#MoreThanWords 2016: A Reflection

It’s a cold winter afternoon in Cincinnati, Ohio. Corri and Vicki Zimmer walk out of the local grocery store, only to spot a homeless woman on the side of the road, shaking from either hunger or the frigid air. Corri, daughter of Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, remembers her late mother’s generous actions fondly.

“My mom rummaged through her groceries to give her whatever we could; a pack of water, beef jerky, random things,” Corri said. “The next time we went to the store, my mom would keep a bag in her car just in case we saw the woman or another homeless person. She was super kind-hearted, sweet, a really great person.”

Vicki’s spirit lives on through the Mike Zimmer Foundation, which was launched by Mike, Corri, and the rest of the Zimmer family earlier this year as a way to give back to the local community. Through scholarships, football camps,and other programs, the Foundation is helping Minnesota’s children in-need achieve their goals and discover new, life-changing opportunities.

It’s that same spirit that made #MoreThanWords such a resounding success in 2016. We raised more than $15,000 for the Mike Zimmer Foundation, smashing our original goal of $10,000. But it wasn’t a one-blog, one-person, or even one-donation effort; Vikings Territory, other participating blogs, our angel sponsor Fan HQ, Corri Zimmer, the Mike Zimmer Foundation, and fans around the globe achieved this incredible feat together.

Adam Warwas, co-founder of Vikings Territory, knew the response to #MoreThanWords would only grow after last year’s fundraising efforts for Chad Greenway’s Lead the Way Foundation.

“I’ve been writing about the Vikings for eight years now, and I’ve always done annual fundraisers wherever I’ve been writing, and I know Vikings fans to be a very caring and passionate group,” he said. “It just so happens that two years ago we gave it a name, a brand, a hashtag, and invited a bunch of our friends to come play along.”

Since then, Vikings Territory has joined forces with Vikings Corner, The Daily Norseman, Vikings Journal, and VikeFans in a collaborative effort to raise money for local charities. More than raising money, it’s about using our platform making a tangible difference in the lives of others.

“That is what it is all about, though, the reason we started More Than Words. [Brett Anderson, co-founder of Vikings Territory] and I both feel it is important to use the voice you have, whatever little corner of whatever platform you have, to try and do some good,” Adam said.

“If not for that, the internet can too easily drag you into a sea of negativity. Seeing Vikings fans rally together, seeing a player like Greenway and a coach like Zimmer willing to connect with fans… it is just an awesome, awesome thing.”

From the moment Mike Zimmer arrived in Minnesota, he was a beloved figure. Vikings fans appreciated his honesty, the media praised his hire, and players immediately respected his no-nonsense attitude. In his first two years, Zimmer’s won 18 games and led the Vikings to their first NFC North division title in seven years.

But outside of his success on the field, Zimmer’s suffered his own personal losses. First, the unexpected passing of his wife, Vicki, in 2009. And in the middle of the season last year, the passing of his father Bill, who helped shape Zimmer into the coach he is today. Those personal hardships peel back what Corri calls the “layers of the onion;” a phrase she learned from Zimmer’s days under Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.

Zimmer’s humanity and honesty makes him easy to root for, and it’s something Shaun Hagglund, owner of Fan HQ, believes made #MoreThanWords so successful this year.

“I think #MoreThanWords brought what everybody in Cincinnati knew, it brought his story to the forefront,” Shaun said, recalling Zimmer’s journey from long-time defensive coordinator to eventual head coach of the Vikings. “Just as a leader, overall, fans love the honesty; he’s a  direct, confident guy that knows what he’s doing leading your team. When you get the backstory on top of it, it can’t be beat.”

As an angel sponsor, Shaun held a meet-and-greet with Coach Zimmer in July, donating more than $8,000 in proceeds to More Than Words and the Mike Zimmer Foundation. Tickets to the event sold out in a week, and fans lined up out the door for a chance to meet their team’s head coach.

“Sometimes it all just works out,” he said, remembering his original fear that the autograph event wouldn’t happen. “Sometimes you’re lucky, and that’s how we feel with Zimmer in Minnesota.”

Just ask Lindsey Young, a friend of Vikings Territory and current staff writer for the Vikings. She’s long been a source for unique stories and interviews, from a behind-the-scenes look at Bud Grant’s annual garage sale to a profile of Babatunde Aiyegbusi. She also connected Adam and Brett to Shaun, helping make the Fan HQ event a reality. Knowing Zimmer’s story, she can see why so many people came together as part of #MoreThanWords.

“As someone who grew up in Minnesota rooting for the Vikings, I’ve really enjoyed watching Vikings fans come together and support such awesome causes,” she said. “From the leadership of Adam and Brett with getting the ball rolling on the Vikings Territory end, to the collaboration with Fan HQ, to of course the interaction with Coach Zimmer and Corri for the Mike Zimmer Foundation, it was such a cool undertaking to witness.”

Like VIkings Territory, other VIkings blogs contributed to this year’s efforts. Their support, including that from VIkings Corner and The Daily Norseman, helped us blow our 2016 goals out of the water. Daniel House, who founded VIkings Corner as a high school student, was at the Fan HQ event and got a firsthand look at what the Mike Zimmer Foundation means to the coach, his family, and fans.

“Coach Zimmer cares a lot about helping others, it’s really cool to see,” Daniel said. “He wants to continue the legacy of Vicki and respects that his kids look up to him too. I think fans are impacted by  the way he’s handled his situation, how he cares about other people.”

The Daily Norseman’s head blogger, Christopher Gates, credits those very fans for #MoreThanWords, highlighting their countless contributions and unwavering support for the Vikings.

“The biggest takeaway, for me, is that the fans of this team will never cease to amaze me in their ability to come together for a cause,” he said. “Though we may have some disagreements about things on the football field, it seems that when it comes time to help out other people, we come together like few others have the ability to do.”

It seems as though Zimmer is leading by example within the organization. Players up and down the roster are following his lead, starting their own charities, foundations, and hosting annual football camps. There’s a sense of community and unity throughout Winter Park, and that’s something that also defined this year’s #MoreThanWords campaign.

As long as Zimmer is at the helm, Brett Anderson says #MoreThanWords will only grow, even if 2017 plans are still in the early stages.

“Really, the only goal we’ve established at this point is that we just want to do more and surpass what we did this year,” he said. “It’s going to be tough, no doubt – the bar was raised significantly in 2016. However, thanks to our fellow blogs, all of our partners and the amazing Vikings fanbase, I have no doubt we’ll find a way.”

As for the money raised this year, Corri and Coach Zimmer are still brainstorming how to make a difference for the youth of Minnesota. From a #MoreThanWords scholarship to a potential partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Corri knows that however the money is used, it’ll change someone’s life.

“Everyone wanted nothing in return and wanted to raise money for my dad,” she said. “Seeing the support from not only you guys, but from the fans and the organization, I realized everyone really wants to help. Being able to use dad’s platform to do good is around community is amazing. It’s great to win games, but even better if we can do good in the community.”

And that’s all because we came together with one common goal — to honor the memory of the late Vicki Zimmer. “My mom’s favorite color was always purple,” Corri remembers. “She would’ve loved to come to the games.”

Like Vicki, the spirit of #MoreThanWords lives on. Although this year’s campaign has come to an end, you can still donate to the Mike Zimmer Foundation and make a difference in the lives of Minnesota’s youth. And for all who have and continue to support this amazing cause, thank you. Let’s aim for new heights in 2017!

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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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