On a humid Minnesota day in August, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is wrapping up the team's training camp practice.
A small, black-and-tan Yorkie sits on the sideline grass and waits for the warm greeting she will soon receive from the head coach. Jolie belongs to Zimmer's daughter, Corri Zimmer-White, and wears a purple "doggy jersey" bearing the family name.
Zimmer has come to be known for his often-gruff exterior, but those who are close to him will tell you that he has a soft side – and nothing seems to bring it out as quickly (or as easily) as his 5-pound grand-dog.
Jolie lives in Dallas, Texas, but regularly visits Minnesota with Corri. When the duo is in town, Corri jokes that Zimmer is more excited to see his favorite pup than his daughter.
It's not uncommon during those visits to find Jolie in Zimmer's office, curled in the coach's lap while he breaks down film. He walks down the hallway, and she trots closely behind – or sometimes slightly ahead – and pokes her head into various coaches' offices. They're all familiar with Jolie, and occasionally a pit stop means an extra pat on the head or lift up for extra affection.
On a trip to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center earlier this spring, Corri called Zimmer and Jolie's connection "a really weird bond" and joked about how far their relationship has come.
Corri got Jolie when she was in college, despite her parents establishing a rule against having a dog during school.
"I told my mom, and my mom kept it a secret," Corri explains of the late Vikki Zimmer. "And then my dad found out. He was really mad at first, but he started to really like her a lot."
As if expecting her father to form a protest, Corri directs a rebuttal toward him: "You mention her in press conferences, Dad. And if I don't bring her when I come [to Minnesota], I hear about it all week."
All three of Zimmer's children – Adam, Marki and Corri – mention the puppy massages Jolie receives when she spends time with Zimmer.
"We'll sit in his house after dinner, and he'll just be massaging this dog," Adam laughs. "It's like, people pay good money for a massage that good, and she's getting it for a few hours, just sitting on the couch watching TV."
"She comes up, sits next to me, I give her a massage for about three hours, so I guess that's why she likes me," he says, smiling and absentmindedly working his fingertips into her tiny shoulders. "She's really not a hunting dog or anything like that, but she's really a great dog."
He feigns annoyance for just a moment – "She's a busybody, a little bit" – but hasn't fooled anyone.
"She likes to look out the window and climb in your lap and sit next to you when you're driving," says Zimmer, who has taken Jolie for rides in his Ford F-150 King Ranch, quad off-road vehicle or even a golf cart. "[She'll just be] sitting there, and I rub her neck and her ears … She falls asleep, like, anywhere."
Jolie may live in Dallas, but her allegiance to the Vikings is unrivaled. Besides the custom jersey, she has been known to rep her favorite team through bandanas, toys, a sweater and even a miniature Vikings cheerleader outfit.
View photos of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his pup Jolie Zimmer who are featured in a segment of Purple Pups.
The name Jolie means "pretty one," in French, but Zimmer jokes that she's also a lucky one.
He and Corri recalled a time when Jolie made an appearance at Vikings Training Camp, and cornerback Terence Newman came over to greet and pet the dog before practice.
"He caught three interceptions that day," says Zimmer.
Newman remembers that practice at Minnesota State University, Mankato, "like it was yesterday." Upon seeing Corri and Jolie just inside the fence, the former cornerback swung by en route to the field.
"Jolie gets all excited when you see her – she starts [wagging] her tail and body-movin' a little bit. So I just pet her, talked to Corri a little bit, and then I went off to practice," Newman recalls over the phone. "The next thing I know, it was like – pick, pick, pick.
"Actually, maybe we should have had Jolie as, like, a junior mascot," he adds with a laugh. "That may have been beneficial."
Of all the players Zimmer has coached, Newman likely is the most familiar with the Yorkie, having spent time under Zimmer with the Cowboys and Bengals prior to reuniting in Minnesota. Newman remembers first meeting Jolie and noting the difference in Zimmer when he interacted with her.
"That's when I really realized Zim' had a soft spot for this dog," Newman says. "It was actually super funny just because he's this hard-nosed coach, but then you see him with this itty-bitty dog, and he's like super loving and caring with her.
"As players, we're all talking, 'Zim's tough and hard,' " adds Newman. "But to see him with this dog was just super cute, you know? To see the way he is with her is pretty special."
When Zimmer is asked to compare Jolie to any players in the Vikings locker room, he pauses to think for a moment. The corner of his mouth turns up in a smirk.
"She's not too mean. She's not much of a pain. So probably none of the players, really," he quips.
Zimmer says that Jolie would make a good therapy dog, and Corri agrees.
"A dog doesn't care if you win or lose. They're always happy to see you," Corri says. "It kind of makes him feel a little better [after a loss]."
She glances at Zimmer sitting at his desk, and he offers a half-sarcastic eye-roll.
"No, [not much]," he admits.
Watching the longtime coach interact with Jolie, it's clear she's stolen his (rather large) heart.
He's no stranger to dogs, having previously owned and trained Labradors that accompanied him on hunting excursions, but Zimmer will tell you he never expected to get so smitten by a petite pooch like Jolie.
But it's hard not to like four-legged friend who's become a part of the family.
"She's a really loving dog," Zimmer says. "She doesn't cause any trouble, usually. She likes to take naps with you. She sleeps with Corri all the time. Corri bought pet steps so that she can climb up on the bed and doesn't have to jump.
"She's getting older now. Right, Jo-Jo?" He adds in a little higher voice.
Coach, do you think Jolie is spoiled? (For the record, the question from this Vikings writer is a rhetorical one.)
Zimmer laughs, then answers: "Oh my goodness. She just had steak for lunch."
As Newman says, "That dog, that's his baby right there. She's royalty."