The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 27, 2013

Young fans will always scramble for autographs

By Robb Murray
rmurray@mankatofreepress.com

---- — Bennett Miles has a secret.

It's Saturday morning at Minnesota Vikings Training Camp, and the 9-year-old is camped out between Myers Field House and Blakeslee Stadium. He's holding a miniature Vikings helmet and waiting for his heroes to walk across Stadium Road so he can snag a signature.

In a few moments, the hundred or so people gathered will start shouting at the Vikings players, trying to coax them over to sign a few autographs.

But Bennett already has the one he wanted most — the same one just about every kid up here wants the most, the one and only NFL MVP Adrian Peterson, the man whose jersey number Bennett wears on his back.

What's his secret?

"You have to say Mr. Peterson," the Mankato genius says.

Like most training camp days, this one is a magnet for kids — especially young boys. In a few weeks, they'll be hitting their own little grid irons around southern Minnesota, pretending they're Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder or, gasp, Chris Kluwe. These days at camp, then, can serve to get them inspired, pumped up and raring to go.

At Bennett's home, they've got a wall of Vikings stuff — jerseys, footballs, helmets — all christened with the John Hancock of a Minnesota Viking.

What's so special about an autograph?

"It's pretty cool," the kid says, and then his big sis, 13-year-old Annie, chimes in, "You look up to them. You want to be just like them."

The Rillos from Granite Falls do training camp family style. Mom, dad and a passel of kids all line up right next to the Miles family and wait for guys in purple and white to trot by.

Isaac, 17, Ben, 11 and Nicole say they'd rather be nowhere else.

"We were all raised as Vikings fans," says Isaac.

Young Ben, also wearing an Adrian Peterson jersey, says the appeal of the autograph is obvious.

"To show my friends I have an autograph on a football," he says.

David Hasher might not have Bennett's secret, but he's got something else going for him. Standing by the fence with friends Nick and Dylan Willey, Hasher is fearless in his attempts to lure a Viking his way.

"Can I have a wrist band?" he says to a player wearing number 59, which could be Nathan Williams.

"I don't have any!" he replies.

"The ones right there on your arm!"

"Those are my personals."

Later, Hasher sees Vikings kicker Blair Walsh.

"Blair! Hey Blair! I need a high-five!"

Walsh ignores him.

Nick Willey says it's nice to have autographs from his heroes on his wall at home.

"You never know when you won't be able to see them again," he said.

As for their approach, they don't use politeness.

"We just yell at 'em," Nick says.

Adds his brother, Dylan, "Then they get annoyed and eventually they sign."

When a larger group of players approaches, the crowd lights up. And it's clear that Bennett's secret might have been leaked.

"Mr. Kalil!" shouts a woman.

"Mr. Simpson!" shouts a man.

"Mr. Ponder, can you sign for a couple of kids!" shouts another.

Looks like Bennett may need to come up with a new one.