The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 29, 2013

The day a Viking talked turkey -- too much


The Mankato Free Press

---- — With Gage Towers at Minnesota State University becoming imploded rubble today, it may be timely to pay some back-handed homage to the dormitory’s most storied dwellers, the Minnesota Vikings.

The team stays in new training camp digs on campus these days, but for decades lodged itself in Gage’s spartan confines that was universally loathed.

And sometimes that loathing for Gage in particular and sweaty practice repetitions in general manifested itself publicly.

But no player’s gripe has ever produced the sort of firestorm that resulted from center Dennis Swilley’s diatribe in the summer of 1986.

Hell hath no fury like Mankatoans supposedly scorned, and Swilley did a bang-up job of ruffling civic feathers.

It was in the waning days of what was then a five-week camp, a time when players dreamed of seeing Mankato in their rear-view mirrors. No reasonable adult enjoys staying in a hot college dorm and being made to undergo mind-numbing drills and curfew bed checks for weeks on end.

A Twin Cities sportswriter, desperately slumming for a story angle one day, posed a what-do-you-think-of-Mankato? question to players, and Swilley took the bait.

Swilley likely was commenting on training camp in general and not Mankato per se. But local folks weren’t about to make that distinction when Swilley likened his surroundings to “a black hole.”

The article was picked up by the Associated Press and published in this newspaper.

The bad-mouthing teed off a bunch of people, and at the Vikings’ next afternoon practice they showed up in force with their homemade, wryly caustic signs:

“Mayor Swilley. Sounds good to me!”

“Swilley...It’s dull, it’s boring, and it could all be yours.”

“Vote Swilley for - - - - of Mankato.” (That one encouraged people fill in their own blanks, though the person with the sign inadvertently bolstered Swilley’s case by holding it upside down).

The insulted rabble lined the players’ walkway to the practice field and waited to give Swilley the business as he strode past.

“We love Mankato, and it ticks me off. I didn’t like the article at all,” a middle-aged woman said.

“We never miss a Vikings game. Never. And the turkey has to go and say that?”

When the players appeared to be tardy in exiting the locker room, a group of people started a chant: “Chickens, chickens. C’mon. You’re big boys now.”

Moments later the players lumbered out and the yokels craned their necks to draw a bead on their guy.

But Swilley pulled off an end run by donning his face-obscuring helmet and shucking the number 67 jersey he normally wore in favor of number 64.

He strolled right past by his antagonists, and when they learned they’d been duped they got doubly miffed.

The Peeved Ones pressed their mugs against the field fence and took up another chant: “64, we want you! 64, we want you!”

What they’d do with him had he obliged remains unclear to this day.

Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer and columnist. Call him at 344-6316 or email bojanpa@mankatofreepress.com