British Vikings fans received an early Christmas present when franchise legend Sidney Rice landed in London to attend a watch party hosted by the Vikings to give their fans on this side of the pond a weekend to remember – getting together to support their team in their pivotal Week 15 match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Amongst deafening roars and euphoric chants from those in attendance, Decyfr had the chance to catch up with Rice – discussing the Vikings’ young stars, the continued international growth of the NFL and why Vikings fandom is so special.
During his seven years in the NFL, Rice experienced his fair share of success – notably being named both a Pro Bowler and Second Team All-Pro in 2009, before winning Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seattle Seahawks. As a result, Rice knows how to recognise greatness – a trait he sees in Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson – who recently broke the legendary Randy Moss’ record for the most receiving yards by a player under the age of 25.
“By far my favourite receiver in the NFL right now and just to see somebody come in, at that young age, and perform as well as he’s done is really impressive,” Rice told Decyfr.
“I love his tenacity, I love his love for the game, the way he carries himself out on the field.
“I think he’s gonna be great. I think by the time he’s said and done, if he continues to stay healthy, he’ll be one of the all-time great wide receivers to ever play the game.”
?️ "He could be one of the all-time great wide receivers to ever play the game."@Vikings legend @sidneyrice was full of praise for Justin Jefferson, ahead of the Vikings' watch party in London on Saturday ??#Decyfr #NFL #SKOL | @UKVikings @JJettas2 pic.twitter.com/tWyJT4zr9K
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) December 18, 2023
Throughout his career, Rice shared a locker room with some of the NFL’s best on a weekly basis – including fan-favourite and Vikings legend Adrian Peterson, who was in the same draft class as Rice in 2007. Peterson, who remains a close friend of Rice’s, is the only non-quarterback to claim the MVP crown since 2012 – just one of many reason why Rice believes no one in today’s game rivals his former teammate.
“The way Adrian burst onto the scene and what he did in the NFL is kind of special. I haven’t seen any young running back that has done anything like that.
“I don’t think it’s going to be possible to top anything that Adrian has done in the future.”
While an expected step down from Adrian Peterson, sophomore running back Ty Chandler gave the British Vikings fans at Broadleaf sports bar plenty to cheer about in Week 15 – finishing with 132 rushing yards and a touchdown. Alongside Chandler, rookie receiver Jordan Addison also put on an almighty showing for Minnesota, as he racked up six receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns – continuing his dominant rookie season.
Linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. is another rookie Viking that has already made his mark on the NFL – winning NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 14 for his masterclass against the Raiders. When asked about Ivan Pace Jr’s next steps, Rice pointed towards former Seattle teammate Bobby Wagner:
“I would say the most important thing among guys like that is the preparation. I know Bobby was one of the first ones to get [to the facility], one of the last ones to leave every week. So if he keeps that up, he’ll be in with the likes of Bobby Wagner.”
Despite solid performances from all of Minnesota’s young stars, the Vikings suffered a tight overtime loss to the Bengals, moving the Vikings to 7-7 on the year.
Regardless of the result, however, the support from the British Vikings fans at the watch party was unwavering – with “SKOL” claps being a key fixture throughout the evening and a clear demonstration of the Vikings’ incredible international fan base.
As Rice said: “This is probably the best fan base I’ve played with. I’ve had the opportunity to play with a lot of great fan bases all the way from high school.
“They’re absolutely amazing. Scream loud. Scream SKOL as much as possible. Diehard fans.”
?️ “This is probably the best fan base I’ve played with."
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) December 18, 2023
The Minnesota Vikings are in a uniquely advantageous position to capitalise on the widespread Vikings fandom, as one of the six franchises to have marketing rights to the UK – alongside the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars – via the league’s Global Markets Program (GMP). The GMP allows franchises the opportunity to market themselves in different countries across the world and build on the consistently growing appetite for the NFL globally.
Last week, the NFL announced that they will be doubling the number of annual regular season international games, from four to eight, starting 2025 – a move that Rice believes could accelerate the game’s popularity to rival even that of soccer.
“It’s exciting to see it grow, hopefully the potential is as big as soccer. I think it has that potential.
“Just being able to make the move and start doing these international games, I think is huge for the sport.”
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