Yochen – my dad, the Vikings fan

Yochen, the Vikings fan, in the early 1940s while stationed in California.

Editor’s Note: My Dad has been gone for more than a decade, but there isn’t a day that goes by where something doesn’t remind me of him. I think of my father often. He was a Renaissance man, a philosopher, a comedian, a dad. He made me do things that I didn’t want to do. He always encouraged me to follow my instincts and dreams. He died way too early.

Today I reprise a column I wrote about him a couple of years ago. I do so because it is Father’s Day – a time to remember, reflect and honor all those fathers who have tried their best to give their sons and daughters a better place in which to live.

As you read this, I hope you, too, understand the importance of all the fathers in this world.

Happy Father’s Day to you, Yochen. I miss you and will see you soon.

Yochen, the Vikings fan

My Dad, Richard Rivard, was affectionately known by family and friends as Yochen (pronounced yo-chin) … Don’t ask me how or why … That’s just the way it was.

His love of the Minnesota Vikings could be viewed the same way … Nobody was really sure how or why. Living in western Wisconsin, his most ready explanation was through a question: Why should he support a team that was 200-plus miles away when he could jump in the car and be at a game in Minnesota in no time?

He had a logistical point there, but in my mind one constructed through convenience, not time-honored loyalty.
“Green Bush” is what he called the Packers with a smile.

You see, to me, I always felt he became a Vikings fan in the early 1960s because he wanted to be different. Everyone else was a Packers fan.

Fran Tarkenton

Though he would only ascribe his loyalties to the purple and gold, we all knew he had a soft spot for the Packers, especially when they won. He was not only around when the Packers were winning championships in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but he of course was pleased to see them win under Vince Lombardi in the 1960s (after all, the Vikings were a fledgling franchise at that point).

When the Pack came roaring back in the mid-1990s, he no doubt could see the greatness of those teams as well.

But he did have good reason to be a fan of the division rival to the west. He was always a big fan of Fran Tarkenton … Even cheering for him when he played those years in New York. I remember well 1969 when we attended a preseason game at the old Metropolitan Stadium and Tarkenton, then with the Giants, threw the ball all over the yard, mostly to Homer Jones … Much to the pleasure of Yochen.

When Tarkenton came back to Minnesota and led them to all those NFC championships in the mid-1970s, Yochen was ecstatic … And heartbroken when the team could never win a Super Bowl.

Nevertheless, he was a fan because … well, frankly, the Vikings were one of the best-run franchises for many years. Yochen knew excellence and appreciated it when he saw it. Clearly, the Packers could have learned a lot from the Vikings during the 1970s and 1980s. Year-in year-out the Vikings were contenders. For the Packers, winning was a distant memory.

Yochen died in May 1999, but it was on an early fall day just a few months after he left us that I felt his smile and laugh the strongest.

It was one of those clear, cool and crisp fall days – the type that Yochen would spend puttering around the yard on some needed project awaiting the start of the ball game.

This particular day also happened to be one when the Vikings invaded Lambeau Field.

Corey Bradford

The Packers, a shadow of their championship stature of just a couple of years prior, were still a threat to win … You see, the Packers had this guy named Brett Favre … One of those Packers players Yochen had come to appreciate.

It was one of those back and forth epic struggles between two teams that knew one another so well … It came down to the final minute. It was one of those games you knew Yochen would have loved … One of those that no matter the outcome, he would have greeted it with a “Wow! Holy cow! Can you believe that?!?”

I could hear his spirit yelling just as the Vikings went ahead with just seconds left in the game.
But the Packers had Brett Favre.

And in true fashion, the future hall of famer led the Pack downfield. As the clock wound down inside 20 seconds Favre hit Corey Bradford on a seam route for the winning score … Maybe you remember that game.

It was one that Yochen certainly would have appreciated.

I could hear and see him:  “sonofabitch,” he would have said. Not out of disgust or anger … He more than likely would have been wearing that smile … Incredulous.

That’s who he was … Yes, he was an admitted Vikings fan, but more than anything he was just a fan … Happy to have been there and to have witnessed it.

Don’t ask me how or why … That’s just the way it was.

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