I made my first and last trip to Mankato, Minnesota, to catch a Vikings preseason football camp over the weekend. The NFL’s Vikings have ended their relationship with the local college for the summer camp after 52 years. The team will open its new headquarters and practice facility early next year in Eagan.
So, Lisa and I loaded up Sir Greybeard (the car, not me) and headed north for the 5-hour drive. Our trip included stops along the way. First, to grab a quick lunch in New Ulm and then take in some of the sights in Mankato for our travel blog (www.thewalkingtourists.com).
Taking in the Vikings camp was a great experience. We joined a couple hundred of our closest Vikings friends to stand in line until we made our way inside Blakeslee Stadium on the campus of Minnesota State University – Mankato. About 10,000 people filled the bleachers and the berm. We found a spot on the berm.
The team makes camp more than watching a practice. A fun zone allowed kids and adults to try their luck in some football contests. Former Vikings players and cheerleaders signed autographs for fans. Fans bought food and drinks to enjoy during practice.
Of course, merchandise was everywhere. You could buy anything from the team’s equipment tent. A small dog was helping its owners sell T-shirts for the Zimmer Foundation, an organization created by Coach Mike Zimmer.
Let’s get down to practice. I saw the guys I hoped to see – QB Sam Bradford, WR Stefon Diggs, defensive players Tom Johson, Linval Joseph, Brian Robison, Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo. So, I was a happy camper.
The defense practiced on our side of the field. Watching the guys work on their skills and timing was fun. The defense looks good and should again challenge as the top unit in the league.
Watching Bradford and his back-ups Taylor Heinicke and Case Keenum run plays during a scrimmage with the defense gives hope to a potent offense. Bradford enjoyed a great season in 2016, throwing for career high 3,877 yards and 20 touchdowns. He tossed five interceptions but fumbled nine times. If the offensive line can stay healthy and establish a decent running game, Bradford could surpass last year’s numbers.
While most people came to see rookie running back Dalvin Cook, the team’s second round draft pick. He’s expected to be the starter at the spot. I, however, wanted to see former Nebraska Cornhuskers RB Terrell Newby. The free agent looked decent during his stint. He has an uphill battle to make the squad with three players in front of him – Cook, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
I realize it was practice (as Allen Iverson once complained), but it was my Vikings. The team I’ve rooted for since 1970. The team I’ve suffered watching blow chances to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1976 season. All told, I will continue to pull for them. I’m excited about the season, as I have tickets for a tour of the new stadium and for the Nov. 19th game against the Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams.
Countdown to the 2017 season is underway. Skol Vikings!
To check out more on the Minnesota Vikings, visit www.vikings.com.