fans.
“Some fans recognized me and started screaming, ‘You’re a [expletive] traitor!’” Holmgren, now the Flyers’ president, recalled the other day with a chuckle.
“I thought, ‘Holy — , I’m just rooting for my childhood team.’ But that’s the passion of Philadelphia sports fans.”
He received lots of insults, but no snowballs.
“Only because it wasn’t snowing,” he cracked.
Fast-forward to Sunday evening, when the Eagles will face the Vikings in the NFC championship game at Lincoln Financial Field.
Holmgren has a rooting problem.
Being connected to the Philadelphia area for 39 years and being friends with some of the Eagles’ front-office staff, Holmgren roots for the Birds each week.
“I go to their training camp a lot,” he said. “I’m an Eagles fan, and this is a tough one because it’s my two teams, really.”
He kidded that he may have to wear two hats on Sunday and that he can’t lose because he will be happy for whichever team advances.
In his heart of hearts, however, “it’s hard for me not to root for the Vikings,” he conceded.
“It would be cool if the Vikings could play in a Super Bowl in their own hometown,” he said, mindful the game will be held in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.
Holmgren was a standout two-way high school football player in Minnesota, but he eventually gave up the sport for hockey. He still feels a connection to Minnesota and its teams.
“I grew up in St. Paul, so since I can remember, I’ve been a Vikings fan. I’m a Minnesota sports fan,” said Holmgren, 62, who, like everyone else, didn’t think his team had a chance when it was 61 yards away in the closing seconds of last week’s miracle win over the New Orleans Saints. “I grew up that way, and sports have been a big part of my life since I was a little kid.”
He can painfully recall the Vikings’ four Super Bowl losses. He can tell you about the exploits of the defensive linemen known as the “Purple People Eaters” back in the day. He can talk with expertise about guys like Joe Kapp, Fran Tarkenton, Bill Brown, Paul Krause, Mick Tingelhoff, and Fred Cox.
Asked if he remembered much about the Super Bowl losses, it took Holmgren less than a split second to respond.
“Kansas City, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Oakland,” he shot back, referring to defeats from 1970 to 1977. “They still hurt.”
As for Sunday’s game, Holmgren thinks the Eagles will win and advance to the Super Bowl.
“It’s tough to win on the road in the playoffs, especially because I know the fans are going to be loud in that game,” he said. “You’ve got the NFC championship game on your home turf and everybody should be ready, including the fans.”