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Vikings-Packers rivalry runs a little hotter in Minnesota

There's a large contingent of Packers fans living in Minnesota, which makes the rivalry a little more important to Vikings fans. AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

MINNEAPOLIS -- Dave Sinykin is in his 20th season hosting "Packer Preview" on KFAN-FM in Minneapolis -- the Vikings' radio flagship. The show began in 1996, while Vikings games were on WCCO-AM and the Packers were on their way to winning Super Bowl XXXI, and continued once the Vikings moved back to KFAN. It is the only show in the country of its kind, Sinykin says. And after the Packers lost at home to the Detroit Lions last Sunday for the first time since 1991, Sinykin saw the traffic on his web site spike -- but not with Packers fans looking for a place to vent.

"I typically get 500 to 600 hits on Sunday. I had 3,500 hits on Sunday, and 74 percent were new visitors," Sinykin said. "Many of them were Vikings fans giddy to see what I had to say about my squad. If I could leave you with anything, it would be this: I have long been of the belief that there is a significant majority, who, if asked to pick, would rather see the Packers lose than the Vikings win."

Sinykin's show -- and the fact there has been an audience for it for two decades -- is one of the ingredients in a bubbling brew of a rivalry that seems to boil at a little higher temperature in Minnesota than it does in Wisconsin. While the Packers' long historic feud with the Chicago Bears commands as much or more attention in Wisconsin's population centers (Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay) as the team's rivalry with the Vikings, there's no team in Minnesota as reviled as the green and gold.

The nasty nature of the rivalry in the placid Midwest owes to several factors that have Vikings and Packers fans living, learning and working in close proximity to one another in the Twin Cities. A generous reciprocity agreement has sent thousands of Wisconsin college students across the border for years; the University of Minnesota system lists 5,701 Wisconsin natives in its 2015 enrollment, including 4,692 of the 50,678 students on its Twin Cities campus. The systemwide enrollment of Wisconsinites is only 1,948 fewer than that of the other 48 states combined.

Once they're here -- or perhaps after they've graduated from college -- Wisconsin natives often stay in the Twin Cities, thanks to a robust job market that includes 17 Fortune 500 companies (Target, 3M, Best Buy, General Mills, U.S. Bank and UnitedHealth, among others) and a thriving metropolitan area with nationally renowned schools, parks and arts. And there is still an older segment of NFL fans who formed allegiances to the Packers during their first 42 years of existence when Minnesota had no NFL team. Those dynamics create battle lines between Vikings and Packers fans that feel much closer than the 250 miles separating Minneapolis and Green Bay.

There are more than a dozen Packers bars in the Twin Cities. Packers fans regularly take up a sizable chunk of the seats when their team is in Minneapolis -- to the point where the Vikings only sell single-game tickets to the Packers game as part of a two-game package. According to University of Minnesota police chief Charles Miner, there were seven arrests and ejections at the Vikings-Packers game at TCF Bank Stadium last Nov. 23 -- the third-highest total of the season for a Vikings home game. (For what it's worth, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, which charted arrests and ejections for every Packers home game last year, found three of the four people arrested at Lambeau Field for the Oct. 2, 2014, game between the two teams were from Minnesota.)

In short, there are plenty of intersections at which the fan bases meet. And when they do? Oh, do Vikings fans hear it.

Many of the Vikings fans we talked to admitted some envy about the Packers' 13 NFL championships and four Super Bowl titles, the history of Lambeau Field, the community ownership of the team and the fact the Packers went from Brett Favre (more on that later) to Aaron Rodgers without missing a beat. The Vikings have only made three fewer playoff appearances than the Packers -- no small feat, considering the franchise is 42 years younger -- but the team's four Super Bowl losses tend to end debates, and the constant reminders from classmates and co-workers are grating.

"To me it's just how holier-than-thou Packer fans get about everything," wrote Mitch Wegner, a Vikings fan from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. "There's a reason Carl Gerbschmidt is a funny character. He's very much spot-on for many fans who see their team as a never-do-wrong paragon of football and the best thing to ever grace the earth."

Gerbschmidt, as many Vikings fans know, is a fictional character on KFAN's afternoon show, created as a caricature of the kind of Packers fan who drives Vikings supporters berserk (and no, despite the urban legend, he is not voiced by NFC North blogger emeritus Kevin Seifert).

"Packers fans are so quick to talk about how many Super Bowls they have won versus our none," wrote Derek Stalcar, a Vikings fan from Richfield, Minnesota, who now lives in Mankato. "I respect them as an organization, with them being the only community-owned team, and a team with a long history and tradition, but mainly my hatred is toward the arrogant 'We're so high and mighty' Packers fans."

For Packers fans living in the Twin Cities, the Vikings bring their own bugaboos. There was still a palpable agitation in Sinykin's voice as he talked about how quickly Vikings fans embraced Favre -- whom they'd rooted against for 16 years -- when he signed with the Vikings in 2009. And as Sinykin and others pointed out, a Packers loss (particularly in the playoffs) is received in some corners of the state with something approaching the joy of a Vikings win. The Packers' collapse in the NFC Championship Game against Seattle, Sinykin said, "was like Christmas in January" for Vikings fans.

"I've never cheered against the Vikings just for the sake of cheering against them. [I save that for the Bears]," wrote Shane Lee, who grew up in southeastern Wisconsin and now lives in Mankato, Minnesota. "However, when both teams play simultaneously, the Vikings fans cheer everything that is not good for the Packers just as much as they cheer the Vikings in their own game. Vikes fans are a bitter bunch, but I understand why. Four Super Bowl losses and two heartbreaking NFC Championship losses [in 1999 and 2010] leave deep scars."

Said Aimi Vanden Oever, a Neenah, Wisconsin, native who now lives in Minneapolis: "Living in Wisconsin, I never perceived Vikings-Packers to be a very strong rivalry. My ire was focused primarily on the Bears. The way I would describe it, people in Wisconsin respect the Bears and pity the Vikings, because the only way to get a Packer fan’s respect is with Lombardi [trophies]. However, Favre’s betrayal combined with the relentless trash talk from co-workers has made the Packers-Vikings rivalry feel a bit more intense during years when the Vikings are competitive."

They certainly are now, with a team that's won five straight and pulled ahead of the sputtering Packers in the NFC North. After going 1-9-1 in their last 11 meetings with the Packers since Favre won as the Vikings quarterback at Lambeau in 2009, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson back in their backfield, a defense that's allowed the fewest points in the NFC and a fan base that's hoping Sunday will be the moment the Vikings turn the tide.

"It's always been a great rivalry," Rodgers said. "But you can tell, with a great young quarterback in Teddy [Bridgewater] and very young talent on defense, this has the potential to be the premier rivalry in the North if things keep going the way they're going."

The rivalry is already front-and-center for those living in Minnesota and probably always will be. And even though Sinykin hits the air at 7 a.m CT on Sunday -- 7 1/2 hours before the nationally televised late-afternoon start -- he's expecting the callers will be waiting for him.

"Frankly, don’t see a scenario where the Packers rise up and say, 'This is the time we show we’re OK,'" he said. "I don’t think the Vikings are this dominant team and the torch has been passed. I don’t think this division will be decided until Jan. 3 [when the teams meet again at Lambeau Field]. But on this day, with where the Packers are and what the Vikings have, I think my team’s up against it."