Ragnar, the mascot who was given a Viking funeral after asking for $20,000 per game, wants to bring his battle axe back to the negotiating table.
Joe Juranitch, the man who has played Ragnar at Minnesota Vikings games for the last 21 years, said Friday that his initial proposal of a 10-year contract and $20,000 per game was just intended to be a starting point in the negotiating process.
He admitted to asking for too big a raise from the $1,500 he made last season, but attributed that to being out of his element.
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"I’ve never written up a contract. That is not my forte. I manufacture sharpening equipment," Juranitch said during a media tour five days after the Vikings announced that they could not reach agreement with him on a new contract. "I called a buddy I thought could help me. I never expected to settle anywhere near certain numbers."
The 54-year-old said the Vikings asked him to draw up a new contract Monday after fans voiced their concerns when they did not see him at the home opener against Detroit on Sunday. Juranitch watched that game on television at his home in Ely, a small town about five hours north of the Twin Cities. He posted a photo on his Facebook account dressed in his traditional horned helmet and fur, holding his axe and looking forlorn as the game played on television in the background.
Juranitch said that about six weeks ago the Vikings told him that they wanted to reduce his role at games and have him retire. The burly, bearded Ragnar would ride a purple motorcycle on to the field during pregame introductions, growl at the opposing team and then dance with the cheerleaders and entertain the fans during the game.
But he was not the team’s official mascot. He was an independent contractor that started in 1994 and has been a sidekick of sorts to Viktor the Viking since 2007.
"When I heard that, it was like, 21 years and this is how it’s going to end?" Juranitch said. "I’m not ready to retire. The Minnesota Vikings fans don’t know I don’t want to retire."
Like many of the athletes he has led on to the field over the past two decades, it appears that Juranitch doesn’t have the final say about when it’s over.
The Vikings did not comment on Juranitch’s media tour Friday, instead referring back to a statement they issued Monday and reiterating their respect for his contributions to the organization and plans to honor him at a future game.
"We will always consider Ragnar an important part of Vikings history," that statement read, in part.
History appears to be the operative word, and one that appears to be of utmost importance to Juranitch. He has spent the last two decades building up the character and the brand, launching a website, mingling with fans and becoming a part of the franchise. He spoke of wanting his axe and horned helmet to be displayed in the new stadium that is set to open next season and wanting to have a place in Vikings lore.
"Whether I’m still here or not, my legacy has to go on," he said.
He’s not giving up just yet. Juranitch said he’s open to talking some more and hopes to be back rampaging the sideline soon.
"I believe that I’ll be back," he said. "I honestly believe that in my heart because I know the fans want me back."