Random thoughts running through my head while at Vikings Training Camp. Apologies in advance.
1. Mankato is very chill. I always love the vibe of college towns (Kato is similar to Winona where I went to college) and you can tell that the city really ramps up for the Vikings to come down. It’s essentially their town celebration. You know how every small town has a get-together/fair during the summer where the funnel cake carts pop up out of nowhere and the carneys show up with those rickety rides and rigged games on flatbeds? Well this is Mankato’s. The threat of Vikings Training Camp moving to the new facilities in Eagan when their contract is up after 2018 is real (the Vikings also hold an option to have camp in Mankato in 2019), but I’m rooting for it to stay in the Crown Jewel of South Central Minnesota. It’s like ‘End of Summer Camp’ for the fans.
2. When driving down to Mankato from the Cities, skip 169 (even if you’re coming from the western suburbs). It’s notoriously riddled with road construction and generally a boring, horrible ride. Opt for I-35 and then cut over on highway 60 down to 14. It’s a fast route (whispers: have never seen a cop on 60) and you get to drive through some BEAUTIFUL country past Lake Cannon, Elysian, and Madison. Simply gorgeous.
3. If you’re attending Training Camp for the first time, be aware that there are designated times for certain players to sign autographs. A lot of the players are cool and will take extra time to sign for fans lined up on the fences, but don’t bank on it. Also yelling for a player to sign your glossy 8×10 while he’s padded up and about to go compete for a roster spot and millions of dollars in 90 degree/100% humidity heat is probably going to be a low conversion rate. Also you’re a 45-year old man. Knock it off and let the kids get their autographs.
4. I love seeing families come down/up/over for camp. It’s the perfect setup for a day trip. Breakfast and hit the road, watch morning walk-throughs, grab some lunch at one of Mankato’s fine establishments (Pieology is phenomenal and right across the street), see the Vikes clang pads in the afternoon, and the drive home before sundown. My love for the Vikings was solidified as my dad and grandpa took me to see Training Camp as a kid, both in Mankato and at River Falls when the Chiefs used to be there and scrimmage the Vikes. Great memories that kids will never forget. All for the cost of gas, lunch, and $10 parking. Not bad.
5. We all have our favorite fringe 90-man roster guys. There’s always a new guy or two every year, the horse with the long odds that we’re rooting to pull through. Players that are probably destined to bounce around the league on a few practice squads and maybe a stint in the CFL, but we either love the story, or the measurables, or the potential. As camp wears on, these players start to fade into the background and are relegated to jobs at Foot Locker after being let go after 75 or 53 man cuts. Like the players, we fans always think about “what could have been”. I still believe in J Leman, dammit.
6. Everson Griffen is quite possibly the most physically intimidating man I have ever encountered. Because not only is he roughly the size phone booth filled with ball bearings, his intensity makes you unsure if this will be the moment that he snaps and becomes Teen Wolf. Matt Kalil has to deal with that everyday.
7. Many people assume that NFL players are a cross between gladiators and neanderthals. That’s simply not true. Some (some) of these players are the most cerebral, eloquent, and well-spoken people I’ve ever met. They have a wide variety of interests and pursuits off the field and it always makes me wonder if they were born loving the game or if they love the game because they were blessed to be the biggest, fastest, strongest and see the game as a means to an end. I’m sure there’s examples of both on every 90-man roster around the league.
8. Pro Bowler Teddy Bridgewater is everything you want your quarterback to be off the field. Humble, grateful, willing to put in the work. He’s quickly becoming the quarterback you want on the field as well. Teddy’s deep ball, the major concern fans had coming into the season, has looked the best I have ever seen it. His chemistry with Charles Johnson and Stefon Diggs is tangible and young guys MyCole Pruitt and Jerick McKinnon look to be larger factors in the passing game this year. Throw in a hopefully improved offensive line, as well as the other cast of weapons, and Bridgewater has all the pieces (and therefore no excuses) for a break out junior season with the Vikings.
9. You truly don’t appreciate how gifted these athletes are until you’re right next to them on the sidelines. It’s like standing on the track during the Daytona 500. Human beings that are 6’5″ and 255 pounds should NOT be able to move as fast as Anthony Barr. You also get an understanding for how physical the game is and the concerns players are starting to have about the long term health effect. When they say football is a contact sport, they. Are. Not. Kidding. I would be dead (or severely maimed) after just one of these shots. Meanwhile their bodies deliver and absorb this contact thousands of times throughout the course of a season. It’s equally frightening and beautiful.
10. A few coaches truly embrace the CEO-type role of being a head coach, delegating everything and not getting too involved with the day-to-day. Mike Zimmer is the opposite of that. And I love that about him. At practice Zimmer’s always coaching hands on with the defense and especially the defensive backs, his specialty. I think that’s why you’ve seen the recent rise of Trae Waynes, the continuing development of Xavier Rhodes, and even the brief renaissance of Josh Robinson in 2014 (before Alshon and Marshall ended the renaissance era in Chicago). He’s got the demeanor of a tough but fair high school shop teacher that wants you to create a beautiful chest of cedar drawers, not buy from IKEA.