MINNEAPOLIS -- Give Ragnar this: He wasn't timid.
A man who has prowled the sidelines at Minnesota Vikings games since 1994, purported to be the modern-day embodiment of an ancient Norse pillager, should surely be expected to take a hard line in contract negotiations. The contract for the "human mascot" with the Vikings was up before this season, and Ragnar wasn't just looking for a raise: He wanted a bounty. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Joe Juranitch -- the Ely, Minnesota, man who plays Ragnar -- wanted $20,000 per game to continue in the role, up from the $1,500 per game he was making. That adds up to $160,000 per year, or $200,000 if the pay applied to preseason games.
Believe it or not, that figure isn't out of line with what some professional mascots make. According to the Chicago Tribune, though the starting salary for mascots is around $25,000 a year, some of the best in the business earn six-figure salaries. Back in 2005, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette caught up with Bob Woolf, who was pulling down $200,000 a year as the Phoenix Suns' Gorilla mascot.
But there is certainly a longer list of duties for a man working 41 home games, dunking a basketball while in a rubber suit during timeouts, than there was for Ragnar. He rode his motorcycle out of the tunnel during team introductions, fired up fans in the end zone at big moments and danced with the team's cheerleaders during some of their numbers. In a season with only eight regular-season home games, and thus a smaller need for in-game diversions, there just isn't as much for a mascot to do. Think about it: How many MLB or NBA mascots can you name off the top of your head? Now repeat the same exercise for the NFL. We're guessing you came up with more in basketball and baseball than in football.
In many ways, Ragnar seemed a tad anachronistic. He was most at home in the spartan surroundings of the Metrodome, where his revving motorcycle in an inflatable Viking ship was the first salvo in the team's quest to send decibel levels into triple digits. But he didn't fit as well at TCF Bank Stadium, and he might have seemed out of place at U.S. Bank Stadium -- the Vikings' $1.1 billion palace slated to open next year.
Juranitch was also an independent contractor making most of his money off his family business 250 miles north of the Twin Cities, and a bigger salary with the Vikings would have meant a more consistent working relationship with the team. The Vikings had introduced their own mascot -- a placid but pleasant-looking Norseman named Viktor -- in 2007, and he seemed to fit in the kid-friendly milieu of mascots more than a 50-something man in a horned helmet and fur.
So the Vikings' relationship with Ragnar seems to have run aground after 21 years, and though there is a Change.org petition for his return with nearly 10,000 signatures as of this writing, it's hard to see the marauder returning to the sidelines any time soon. But if Ragnar has seen his last days with the Vikings, know this: At least he went out in character.