As Carson Wentz faces Vikings, he won't have all of Fargo behind him

MINNEAPOLIS -- They'll turn out for Carson Wentz in Fargo, North Dakota, on Sunday, just like they have all season. The No. 11 Philadelphia Eagles jerseys that have been dotting North Dakota State tailgating parties outside the Fargodome all fall will be on the backs of some fans on Sunday. The Herd and Horns, a Fargo bar offering a Philly cheesesteak and a domestic pint for $11, will have Wentz's Eagles on TV this Sunday as usual, and they won't even have to split their allotment of TVs for a separate Minnesota Vikings game.

They'll be cheering for their favorite quarterback in Fargo once again this weekend. It's just that, this week, they might not be cheering for his team.

It's a week of conflicted loyalties in Fargo, which is the home of one of the most dominant college football programs in America but still sits firmly in the middle of Vikings country. North Dakota State -- the winner of the last five FCS national championships -- packs the Fargodome on Saturdays, and Wentz's popularity has only continued to climb since the Eagles traded up to take him second overall in the NFL draft in April. But while the state divides its allegiances between North Dakota State and the University of North Dakota, there is no such confusion for most North Dakotans about the NFL, where the Vikings reign supreme.

"[Fargo fans are] 95 percent Vikings rubes. The Bison are No. 2, generally speaking," said Mike McFeely, a longtime sports columnist for the Fargo Forum who now also talks politics and sports on WDAY-AM in Fargo. "The Vikings are more popular across the board. If you look at the TV ratings and everything else, NDSU does well, but the Vikings are the king."

The ideal scenario for many Fargoans this weekend, then? A solid showing for Wentz -- and a Vikings win.

"Actually, it's not that difficult," wrote Jake Johnson, a North Dakota native and North Dakota State graduate. "Of course I want the Purple to win the game, and by a lot. I want to see Carson make the throws he is suppose to make, not get injured but not take over the game. Carson could easily win governor here if he ran -- that's how much this state backs him -- but above that, this is the Vikings' year. I want Carson to have a decent game, but the Vikes to win by 2-3 scores."

The Bison's run of championships preceded Wentz's arrival -- they won eight Division II titles, claimed three in a row before Wentz became a starter and have seen a smattering of players reach the NFL. Five Bison players were taken in the 11 drafts before Wentz, and offensive lineman Joe Haeg was selected in the fifth round by the Indianapolis Colts this year.

"It seems like every time I turn on a game now, there's a former Bison playing," wrote Ryan Watson, a NDSU graduate who lives in West Fargo, North Dakota. "I was just cheering for the Colts on Sunday night with Joe Haeg starting at right tackle."

But Wentz's popularity has outstripped the program's since he left for the NFL. All five of his games have been broadcast in Fargo, and as Watson said, many Bison fans are cheering for the Eagles on Sundays. McFeely expects it will continue as long as Wentz in the league. As the quarterback climbed to the top of draft boards and drew handfuls of national media members to North Dakota, he lent a dose of legitimacy to what's been going on in the town of 118,000 people.

"Because he’s a starting quarterback in the NFL from an FCS school, many of the locals probably think it’s bigger than it is nationally," McFeely said. "The idea that a kid from North Dakota, who played at NDSU, who led them to two national championships -- and by all indications he’s a good guy -- becomes the No. 2 overall draft choice? Fargo’s a football town. North Dakota’s a football state. It all blends together into the perfect storm."

The only way, perhaps, it would have been more perfect was if the Vikings had somehow needed a quarterback enough to draft Wentz last spring. As it was, he hastened the exit of Sam Bradford from Philadelphia, making it possible for the Eagles to send him to Minnesota once Teddy Bridgewater suffered a torn ACL on Aug. 30.

The story this weekend is primarily about Bradford returning to face his old team. Wentz, on the other hand, will face the team he grew up cheering for.

"At this stage of my life, you no longer have a favorite team," he said. "But it will be cool at the same time, growing up a Vikings fan without a doubt. I've been following them for years. It will be a special one. They present a great challenge -- that's the most exciting part about it. They're coming into our place. Obviously, they're 5-0 and we're looking to change that."

For perhaps the first time since Bison fans learned his name, Wentz won't have the unconditional support of Fargo in his quest this weekend. Some fans in western North Dakota, who live far enough from Minnesota not to have ties to the Vikings, said they'll cheer for the Eagles on Sunday. Many in the state's largest city, though, will put parameters on their support for their native son, if only for a week.

"I'll continue to root for Wentz every other week, and seeing an NDSU player go in the first round and look great in the NFL has fulfilled a childhood dream for many of us," wrote Fargo native and Bison fan Brandon Anderson. "But I hope the Vikings dominate him Sunday and then again in the NFC championship game in Minnesota. No hesitation here."