McFeely: 'Mike the Viking Fanatic' remains a purple optimist, despite cancer
"Mike the Viking Fanatic" is as feisty as ever, dressed in his Minnesota Vikings gear as always. From the ballcap that says "NFC North Champions" to the purple No. 14 jersey to the logoed blanket across his lap, he is unrelenting in his love for the Vikings and his dislike for the Green Bay Packers.
"The only good Packer is a deceased Packer," Mike says, eyes ablaze and a finger jabbing the air for emphasis. He is joking. Sort of.
But the voice that sports talk-radio listeners from Moorhead to Milbank to Mayville to Minneapolis have come to recognize as the beacon of purple optimism is a little weaker, a little more hesitant, a little less focused. Mike has brain cancer and the future is uncertain.
"We were told when he was first diagnosed that he probably had 10 to 20 years, but things have changed," his wife Amy says. "Now we just don't know."
"Mike the Viking Fanatic," in real life, is Mike Trom. He is a 57-year-old Moorhead resident who gained a measure of celebrity over the last 25 years as the caller to sports talk shows who, no matter the state of the Vikings (or the topic being discussed, for that matter), would unabashedly tout Minnesota's NFL franchise as being headed for a certain Super Bowl victory.
The fact Trom has been wrong every season and his optimism about his club was often misplaced mattered not. Through bad times and good, from the Drew Pearson push-off to the Minneapolis Miracle, Trom was always ready to dial a radio station's phone number and talk with the host about how the Vikings were undoubtedly going to win their next game. Or how Tavaris Jackson was clearly a superior quarterback to Aaron Rodgers. Or how Brad Childress was a genius building a dynasty that would rival New England's for historical superiority.
His radio reach extended from local sports and news/talk programs, often nighttime ones hosted by longtime yakker Derek Hanson, to the powerhouse "Sports Huddle" show on Sunday mornings on WCCO-AM in the Twin Cities hosted by Sid Hartman and Dave Mona.
When he called WCCO, listeners knew him as "Mike from Fargo." He was a big enough thorn in Hartman's side, in fact, that the legendary newspaper columnist and radio host had Trom's calls screened out.
"Sid wasn't the only one," Amy says. "The Vikings public relations department blocked Mike, too, because they were sick of him calling."
Persistence has advantages, though. Trom said he was able to get through to former Vikings defensive coaches George O'Leary and Tony Dungy to talk football—O'Leary fairly regularly, actually. Trom said one time he was patched in to the office of Packers general manager Ted Thompson.
"I told him, 'Brett Favre is going to retire and we're going to kick your ass,'" Trom says.
It's clear some of what Mike says is embellished, but that's OK. There's no doubt about his unwavering devotion to the Vikings, and other regional teams like the Twins, Timberwolves and North Dakota State Bison. One thing that isn't clear: How he became such a Vikings fan.
"I have no idea," says his mom, Marlene Aas. "He has the same birth year as the Vikings, so maybe that's it. He was born in 1961 and the team's first year was 1961, so we go with that."
Trom, his wife and his mother shared their stories in a commons area of Eventide, the large nursing home on Eighth Street in Moorhead. It's Mike's home for the foreseeable future. He's in a wheelchair, which his mother or wife pushes down the hallway. Mike's room is filled with Vikings stuff, including a Helga horns knitted stocking cap he shows off to visitors.
After being diagnosed with a Stage 2 brain tumor in October, he's been through radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Trom was able to spend some time at home after being in the hospital and Eventide, but seizures, falls, memory issues and other side effects from the tumor were too scary. He returned to Eventide about a week ago. Doctors stopped chemotherapy because it wasn't doing anything.
"I cry at night a lot," Mike says. "I sleep with my dog sometimes and my wife is here a lot. But it's taken a toll on her and I'm a little upset about that. I just ..."
It's there that Amy and Marlene cut off Mike and turn him back toward the positive, just like they did each time he veered toward something negative or started to show too much of his feistiness.
"Did you tell the story about when you called into the radio station the day after our wedding?" Amy says. "We got married on a Saturday and Derek was hosting his radio show Sunday morning. Mike called in to talk about the Vikings. On our honeymoon. He never misses a chance to talk about the Vikings."
"I wasn't in the doghouse," he said. "But I thought maybe I would be."
There are many other stories about the fanaticism. For example, Mike wants to be buried in an official Vikings helmet and asks his visitors if they have any connections with the team to make that happen. Amy jokes that she's going to have him dressed in a full Packers uniform for his funeral, whenever that day comes.
"Oh, you do not want to do that," Mike says. "I will haunt you from the grave from the rest of your life."
The macabre talk doesn't last long. Soon enough, the optimism returns. As always, it is tinged with purple. The NFL Draft is this weekend and Mike wonders who the team will pick. And another chance for the Vikings to win a Super Bowl is just around the corner.
"I'm just excited for the season," Mike says. "I can't wait for it to start."