Guest Post: MST3K’s Mary Jo Pehl on the Vikings, Longhorns, and why sports matters

If you love mocking bad movies — or have made one yourself — no doubt you’re familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000, the television show that riffs on putrid cinema so that we don’t have to. The show enjoyed a 10-year run on Comedy Central and then the SciFi Channel, before being canceled in 1999 … but lives on in a series of live shows currently traveling the nation, which has also spawned numerous DVD releases. It’s my great wish to one day have every cast member scribble a short essay for us here, and what better way to begin than with Mary Jo Pehl, aka Pearl Forrester? She’s a Minnesota native who currently lives in Austin, Texas, so I thought she may have some insight on the Vikings and the Longhorns, who are currently gearing up for respective glory (or humiliating fail, as the case may be). Take it away, Mrs. Forrester.

By Mary Jo Pehl

Oh, the rejoicing in my homeland of Minnesota with the addition of Brett Favre to the Vikings! Confetti and dancing in the streets and lauding the savior who might deliver unto us, at long last, a Super Bowl win.

But alas, there is the rending of garments and beating of breasts (hopefully one’s own and not someone else’s) on the other side of the border. Wisconsin, a protectorate of Minnesota, is in high dudgeon about Favre’s betrayal. But really, any state that has never had a wrestler for governor clearly doesn’t know what it’s doing.

I live in Austin, Texas these days, where football is somehow piped into the atmosphere, like the food smells at Disneyworld. The eye-jarring, burnt-orange color of the Longhorns is pervasive, to the point where people special order their cars painted the color. During the season, employees of the most staid businesses are bedecked in orange jerseys. To wit: the funeral director at local undertaking establishment. I’m not joking.

Me, I don’t get it. I don’t get how flags with team emblems and posted on car windows expresses superiority over the opposing team. I don’t get the donning of certain players’ jerseys as show of solidarity. I don’t get how bobbleheads of favored players advance the game. The secret Carrie Nation in me thinks everybody ought to do away with the revelry and ridiculousness and start doing something meaningful with their time.

Then I remembered — I used to get it.

It was the mid-seventies and I was in 7th grade, and I was a passionate Minnesota Vikings fan. This was the Purple People Eater era, when the Vikings defense was such that Fran Tarkenton was wont to throw any manner of outrageous passes — because he could. I knew all the players, and I could quote stats with the best of them. I’d watch the games with my Dad, who, between the two jobs he worked, was rarely home save for those Sunday afternoons.

Here is one of my journal entries after a certain heartbreaking NFC championship game. I have transcribed it exactly as it appeared in that beat-up, narrow-ruled notebook that I used to record everything about my tortured adolescent life.

February 4, 1975

I feel like nobody cares about anything any more. It’s been this way since the Minnesota Vikings lost to Dallas in the playoffs, and no one seems as upset as I do. Maybe I should see a psychiatrist or something. Dallas shouldn’t have won. It was a game of miscalls. It’s ironic though the very day that Dallas beat the Minnesota Vikings, Fran Tarkenton’s father died – whose name was Dallas.

Oh, how deep I was. (Then again, a few pages later I write about tortilla chips.) But I gave up on the Vikings after that. It was too torturous for my teenage angst.

But it reminds me that I used to be absolutely fervent about something. Maybe the fans know something that I don’t — that while they take their football seriously, they don’t take their seriousness seriously. There will be another season, and our games — and our hearts — will go on. In the meantime, what’s the harm in a little fun, and a little love of the game?

Mary Jo Pehl is a former writer and actor on Mystery Science Theater 3000. She can currently be seen with Cinematic Titanic in both its live shows and direct-to-DVD series. Her book of essays as well as a comic book will be coming out in spring 2010.

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