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Original Issue

Sex and the Twin Cities

Just so you know, the Twin Cities are Minneapolis and St. Paul, not Sodom and Gomorrah, despite the presence of the Minnesota Vikings, some of whom are accused of participating in a floating orgy so debauched, Caligula would have blushed (page 48). On the night of Oct. 6, 17 Vikings and their guests were allegedly partying on two boats; a woman called police to report "possible prostitution, drugs and live sex acts" on board.

Minnesota is a blue state, but it usually isn't that blue. Members of the crew were propositioned by players, according to the lawyer representing the boat company, whose account suggests that these Vikings have all the nautical manners--though few of the victories--of their historical antecedents. This season, the Vikings have done very little manhandling (they're 1-4) but plenty of panhandling (the team is seeking state funds for a new stadium, which now looks dead in the water, so to speak). When it comes to standards of public decorum for professional athletes, the limbo bar has never been lower. "We understand that athletes aren't necessarily role models," Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty told the Minneapolis Star Tribune last week, "but we at least expect them to abide by the basic laws of the state."

As a Minnesota native I feel compelled to defend my state in the face of these international news reports, reports of boat captains having to sidestep people in flagrante delicto on boats strewn with sex toys on bucolic Lake Minnetonka. There's a lovely town on the Iron Range called Embarrass, Minnesota. True, that's what the Vikings do at regular intervals. But the point is, there's more to Minnesota than the Vikings, who have a long history of headlines both mortifying (drunken driving arrests) and ridiculous (head coach Mike Tice fined for scalping his Super Bowl tickets). Perhaps we're naive, but until last week, most Minnesotans thought hooking was a two-minute minor.

The state's most prominent citizens are its least representative. There are 27 pages of Johnsons in the Minneapolis White Pages. So why is our most famous Johnson still the Original Whizzinator, a fake penis designed to fool drug testers? (Vikings running back Onterrio Smith was busted with one last summer.) Is it because, before boarding those boats on Lake Minnetonka, a group of men bound for the party boats allegedly emerged from a limousine and urinated on a homeowner's lawn, ignoring her request that they stop?

No charges have been filed, and the party-goers may never stand before a jury of their pee-ers. Still, the images conjured will be difficult to shake. The boat company's attorney claims that one of the organizers was Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot. And though he denies doing anything untoward, his surname suddenly sounds like a down-market Scandinavian girlie magazine--Smut with an umlaut.

When all this broke last week, it necessitated some very awkward father-son conversations about sex. But somebody had to tell my 71-year-old dad about the birds and the bees. "I don't even know what sex toys are," he said while reading the Star Tribune over his morning Raisin Bran. (He imagined some grotesque joint venture of Playboy and Playskool.)

Every time a Viking has a run-in with the law--literally so, in the case of ex-Viking Randy Moss, who ran into a traffic cop with his car--it gives the state a black eye (or a purple nurple) worldwide. Yes, there are Vikings fans in every far-flung precinct of the globe. I've met them in Punjab and on Greenland, people for whom the only keyhole on Minnesota is the Purple People Eaters. No fan is flung farther than Ben Osborne of Adelaide, Australia, whose sole visit to the U.S. was to Minnesota in 2002, where he saw the Vikings lose to the Seahawks and bought a T-shirt to commemorate the pilgrimage.

"It's gone from a shirt I'd wear out in public to a shirt I wear to do jobs around the yard," Osborne told me dolefully from Adelaide. "The lettering is starting to fade from the bold and lurid VIKINGS on its front. I was hoping they'd fade and leave the word KINGS. But it looks like it will probably leave IK instead."

Ick, indeed.

Speaking of ick: Ichthyology is the study of fish, and there's no better fishing spot than Lake Minnetonka, where the stripers outnumber the strippers by at least 10 to 1. But try telling that to distant Vikings fans, whose passion is a vestigial fin, a fading appendage of the 1970s, when the franchise, in losing four Super Bowls, won admirers in both hemispheres thanks to players like Alan Page. Now a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, he's a proud reminder of why we ever loved the Vikings, of when they aspired to be robed, not disrobed, in public.

Until allegations last week of a floating orgy so debauched it would have made Caligula blush, most Minnesotans thought hooking was a two-minute minor.