MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- How much do you really know about our Vikings? Not the football players, but the Nordic explorers they're named after.
Centuries before our NFL team roamed the field, fur-clad Vikings set sail across the globe. But what plays well on a football field may be stretching the truth.
For 55 seasons, Minnesota's men in purple have roamed the gridiron. And like their namesake, they've waged battles and vanquished enemies.
But in horned helmets and blonde braids, the image can be more hype than heritage. So the team saw an opportunity to teach us who the Vikings really were.
"Our brand as a team organization certainly isn't going to change, it's only going to be enriched by the fact that we embrace this so much," Vikings youth marketing director Brett Taber said.
Taber went in search of an expert, and found Swedish professor Henrik Williams.
"I was inside when it was nearly completed, and it just blew me away," Williams said. "Viking society was a very rich one -- very complicated one. You can delve as deep as you want to."
Williams is a runologist with Upsala University and noted Viking expert. His job was to separate fact from fiction.
"I can even date when this particular design is from -- it would be 1050 to 1080," Williams said, pointing to decorative Vikings shield replicas hanging on a wall in the stadium's hallway.
The team's new home, is much more than a football stadium. It's a living gallery to our Scandinavian heritage, starting with the Viking long ship out front.
Williams translated a Vikings phrase etched into the ship -- it means "honor your legacy, defend the north." It was Williams who gave the team's motto a runic translation.
"Runic is not a language -- they're just letters," he said. "They're much like ours, only much fewer."
Rune stones were vital to the Vikings, telling stories in stone with an alphabet of just 16 letters.
"They were huge explorers," Williams said. "They discovered -- from the European side -- new continents."
It's no surprise the symbolic runes are prominent as players rush the stadium through a ship with battle shields and fire-belching stones.
"That's very Icelandic -- ice and fire," Williams said
Engraved on each stone is the word, "skol." Viking legend claims they made drinking vessels from enemy skulls, but in reality it's long been the Scandinavian word for a toast.
"It's not the word skull at all. It's another word meaning 'bowl,'" Williams said. "There is, actually, some evidence that they actually did turn skulls into drinking cups, but we don't know the Vikings did it."
Williams is taping segments for "Beyond the Gridiron," and he also writes articles for the fan playbook, "The Truth Behind."
"What I think is so great about the Minnesota Vikings is they're trying to address the myths behind their own team, and the team name," Williams said.
It's no myth the Vikings defense has been formidable through the years -- the same is true of their wooden shields used in battles centuries ago.
"It's pretty much real truth," Williams said, pointing to some Vikings replica shields hanging in the stadium. "Shields were used, and they were approximately this size."
They were even highly decorated, but today hang only a wall, symbolic of battles on turf trenches.
"This was certainly an offensive weapon as well," Williams said.
But there's no larger myth than the one perpetrated on our helmets -- it might be a great logo, but it's pure fiction.
"And I'm sorry to say this has nothing whatsoever to do with the reality," Williams said, pointing to a display of horned helmets at the stadium
The blame rests with a German art designer who created the look for an 1870s opera, including the fur and silver trim.
"These helmets are just too good to be true, too good to pass up," Williams said.
And too good to give up -- fiction or not, the horns will stay.
Another horn that ignites fan furor has roots in Norse mythology as a way to summon the gods.
"The word 'Gjallerhorn' means to yell -- it's the yelling horn," Williams said. "This is how they wake up the gods. This is how they get people to react."
With a little luck, those gods will look down with kindness and give Vikings fans their own place in history!
"This is just one more way to reach out and enrich that fan experience, both inside the stadium and out," Taber said.
Professor Williams says he's planning more installments of the "Truth Behind" series in Vikings playbook magazine, including one on the Berserks -- the wild Viking wars.
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