(photo used with permission)

Whether you’re a fellow Vikings fan at autograph signings, games, the tailgate lot, or just the wonderful world of social media, you are probably familiar with Erin Darsow, aka “Panda.”

Darsow is by far one of the most dedicated Vikings fans I have ever met. And she wears her fandom on her sleeve—literally. From decked-out team spirit outfits to tattoos of Vikings players’ autographs on her arm, she leaves no question marks about her allegiance to the purple and gold.

She has an interesting story, too. Unlike most of our featured fans, who were born into Vikings fandom, Darsow didn’t have that same experience.

“I had to learn about [the Vikings] on my own,” she said.”

Darsow first became a fan in 1998; although she was only in middle school at the time, she started attending football games at the local high school and “begged the guys to explain the basics” to her. She soon realized she had to choose a team, and there was no question for this Minnesota girl: the Vikings it was.

“I think that, the fact that my first football season was our traumatic 1998 year, and I still stuck with it, meant it was to be for life,” Darsow said, smiling. 

One of the best parts of being a Vikings fan is attending the games and tailgating. For awhile, Darsow bought tickets to attend individual games, but she had a poor experience with being over-charged or scalped by people selling, so she opted instead for season tickets. This will be her third season as a season-ticket holder, and it proved a great move for her.

Game days are all about the entire atmosphere; that’s why tailgating plays a huge part of the experience for Darsow and many others. The best thing about tailgating? The people, of course. She offers advice for a first-time tailgater:

“No matter how hard it sounds, get there EARLY […]. If you want to get some good time, get there by 8:00 a.m.—there is just too much to see and experience. My friends and I get there at 5:00, even though the lot doesn’t even open until 7. We like spending that extra time together and psyching ourselves up for the day.”

ERINVWOSome of the people that Darsow has generated such strong friendships with over the years include members of Thee VWO (Vikings World Order).  Darsow was officially introduced to the group in 2011, when several fans watched the game at Canterbury and then stopped at Buffalo Tap (which, by the way, is a favorite of DE Brian Robison—the restaurant has a burger named after him there). Darsow immediately connected with members of the order, including Syd, Diggz, SirDeath, and many others.

“I just liked being around such big fans, and more than that, good people,” she said. “It’s what I love about the VWO.”

The group of dedicated fans is active on more than game days, though. The VWO works to promote the Minnesota Vikings, holds rallies and meet and greets, and works with important causes: Sack Cancer, Vietnam Vets, Food Shelf collection, Love Your Melon, just to name a few.

In 2012, Darsow was knighted into the order during the Home Opener, and she was inducted into Thee VWO Hall of Fave during the 2013 Vikings/Packers game. Darsow recalled both events, saying although she was entirely composed during her initial knighting, “I’m not ashamed to say I cried” during the HoF induction.

“Thee VWO was a huge purple family that embraced me openly, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.”

As a regular attender of games, events, and training camp, Darsow has gotten the opportunity to meet and spend time with several players. Although she’s obviously a supporter of the entire roster, her favorite player is Harrison Smith. Her initial impression when the Vikings drafted the safety was “who is this guy who thinks he can take ‘my’ number?” She remembered, laughing, “but once I looked into him, I was pretty happy with [the Vikings] decision.”

“Shortly after, I got to meet [Harrison]; it was one of those rare times when I got some casual one-on-one time just talking to him as a person, not a new rookie. I now consider him one of my good friends on the team. He’s a great player, and he’s growing to be a real force and a leader—on top of that, he’s a great guy overall.”

When you meet Darsow, you realize that the passion she has for her team is a demonstration of her character across the board. Take her dedication to school work, for instance. When she isn’t at a Vikings-related activity, Darsow is fulfilling her other role as law school student. She’s in her final semester at William Mitchell, and she has big plans moving forward.

“I’d like to work as a Special Agent in the FBI in the Major Crimes division,” she shared. “My other hope is to work with criminal prosecution […]. As much as everyone has the right to a good defense, I also believe that plenty of victims also need voices heard by a strong advocate.”

That’s a great way to sum up Panda: she’s an advocate. For cancer fighters, for her friends, and of course—for the Minnesota Vikings.

 

Erin Collage

 

Play-by-Play with Erin

Pets: 2 Siamese cats and 1 German Shepherd — yes, they are all spoiled.

Favorite Piece of Vikings Memorabilia: Do my tattoos count?  Honestly, some of the favorite things I have, are the various pictures I have of players, most of them signed.  I like to get the pictures with players signed, or just unique pictures signed.  I have one of Sharrif in a panda costume from 2 years ago, and we both had a laugh when I had him sign it.  I have a signed picture from Justice Alan Page, and it sits on my desk for inspiration when I’m studying.

Hobbies (Non-Football): I love to sing. Come out to the Prairie Pub for karaoke with us sometime, and you’ll see! I also like to workout—I joined Title boxing in September, and it’s a really fun workout. Aside from that, I really enjoy any time I get to sit in bed and either nap or watch Netflix. 🙂

Favorite Game-Day Food: This past year, it would have to be Jim Dazzle’s bacon-wrapped tator tots or Mama’s Pizza (Tony donates a bunch of pizza and pasta to our Sack Cancer event every year—it’s a fave non-game-day food, too.) […] I try to eat in the lot, because there is no way I’ll spend that much money in the stadium. Law school makes you poor.

We’re Dying to Know – How did “Panda” Get Started? When I worked at Starbucks in Shakopee, it was a weird, random joke. I don’t even remember how it happened, but I ended up as Panda and my friend Shaye (who is American Indian) was Feather. Once I realized lots of people in Thee VWO had nicknames, I knew Panda was one I already had and responded to. I love the nickname […] c’mon, they’re cute lil animals. I just got my PANDA22 vanity plates, too.

Erin on the Web: Visit Erin’s Facebook page to connect with her and learn more information about the Sack Cancer event when it comes around.