MINNEAPOLIS >> From Alan Page to Jared Allen, Fran Tarkenton to Teddy Bridgewater, Chuck Foreman to Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings spent 52 years making a 90-minute drive from the Twin Cities to Mankato for training camp.
The Vikings’ proud history of holding camp on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato is entering its final days. The team announced Tuesday that this camp will be its last in the college town 90 miles southwest of Minneapolis.
The Vikings will open their new, sprawling practice facility in the Twin Cities suburb of Eagan in March and will hold training camp there going forward.
“Over the past 52 years we have formed incredible relationships with Minnesota State University, Mankato, the City of Mankato, and the entire community, and those partnerships made this decision difficult,” Vikings executive Kevin Warren said. “With our increased space and amenities, the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center will give our players, coaches and staff the best opportunity to succeed, and we feel hosting training camp at our new home is the proper move for the organization and Vikings fans.”
Staying closer to home for training camp is a trend that has spread throughout the league in recent years. The Vikings are one of 12 teams to leave headquarters for camp this summer. That does not include the Green Bay Packers, who practice on their own fields in Green Bay but stay in the dorms at nearby St. Norbert College, as they have for 60 years.
Through the years, the Vikings would take over Mankato at the end of every summer and players would bunk in the dorm rooms. Quarterback Dante Culpepper and receiver Randy Moss drove flashy sports cars into town as thousands of fans swarmed them in the parking lot. Former coach Mike Tice held court at a bar and restaurant just across the street from the practice fields, and WWE star Brock Lesnar, who was trying out with the Vikings in 2004, rumbled with the Kansas City Chiefs during a joint practice.
Police used to set up shop on Highway 169 on the eve of camp to catch Vikings players speeding through the sleepy town of St. Peter to try and make the check-in time, including receiver Koren Robinson being clocked at 120 mph in 2006.
The darkest day in the team’s long history in Mankato happened on Aug. 1, 2001, when offensive tackle Korey Stringer died after a collapsing during practice a day earlier on a particularly sweltering afternoon.
For years, the players grumbled about the small beds and cramped quarters in the Mankato dorms, which for the decades did not have central air conditioning. Some of those complaints were muted when the Mavericks opened a shiny new dormitory a few years ago, but the significant investment in time and money for the team to relocate every summer, and the amenities the new facility will offer, made a move back home inevitable.
Mankato officials have estimated an economic impact on the area from the annual Vikings visit of $5 million to $7 million. More than 60,000 fans on average attended every camp, packing restaurants and hotels. Under the current contract, the Vikings had until December to notify the city that they would not return.
“This is also a tough day,” said Lester Bagley, Vikings executive vice president of public affairs. “We’ve had conversations with the university leadership and our long-term partners in Mankato. It’s an exciting day and it’s great to acknowledge our relationship and our history with Mankato. But it’s also an opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate our partners and celebrate.”
The Vikings will give fans who attend the final training camp in Mankato a commemorative poster and also plan to hold a ceremony as part of the team’s annual night scrimmage on Aug. 5 and a community celebration on Aug. 7. The Vikings will also endow a scholarship at Minnesota State.
The Vikings are still developing their 40-acre facility in Eagan, part of a 200-acre spread purchased by team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, who plan to develop the surrounding area with hotels and other amenities. It remains undecided how the players will be housed during the first few weeks of camp at their new home.
The practices and scrimmages will continue to be open to fans, as they have been in Mankato. The new facility will have a stadium that can seat up to 10,000 fans, and Bagley said the team expects even more fans to attend a site closer to the metro area.
“We expect a lot of Viking fans planning their summer vacations around visiting the camp,” Bagley said. “We plan to accommodate that.”