Leaving home is the true test of fanhood.
You never know how much you really care for the home team until you're not at home anymore and have to face taunts and jeers from the likes of rabid Redskins fans and Orioles partisans. If you can stand up to that abuse, you're a fan.
So this past week has been a test for this transplanted Minnesotan. There have been the good-natured teases and the not-so-good-natured threats about what's likely to happen to me if I show up at RFK Sunday in my Vikings jacket. There have been all manner of friendly wagers proposed. (If the Vikings win, I eat free for a week).
But most of all there has been shock and surprise.
It's NFC championship time, and the Vikings are playing.
Until this week, it seemed the only way the Vikings were likely to lead the conference was in drunk-driving arrests. Now, suddenly, they can join their Metrodomemates, the Minnesota Twins, as world champions by winning two more games.
If it's a surprise to Redskins fans to be facing a team from Minnesota, it's positively shocking to us Vikings followers to see the team active this time of year. For some time now, to be a Minnesota rooter has been like cheering for Rodney Dangerfield.
Until last year, the Twins had only been to the World Series once in the history of the franchise. That was 22 years ago. And they lost.
In the days of Joe Kapp, Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters, the Vikings went to the Super Bowl four times. And they got mauled every time. Oh well, at least they got there.
In recent years there haven't even been Super Bowl losses to brag about. This is the first time the Vikings have been in a conference championship game in 11 years.
It's been a bleak period, sports fans. It's been ages since the Lakers went Hollywood (yes, they used to play in Minneapolis, the City of Lakes); I was barely big enough to lift a football the last time the Minnesota Gophers fared well in a Rose Bowl game, and I see that the Minnesota North Stars are zeroing in on last place in the Norris Division of the NHL.
But ah, times have changed. The Minnesota Twins, long a so-so team in the worst division in baseball, have shown us Minnesotans that second-division finishes are not a permanent curse. They have reminded us that the promised land can be reached in a fortnight. If the Twins can win the Series, why can't the Vikings win the Super Bowl? In eight more quarters, Minnesota can go from perpetual doormat to ranking sports territory, taking its place alongside New York with its '86 Mets and Giants.
Dispatches from the frigid home front indicate that Minnesotans have warmed quickly to the idea of sudden respectability. During the World Series, a popular comment back home was that Minnesotans could only expect to win something like a World Series once in a lifetime. Now there's a sneaky feeling that it can be done twice in one season.
More than a million Twins Homer Hankies were sold last year, and now Viking Touchdown Towels are moving fast. Even the goofy little football-player figures with the bouncy heads are disappearing from the shelves. "Everything people disliked before, they're buying now," said my friend.
The Minnesota media have joined the frenzy. Old films of the Vikings' glory days are playing on the nightly news. They're even confident enough to show Jim Marshall's infamous wrong way touchdown run.
The Vikings' fans, of course, have a quarterback crisis to worry about just like the Redskins' followers. Coach Jerry Burns has shuffled Wade Wilson and injury-prone Tommy Kramer without hesitation. "Some of the sportscasters think Kramer is better," said our source, "but the fans are tired of seeing him carried off the field. Besides, Wade Wilson's winning." Minnesotans are very practical.
And we're confident. I'll be at RFK Sunday. I'll be wearing my old Chuck Foreman jersey (No. 44) for old times' sake and my purple Vikings jacket for luck (and warmth). I'll have a Homer Hanky in my pocket -- that's for destiny.