During a lunch hour at Jethro’s Char-House & Pub in Mahtomedi, you might find a group of ladies chatting over their Reuben sandwiches, pausing their game of bridge for a chance to laugh and reminisce. While bridge is just one of many interests these women share in a place that has become a second home, what brought them together is that each one married a former Minnesota Vikings player. These women—about six meet regularly—first formed their friendship when the Vikings began in Minnesota, and have since found humor and companionship throughout the years.
Karen Bowie, who owns Jethro’s, has hosted the lunch and bridge gathering at her restaurant for many years. She remarks that being the wife of an NFL player was a very exciting time. Her husband, the late Larry Bowie, started with the Vikings in 1962, one year after the Minnesota team officially formed. “The fans were thrilled to have a [professional] team here in Minnesota. We were invited to wonderful parties and dinners, and treated beautifully by the Vikings’ staff and by so many enthusiastic fans,” Bowie recalls.
Barb Sunde, whose husband Milt played left guard for the Minnesota team, describes the longstanding friendships the women and their husbands experienced over the years, mainly spanning 1962-76. Their traditions included dinners out after home games or trips to Wisconsin on a Sunday for beer. Summertime meant Vikings training camps in Mankato, and a fun excursion for the wives and kids involved driving to see their husbands and fathers on Wednesdays, which was the players’ free evening.
Sunde says what she and Milt cherished most about the NFL was the camaraderie between the team members and their families, though she’s noticed changes in football today. “Back then, there were no free agents,” she explains. “So the players stayed on the same team once they signed. Most of the guys that played when Milt did were all together for 10, 12, 13 years, so you really bonded and got to know them well,” Sunde says.
The years spent forming friendships were not without hardship, either. One of the issues was concussions that many of the players experienced, including husbands of several in the group. They estimate that of the 40 players on the team at that time, at least 20 have had concussion issues and, in some cases, memory loss as a result.
Still, Sunde is thankful for the friendships lasting beyond their husbands’ careers, and the connection to the Vikings gives them much to look forward to every year. Last year, the families had the opportunity to tour the new U.S. Bank Stadium during construction. And each fall they are invited to an alumni weekend, including brunch and a game. A proud moment for Sunde and the other Vikings’ families was in 2015 when friend and former Vikings player Mick Tinglehoff was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Upon reflection, both Bowie and Sunde say they have been enjoying the changing phases of life. “It’s been 50 years since we’ve [become] friends,” Sunde realizes. “And the unique thing is that we’ve all stayed in Minnesota.”
As these women reminisce, it’s easy to hear from the warmth in their voices how enriching the friendships have been for them. They are thankful for the wonderful careers their husbands had with the Vikings, and Bowie adds a final thought to the culmination of their memories: “They truly played,” she says, “for the love of the game.”