FARGO — Mike Trom will be buried with an authentic Minnesota Vikings helmet tucked in the crook of his arm, the perfect way for the Moorhead man known as "Mike the Viking Fanatic" to be laid to rest.
Trom, 57, died Monday, Oct. 22, from brain cancer. He was a lifelong Vikings fan and became known locally by his nickname when he called every local sports talk-radio show to tout the greatness of his favorite team -- no matter the actual condition of the Vikings. If Minnesota finished 3-13, in Mike's view that just meant a Super Bowl victory the next season would be all the sweeter. If the Vikings finished 13-3 but blew their chance in the playoffs, Mike truly believed they would go 16-0 and win the title the next season.
It was not an act. He truly believed.
His optimism for all things purple never took a day off, even after he was diagnosed with brain cancer and doctors decided to stop treatment last spring.
Trom told his wife, Amy, that whenever the day came, he wanted to be buried wearing a real -- not a store-bought replica -- Vikings helmet. Longtime local radio host Derek Hanson sent emails to the Vikings asking if they could accommodate Mike's wish and equipment manager Dennis Ryan sent a helmet and a wonderfully inspiring hand-written note shortly afterward.
The plan was for Mike to wear the helmet when he was laid to rest, but Amy said the couple came to a different conclusion.
"Mike and I talked the last few months and he will be having the helmet in the crook of his arm because, just like a football game, the players take their helmets off at the end of the game," Amy said Monday. "Mike has finished his game of life so his helmet will be at his side in his arm."
It's not clear how Mike became such a huge Vikings fan. Even his mother, Marlene Aas, doesn't have a clue. When I talked with her in April, the best guess she had was that both Mike and the Vikings were born in 1961 and so he just naturally became a nut for the team.
And a nut he was. Trom regularly, obsessively, called local radio programs to offer his Purple Manifesto. The Vikings were always going to win, were always the best team, always had the best players and always had the referees against them. It doesn't matter if the Vikings had Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback and the Green Bay Packers had Brett Favre, by Trom's calculation Jackson was the far superior quarterback.
As for the Packers, they were the devil incarnate for Trom. His go-to phrase in describing Green Bay players: "The only good Packer is a dead Packer." He was probably joking, but nobody was quite certain.
"I had never encountered anybody who drank the Kool-Aid quite like him," said David Moulton, a Fort Myers, Fla., talk-show host who got his radio start in Fargo in the mid-1990s.
Moulton and former Fargo TV sports anchor Roger Degerman were hosts on the city's first round-the-clock sports talk station. It was called The Fan 1550 and it's No. 1 caller, on a daily basis, was "Mike the Viking Fanatic."
"I don't think people realize how big Mike was to making sports talk-radio work in the Red River Valley," Moulton said Monday. "Degerman and I had about 13 people listening to the station when we first started. The show started like this: Roger would monologue at noon, we'd go to the first break and Mike the Viking Fanatic would call. So you would let Mike go, like a stand-up comedian working on his material.
"Then we'd go to a second break and since we had those 13 listeners, I would call Roger to help him out and we'd round out the hour. That was sports talk-radio in the Red River Valley for quite awhile. Mike played a big role in that."
Trom could be irritating, too. He was relentless in his cheerleading for the Vikings, to the point it would wear on a host and listeners. Famed Twin Cities sports columnist and radio host Sid Hartman sometimes had Trom banned from calling his show on WCCO-AM. But Moulton believes the unending rah-rah for the Vikings was just cover for a super-fan who didn't want to face the fact he might be disappointed -- again -- by the team.
Moulton saw that after the 1998 Vikings, the best team in franchise history, lost the NFC Championship game to the Atlanta Falcons in overtime. It was a devastating loss not only for the franchise, but for its huge fan base across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. That was the team, finally, that was going to win a Super Bowl. It didn't and the Vikings still haven't.
"Mike could be a handful and you were like, 'C'mon now, the Vikings can't do everything right. They are not going to win every game. You have to give some ground,'" Moulton said. "But there were moments when you realized he was just a big kid, just like the rest of us who love sports. I vividly recall the Monday after that game and when Mike called in he was broken. That was the first time he wasn't confrontational. He was just crushed. Pick-me-up-off-the-floor crushed."
That made him like every other Vikings fan that day. And always.
Mike's funeral service will be Friday, Oct. 26 at noon with a visitation at 11 a.m. Arrangements are being handled by Boulger Funeral Home.