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Hunter, Joseph, Rudolph Explore Viking Heritage in Iceland

Posted Oct 13, 2017

The SKOL Chant signals that the Vikings are coming.

Prompted by pulsing drum beats, the rhythmic clap and resounding “SKOL!” echoes through U.S. Bank Stadium. From the mast of a Norse ship that forms the players’ tunnel entrance, smoke billows from a dragon’s mouth. Flakes of feather-light ash float behind, sprinkling the purple of the end zone.

More than 66,000 fans have embraced a tradition shared with Minnesota from an island more than 3,000 miles away. 

“It’s a great way to get the crowd involved,” defensive tackle Linval Joseph said. “At the beginning of the game, beginning of the fourth quarter, it helps give us the energy to make plays.”

Weeks before the 2017 season got underway and ushered in a second season of the Vikings SKOL Chant, Joseph, along with tight end Kyle Rudolph and defensive end Danielle Hunter, traveled to Iceland. There the trio learned more about the birthplace of the original “Vikings War Chant” and the history and culture behind the Vikings namesake.

For Hunter and Joseph, who spent the first several years of their lives in Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands, respectively, the Nordic island presented a stark contrast.

No snow flurries fell during their three-day visit in June, but Iceland made a cold and blustery introduction despite prolonged exposure to the summer sun.

“It never really got dark there. ‘Dark’ is like 7:00 p.m. [in Minnesota],” Joseph said.

Added Hunter: “They don’t really have trees there. There are a lot of rocks, a volcanic island. It looks like something from The Lord of the Rings.”

A trio of tourists

The three teammates, along with a number of Vikings staff members, first spent a day exploring downtown Reykjavik, the country’s capital. A historical church, local pubs and the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa all were included in the day’s agenda.

At the Blue Lagoon, players were surprised to be recognized by one of the establishment’s employees, Chad Keilen. Originally a native of Faribault, Minnesota, Keilen relocated and started a family in Iceland but never relinquished his Vikings fandom.

Keilen and his son – who has since moved to the States to play American football and attended training camp in Mankato – weren’t the only Vikings fans who spotted the athletes.

The group spent Day 2 touring the Icelandic countryside and stopping at various landmarks for promotional photo shoots.

“My favorite part of the trip was when we went to the Black Sand Beach,” Hunter recalled. “We saw some waves that I’ve never seen before in my life. These killer waves, smashing against the rocks.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful country,” Hunter added. “Taking photos by the beach and then going to the glacier [was a lot of fun].”

Team photographer Andy Kenutis photographed Hunter, Joseph and Rudolph in their game-day uniforms. The three stood tall, a distance away from each other, looming over the glacier’s barren, rocky landscape.   

A tourist excitedly approached the group during the session. A full-time resident of Maple Grove, Minnesota, the tourist was a lifelong Vikings fan who had never found an opportunity to meet anyone from his favorite team – until traveling overseas and, by happenstance, crossing paths with the three in Purple.

“Iceland has become more of a tourist area, so there were people there from all over the world, but just to see people from Minnesota … was cool because they knew who we were,” Joseph said. “It was fun.”

“There were a lot of people there who recognized our team,” Hunter added. “There were tourists from Minnesota. They were taking pictures [of us] like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re from Minneapolis.’ ”

Meeting ‘The Mountain’

New experiences continued on Day 3.

After joining Iceland’s top morning radio show, Joseph managed to squeeze in a quick fishing trip with Hunter.

An avid fisherman who has spent time on the water from the Caribbean to Lake Wabasha and everything in between, Joseph said Iceland was a unique – and chilly – excursion.

“It was raining and cold,” he said with a shake of his head. “I tried fly fishing, so that was something new. We didn’t end up catching anything, but it was fun.”

The defensive tackle then left the water for a place he’s equally comfortable: a weight room.

The Vikings visited two different gyms while in Iceland, the second belonging to Icelandic professional strongman Thor Björnsson, who who plays Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Björnsson, 400 pounds of daunting muscle who stands at 6-foot-9, could be intimidating to even the strongest of NFL players.

“I don’t think I’ve looked or felt that small since I was probably in high school, when I was visiting colleges and being around college football players,” said Rudolph, who at 6-foot-6 is tied for the tallest player on Minnesota’s current roster.

Joseph, 329 pounds, said he appreciated the chance to lift with one of the world’s strongest men.

“The Mountain is a very big guy,” Joseph said.

In turn, Björnsson defined Joseph as “a monster of a man.”

“He’ll fit right in with us in the strongmen game once his football days are up,” Björnsson told Vikings.com.

During the visit to Thor’s Gym, Björnsson was gifted with a custom Vikings jersey. He pulled it over his head and looked around the room before running full speed at Hunter, slowing up just a bit as he reached him in a mock “tackle.”

“If he wanted to, he could break me in half and tackle me to the ground,” Hunter laughed.

Björnsson confirmed it was all in good fun, adding that if he had truly given it his all, Hunter “probably would not have lived to tell about it.”

“All joking aside, I felt Danielle was a really humble and nice guy, and I’m certain that he has a big future ahead of him [in the NFL],” Björnsson said. “He is one fit guy, and I was shocked when I learned that he’s only 22 years old.”  

Connecting cultures

Across Iceland, the original Vikings are represented.

From plastic Norseman helmets, to brews served in “Viking”-embossed glasses, to stained glass and age-old Runestones, the Minnesota Vikings observed constant remnants of the Icelandic Vikings.

“They’re very proud of their heritage,” Rudolph said. “It was cool, obviously, being the Vikings and embracing that culture here, but it’s their true culture there.”

Björnsson speaks with pride of his homeland.

“Icelandic culture is the culture of people who have survived in a tough place through tough times,” the native said. “Hard-working people who have made a once almost-inhabitable island far in the North-Atlantic a very decent place with high living standards.”

Traces of ancient warriors surface in the contemporary lifestyle of Iceland, a land that’s aesthetically beautiful but offers little natural sustenance.

“Their culture is one of toughness and forging ahead, and that’s one we try to embody as the Minnesota Vikings,” Rudolph said.

His teammates echoed his thoughts.

“They work together,” Hunter said. “They survive on so little, because there’s no animals out there. [I resonate] with the teamwork aspect of it. They work together as family, they have rules that they follow.”

Pieces of the Nordic culture were implemented in the “Viking War Chant,” a crowd cheer that became famous when used to support the Icelandic National Soccer Team after its upset of England in the Euro 2016. Now, the spirited-yet-primal tradition has been adopted by the Minnesota Vikings.

“You see teams having their own traditions in stadiums across the NFL, and you see it across college football, as well,” Rudolph said. “To have our own is really cool.”

Rudolph and Björnsson spoke separately of the Vikings organization’s gesture of requesting permission to “borrow” the chant.

“With us being a nation of 330,000, it would have been relatively easy for any big club to just incorporate this chant without asking,” said Björnsson, who will sound the Gjallarhorn at U.S. Bank Stadium prior to Sunday’s Vikings-Packers game. “I’m sure most of my fellow countrymen feel the same way I do, and I’m pretty sure that you guys earned yourselves a lot of new fans by going about it in this manner.”

Björnsson added: “I also can’t think of a club in the world that deserves this chant more than a club which is named ‘Vikings.’ ”