MINNEAPOLIS – Ragnar, the bearded and boisterous Vikings team mascot for 21 years, took on a somber tone has he spoke out for the first time since the Vikings announced his contract had expired.
Joe Juranitch, of Ely, Minnesota, has taken the role of Ragnar full throttle since his wife secretly signed him up to audition as a Vikings mascot. Two decades later, the ride has taken an unexpected turn as he asks the Vikings to meet him at the negotiation table and keep his front seat.
“What the fans don’t know is they approached me and said they were going to retire me and my role was going to be limited with the Vikings,” said Juranitch. “I can honestly say I got choked up, I am not ready to retire. I don’t want to retire. I am 54 years old.”
The saga unfolded Sunday night when Ragnar posted a Facebook photo of himself home from the season opener. After a social media fury, with fans calling to “Bring Ragnar Back,” Juranitch says the Vikings called him Monday of this week, asking him to put together a contract.
“I needed to stick to being an entertainer, but they kept pushing get us a contact get a contract and I came up with one and wrote it up with a buddy of mine,” said Juranitch.
An anonymous source told the Associated Press that Ragnar asked for $20,000 per game up from his pay of $1,500 per game. While he chose not to confirm or deny specific figures in an interview with KARE 11, he said he should have sought professional help negotiating his contract.
“Plug in your own numbers, I’m open. I want to be back on the field and want to do what I do best and that’s entertaining thousands and thousands of Vikings fans,” said Juranitch.
Ragnar said he has still hasn’t heard from the Vikings. Vikings spokesperson Jeff Anderson reiterated how much Ragnar means to the team organization, emphasizing the team statement released earlier this week.
“The Vikings greatly appreciate what Ragnar has meant to the organization and to the fans over the last two decades. We intend to honor his 21 seasons on the field during a 2015 Vikings home game and we will welcome him to future ceremonial events. We will always consider Ragnar an important part of Vikings history.”
Fans of Ragnar have started an online petition to convince team owner Zygi Wilf to reinstate the longtime mascot.
Juranitch looked at his handmade ax, famous helmet, fur vest, and photos of fans, forlornly reflecting on the role he’s not ready to give up.
“I know we will come to an agreement but this time I need professional help to get that done. I build sharpening equipment in Ely, Minnesota, what do I know about negotiating something like this?” said Juranitch. “I regret not sticking to doing what I do best, and that’s entertaining and let others do what they do best. I don’t want to retire, I’m not ready to, if that’s what they choose, it’s out of my control.”