MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings equipment manager Dennis Ryan loaded the team’s pads and bags into a truck headed for the Twin Cities, just as he has so many times on the team’s last day of training camp.
He will never have to do it again.
The Vikings bid farewell to Mankato on Tuesday after 52 years of training camps in the college town located about 90 miles south of Minneapolis. So ended one of the longest-running relationships between an NFL team and a satellite camp location.
“I really enjoyed my time down here,” said Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who made his seventh and final trek to Mankato. “The fans are great, the energy is great. The facilities are incredible. We have everything we need. We’ll definitely miss it.”
The Vikings will move training camp to their new practice facility when it opens in the St. Paul suburb of Eagan next year. The state-of-the-art complex will have all the comforts and equipment the team needs without the hassle and cost of transporting so much of it to another town for two to three weeks every summer.
But what the new place will not be able to provide is the sense of camaraderie and bonding that is forged with so many from the organization staying in a college dorm for such a long stretch of time.
“To be honest, I was probably not in the greatest mood about having to stay in a dorm again, but my experience down here has been awesome,” said quarterback Sam Bradford, who made his lone trip to Mankato this season. “It’s been better than I probably could have imagined it would be and I think a lot of it has to do with just the fans.”
Thousands turned out for the final practice on Tuesday, first sitting in the Minnesota State, Mankato stadium to watch a morning walkthrough and then packing bleachers and standing alongside a fence next to the practice fields in the afternoon as the Vikings worked out one more time.
“This place, Mankato, and Minnesota State, have been phenomenal the four years I have been here,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I know it’s been 52 years. I am not quite that old, but it’s been a great place. The facilities are fantastic, the fans have been amazing, and I think our players really appreciate, really all of the aspects of it.”
The Vikings broke camp to prepare for the preseason opener at Buffalo on Thursday. And while they will assuredly be more comfortable when they hold camp closer to home, they know that a little something will be lost when they head north on Highway 169 with Mankato in their rearview mirror.
“I think all of us will tell you, especially in training camp, when it gets a little monotonous and it’s kind of the same thing every day, when we come out here, at least it gives us a little bit of energy and little bit of extra motivation to come out here and play well because they are out here supporting us,” Bradford said.