Dufaults enjoy an especially 'Super' Sunday with former Vikings greats
Jeff says Tommy Kramer's man-cave was especially impressive, and that the former Vikings quarterback and other former greats couldn't have been 'more down to earth'
The phrase “diehard fan” gets thrown around pretty liberally, but, chances are, many so-called diehard fans are more fair-weather in nature when it comes to supporting their favorite team through both good, and, if you’re a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, excruciating times.
But Jeff and Debbie Dufault and their family leave the diehard threshold in the dust. Longtime Vikings season ticket-holders with Jeff’s brother, Tim, they wear their purple jerseys and other gear with pride, whether the Vikes are in first place or last. To illustrate, this past season, in which the Vikings started a miserable 1-5 on their way to a 6-10 finish, the Dufaults’ big, purple “SKOL” sign mounted in their Crookston front yard flew proudly after every win, and after all 10 losses, too. It still whips in the face-freezing breeze as of this writing.
Without a doubt, being a diehard Vikings fan can be particularly agonizing, not too mention heartbreaking. So it’s hardly a surprise that Jeff, when talking to the Times the other day about his and Debbie’s unforgettable 2021 Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 7) spent at former Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer’s house along with other Vikings greats from the past, one of the first stories out of his mouth looked back in time to the Vikings’ magical 15-1 season in 1998 – Randy Moss’ record-breaking rookie year – that ended in tragic fashion for fans of the Purple in January 1999, when the heavy underdog Atlanta Falcons shocked the Vikings with a 30-27 overtime victory.
One of the ex-Vikings greats he chatted with the most at Kramer’s Twin Cities-area home was middle linebacker Eddie McDaniel, who was named to the Pro Bowl after the 1998 season, but tore the ACL in his knee in the first quarter of the NFC Championship game against the Falcons and, obviously, didn’t play the rest of the game.
The Dufaults were among the sold-out crowd packed inside the Metrodome that fateful Sunday.
“We talked about his ACL injury and all the injuries the Vikings suffered leading up to the game, and during the game,” Jeff recalled. “He said that after the game there were 11 guys in line to get MRIs.”
An especially ‘Super’ Sunday
So, yeah, back to the shindig at TK’s place. (That’s “Two-Minute” Tommy Kramer for those who don’t know much about the Texas gunslinger who quarterbacked the Vikings from 1977-89.)
When Kramer moved from Texas back to Minnesota last year, he let it be known that he liked to have get-togethers at his house that often featured some former Vikings players. Jeff and Debbie’s middle daughter, Jaclyn, spotted a chance to purchase a package featuring autographed jerseys and photos, etc., as well as an invitation to a 2021 Super Bowl Party at Kramer’s house.
Jaclyn bought the package, then asked early during Super Bowl week if Jeff could get Monday, Feb. 8 off from work. Jeff, a longtime staff member at Dee, Inc. who’s in charge of scheduling, said he’d already given a couple other Dee employees that Monday off.
“Then she sprung it on me,” Jeff said. “She’d gotten us this gift, to go to the party at Tommy’s.”
Off to the Twin Cities Jeff and Debbie went, and on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon they drove to a designated spot where a shuttle picked them up and brought them to Kramer’s house.
“With the pandemic and all, we figured we’d go early, check it out and maybe duck out early,” Jeff recalled. “But when we got there, we were surprised by the number of people there. We found out later that there were some neighbors there, too.”
So, too, were members of the “Vikings World Order,” perhaps the franchise’s most dedicated, passionate and, yes, diehard booster group.
“They brought us in, and it was a great, great spread, and everyone was very hospitable,” Jeff said.
Along with Kramer and McDaniel, other former Vikings players in attendance included star strong safety Robert Griffith and tight end Byron Chamberlain, who played with the team in 2001-02.
The lower level of Kramer’s house was, as Jeff puts it, “Tommy’s domain,” a massive man-cave renovation that was completed last year. There was a large bar, several high-top tables and several mounted flat-screen TVs. There was a matte-purple colored refrigerator that Kramer has all visitors sign with silver marker, too. But the man-cave’s bathroom was perhaps the most satisfying destination of all for lovers of the Purple, Jeff says.
“He has a bright yellow urinal with a Packers logo, and the floor mat is the Chicago Bears,” he notes.
But the memorabilia is what stood out most.
“All the autographed jerseys, footballs, helmets…for me, a longtime fan, it was just amazing to see all those names,” Jeff says.
As more people started to arrive, Jeff says that he and Debbie, with the pandemic in mind, agreed that things were getting a “little too busy,” so they found more spacious areas of Kramer’s home to occupy. They went to the kitchen to chat with the women preparing the food, and also to the three-stall garage, where all of the food was spread out. Most of it was typical Super Bowl Sunday fare, Jeff says, like wings, pulled pork, shrimp, lots of chips and salsa and crackers and cheese, and some Asian cuisine.
Party-goers were told not to bring anything, but Jeff and Debbie couldn’t resist. Before leaving Crookston, they popped into Widman’s Candy to buy some Chippers and turtles from George Widman. Jeff is quick to credit Debbie for the idea of bringing the famous Crookston treat to the big shindig.
They presented a large box of each to Kramer.
“We told him it was from the number one candy store in Minnesota according to WCCO,” Jeff says. “And he said, ‘Oh, I love these. These are my favorites.’”
Jeff adds that Kramer and the rest of the former Vikings players at the party “couldn’t have been more down to earth.”
“It was just like talking to any of your buddies,” he notes.
After Jeff and Debbie got the autographs they were hoping for, it was halftime and they realized they weren’t following the actual game much, in which Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were having their way with Patrick Mahomes at the Kansas City Chiefs. They figured it was probably a good time to head out, so they grabbed the next shuttle and headed back to their hotel.
As they left, Jeff said Kramer told them that the “house rules” from that point on was that once they’ve been invited once, they are always welcome to return. “He said, ‘If you hear of another event, you don’t have to hesitate or confirm anything, just come on down,’” Jeff recalls. “I said ‘We’re 300 miles away,’ and he said, ‘Just come on down.’”
With Debbie having one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in her and her second dose scheduled and Jeff still awaiting his first dose, Jeff says they were cognizant of COVID-19 protocols during their entire visit.
“On the bus, everyone wore masks, but when we got to the house, no one did; Deb and I were basically the only two,” he says, adding that they talked to some people at the party who had previously had COVID-19 and didn’t think they needed to mask up.
There was ample sanitizer placed throughout the house, he adds.
The Crookston couple, even as Debbie posted pictures from the party on Facebook showing Jeff with Kramer and the other former Vikings without masks, were aware of how it might look, so she wanted to make it clear, by adding #wearewearingmasks, that Jeff had only taken his mask off for the photos.
“We kept our distance as best we could and kept them on,” Jeff says of their masks. “Everyone was good about it; there was no mask-shaming or anything like that.”
Masks or no masks, pandemic or no pandemic, it was quite a day for a couple of Vikings diehards at Two-Minute Tommy’s pad.
“If you love the Vikings like we do, it’s just an awesome thing,” Jeff says.