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Sunday slant: What makes Minnesota Vikings players become ‘nerds?’

Before the Bears game, some Vikings players were “nerding out” over the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

When the Minnesota Vikings take the field Sunday afternoon, there will be a dark force challenging them. The Chicago Bears will have uniforms dominated by black, but some Vikings were nearly excited to see another character in black this weekend – Darth Vader.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” was premiering this weekend and grossed a reported $120.5 million on opening day, about $20 million shy of what an NFL team is allowed to spend on its entire player roster for 2015. Count several Vikings among those that contributed to the coffers of the science fiction sensation that has captured the imagination of Americans for decades.

Minnesota punter Jeff Locke was unofficially elected as the biggest Star Wars “nerd” in the locker room. For him, it was a love of the Star Wars series passed down from his parents.

“For me, it started as a kid just because my brothers and I kind of grew up watching it. My parents had seen it at theaters and they were blown away by it. Hearing my mom and dad talk about it as groundbreaking when it first came out because there wasn’t really a sci-fi movie before that that was family-friendly,” Locke said.

“Others were too out there for the regular viewer and Star Wars kind of took cowboy western and regular drama into space-faring. And then everything happened after that. It kind of did change how movies are made.”

This writer admits to having seen the first Star Wars movie as a kid, perhaps even two, but the fact that he can’t even remember how many he has seen unequivocally eliminates him from the fanatical frenzy created by the latest release, even if he did possess an action figure or two as a child. The hard-cores scoff at such limited ownership.

Count Vikings offensive lineman Mike Harris among the galactic geeks.

“I can’t even count,” he said when asked how many action figures and pieces of memorabilia he has. “I’ve got different memorabilia from when I was 15 years old. Big light saber fan; I have a few of those. I’m just a fan. I love Star Wars. I love George Lucas. I’m excited to see it.”

So excited that he was forcing himself to wait until after Sunday’s Bears game to see it. He wanted to go into the theater relaxed and revved up with only Star Wars on his mind. For the approximately 80 hours, from the time until the movie opened to his Sunday noon kickoff against the Bears, he only wanted to concentrate on his job, not fanaticism of “the force.”

Social media is his evil enemy while biding time.

“He’s all upset because the spoilers are out so he’s kind of mad about that,” center Joe Berger said of Harris.

Harris admitted that’s the case. He was trying his best 12 hours after the release to avoid the “spoilers.”

Next to Harris in the locker room is rookie Trae Waynes. He heard talk of Star Wars and immediately became interested in the conversation.

“I’m just a nerd,” Waynes said. “I’ve got bobbleheads and stuff and then I just bought this painting of Darth Vader to hang. That was pretty cool.

“I like Darth Vader. He’s bad-ass. He’s cool.”

But why settle for a painting when the full outfit is available?

Locke certainly didn’t settle. The punter has attended team Halloween parties in the Darth Vader outfit, but he figured he would keep that at home as he attended the Friday night showing of the latest in the series. He pre-purchased the tickets, was going to pick them about six hours in advance and was told he would still need to get to the theater about two hours before show time to get a good seat.

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Like Harris, Locke has numerous items to show his fandom.

“I’ve got some ornaments on the tree right now,” Locke said. “I’ve got a little Yoda one that screams at you when you walk by it. It just does the typical Yoda talk, backwards-speak or whatever you want to call it. My little brother actually bought me these metal sheets that you kind of fold and turn them into X-Wings or fighters. And then my good friend Kevin McDermott got me a collectible X-Wing Lego to build for Christmas. My little brother is coming in town this weekend so I think we’re going to build it together when he gets here. It’s been fun to go back and watch all the movies and relive what you did as a kid.”

Even Locke’s girlfriend is a fan of the series, as her dad helps program satellites for space, according to Locke. Her family bought Locke a BB8 robot figure.

“She got me the little thing you can move around (BB8) with the remote control in your phone,” Locke said. “I’m nerding out pretty good.”

Harris can relate.

“Just going back to being a little kid, the whole fantasy of it – good vs. evil, dark vs. light. It’s pretty awesome with the light sabers,” he said. “I’ve just always been a fan. I like Star Trek as well, other fantasy movies like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings. I like it all. You’ve got to have a little imagination.”

The light saber is a bit of a touchy subject for Locke.

“My light saber broke, though, of course,” he said. “I can’t trust these hooligans in (the locker room) to keep my light saber intact at a Halloween party.”

The fascination with the force has created some light-hearted ribbing in the locker room. Locke had been working on kicker Blair Walsh to get caught up before viewing the movie together and said he would refuse to answer any of Walsh’s questions in the theater because the pre-viewing assignment wasn’t executed.

While Brandon Fusco, who never became a fan, was talking about it, Harris was within earshot, which prompted Fusco to tease his fellow guard.

“I’d say Mike is probably the biggest Star Wars fan. He’s a little different,” Fusco said, being sure to say it loud enough for Harris to hear.

Harris was resolute.

“I’ve seen every movie,” he said. “I have collectibles and it all – light sabers.”

Quipped Fusco: “I just had a feeling he was like this.”


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