The Miami Dolphins don’t send their players into the ocean. The San Francisco 49ers don’t encourage their players to go prospecting. But unlike their contemporaries, the Minnesota Vikings have taken an unusual interest: actual Vikings.
“Props to Vikings on how they survived. I mean, how cold it is? The fishing? The animals?” said star defensive end Danielle Hunter. “They are really tough warriors.”
The Minnesota football team chose its name because the Vikings, as general manager Bert Rose put it at the time, “represented both an aggressive person with the will to win and the Nordic tradition in the northern Midwest.” Minnesota has long had a large population of residents with Nordic roots, but the team itself didn’t start to strengthen the link until last summer.
During the 2016 European Championship, the Icelandic soccer team’s run to the quarterfinals brought worldwide attention to the Icelandic clapping chant.
The Vikings were inundated with calls and emails saying the team should adopt the chant. They did—asking the soccer team for permission first, then replacing the hooh with skol (a Viking form of “cheers”) and debuting it last fall. The captain of the Icelandic team, Aron Gunnarsson, personally gave his blessing on social media.
The chant and the story behind it piqued the interest of the players. This offseason, when the team floated the idea that some players should go to Iceland, three of the team’s standout players—defensive tackle Linval Joseph, Hunter, and tight end Kyle Rudolph—were all in.
For Hunter and Joseph, they learned plenty about toughness and how to subsist on … smaller portions.
“We got lobster one night. I think I’m about to have the world’s biggest lobster and the lobster comes out,” Joseph started, only to be interrupted by Hunter’s uproarious laughter. Then he continued: “And it’s as big as my thumb. They explained, ‘Oh, the water is too cold here, they don’t grow.’ I mean, that makes sense, but still.”
They were also confused by the apparent lack of diversity among the wildlife.
“The most interesting thing was the lifestyle as far as animals go—they don’t have a lot of animals there, probably like three at the max, so just for them to fish, and they pretty much ate fish,” Joseph said.
The stars, who were on what was dubbed the “Viking Heritage trip,” basically turned into everyone on your Instagram feed: touring the geothermal pools of Iceland and climbing the glaciers. “There’s not really too many other teams that could do something like this,” said Bryan Harper, the team’s vice president of content and production. “People in the upper Midwest are passionate about the Nordic ties—they are all-weather.”
The defensive duo became fascinated with how the modern-day Icelandic people use geothermal power for heat. Rudolph said that on the drives through the country, he learned about the culture of farming and became impressed with their long history of eating what they grow.
“We went to museums. We went to the black sand beaches, the volcanoes, the glaciers. We learned about Vikings from our tour guides on our two-hour drives,” Rudolph said.
While overseas, the players struck up a friendship with Hafþór “Thor” Björnsson, better known as “the Mountain” on Game of Thrones. Björnsson had previously been on video at the Vikings’ stadium to lead the “skol” chant and Harper said there are plans for him to attend a game sometime soon. He had dinner with the Minnesota trio in Reykjavík. He also showed them where he works out.
Björnsson and his friends at his gym taught the Vikings players a valuable lesson about the Viking culture: These people were massive.
“I haven’t felt that small since I was probably a 14-year-old kid going on recruiting visits, being around a bunch of college football players,” said Rudolph, who is 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. “But they call him ‘the Mountain’ for a reason. He’s a mammoth man.”
Björnsson, who is 6-foot-9, also talked to the Vikings players about his training regimen— which includes a deadlift of more than 1,000 pounds—and his eating habits. “He told us of the grind of eating 10,000 calories a day to maintain that size,” Rudolph said.
“And he tackled me,” Hunter said. “I wasn’t expecting that. They gave him a jersey, he got ready, and he just tackled me.”
It wasn’t just the size that surprised the Minnesota contingent, either.
“I know it’s hard to grasp, but the people over there look like Vikings,” Harper said. “We went to Thor’s gym. We saw these big axes that the Vikings guys used. We ordered beer out of a bone mug. We saw all the woodwork.”
The players filmed pump-up videos at famed Icelandic volcanoes and glaciers to be played during games while the crowd did the chant.
“What’s cool is how appreciative they are that we use their chant,” Rudolph said. “There are huge Vikings fans there.”
Plenty of Icelandic residents noticed the Vikings players as they walked through the streets, but Randolph added a caveat: They wore their team gear everywhere.
“There were people who recognized us,” Rudolph said. “And there were a good deal of people who had no idea what we were doing.”
Due to a production error, an earlier version of this story omitted the initial reference to defensive tackle Linval Joseph.