MINNEAPOLIS -- They'll be rooting for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in Bridgewater, South Dakota, a tiny farming town about 40 miles west of Sioux Falls. The community of 492 is in the Vikings' TV territory, and football fans there, like many in the Dakotas, cheer for the NFL team 4½ hours away.
The Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan Seahawks moved up to 11-man football this season after fashioning one of the most successful nine-man programs in South Dakota. The high school co-op won three state titles from 2010-13, and Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan's coach, Jeff VanLeur, was named one of USA Today's eight best high school coaches in 2013.
The co-op uses the colors and logo the Seahawks sported in the 1980s and 1990s. Bridgewater joined the Emery/Ethan co-op in 2010 after previously partnering with Canistota. Once the schools joined up that fall, the relationship between Bridgewater and the Seahawks was born.
"Football’s a big deal. It has been a big deal in this town for many years," Bridgewater mayor Michael Damm said. "It's always been a big football town. There's some good following there, from high school level to the NFL. There are Packers fans here, but I think the Vikings rule the town as far as who they cheer for."
Bridgewater -- the hometown of Baseball Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson -- only uses the Seahawks name for football, where it, like many small towns, is part of a co-op so it has enough players to field a football team. Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway grew up in the same kind of environment in Mount Vernon, South Dakota, where he played quarterback and free safety in leading the Stickney/Mount Vernon Knights to two state titles.
"We had beat [the Seahawks] my junior year in the regular season. I don't think we played them in the playoffs," Greenway said. "And my senior year, they beat us in the opening game of the year, and we beat them in the playoffs 29-0 to go onto the next round. It was basically us two."
Mount Vernon has since joined with Plankinton in football. "Now we're the Titans," Greenway said.
Before it was part of a co-op, Bridgewater's team name was the Wildcats. Then it became the Canistota/Bridgewater Crusaders, and except for football, they're part of the Bridgewater-Emery Huskies, superintendent Jason Bailey said.
Does the change in team names become odd? "Yes, very odd," Greenway said. "It doesn't happen like every other year -- they're usually longstanding. Stickney/Mount Vernon was like 20 years."
That means Bridgewater could be rooting for the Seahawks for years to come -- and for the Vikings on Sundays long past the time Minnesota and its quarterback named Bridgewater are facing the Seahawks in the NFC wild-card round.
But hey, we can have some fun with it for now. Even the town of Bridgewater's zip code starts with the number 5, the same digit adorning the jersey of the namesake signal-caller.
"[The shared name with the Vikings quarterback] is always a topic of discussion," Damm said. "It's always mentioned in some passing conversation somewhere."