A year ago, everything seemed slightly off here in Mankato.
No banners, no bleachers, no battles.
For the first time after 52 years, the Minnesota Vikings were no longer calling Mankato and Minnesota State University their home for training camp. They had left our quaint, southern-Minnesota college town for good and moved to their plush, new compound in the suburbs.
It was odd not having the team here last July and August, especially for us in the media who went up to Blakeslee Stadium and its adjacent practice fields nearly every day for two or three weeks.
Same goes for the youngsters (and some adults) who hung out daily along the fence lines on Stadium Road seeking autographs and, in later years, selfies — or, at the very least, up-close glimpses of their favorite football players.
Certainly it was true, too, for those from the area who stopped by practice once or twice during camp or the many who made an annual pilgrimage to Mankato from the Twin Cities and other parts of Minnesota and the Midwest.
Even as training camp became more corporate with high-priced merch tents, VIP viewing areas and organized autograph sessions, as well as more safe with little hitting, less tackling and more walk-thru sessions, people usually seemed to have a good time for the few weeks that the Vikings came to town.
A year ago, there was plenty of lamenting about the Vikings’ absence.
No move-in day. No practice under the lights. No fan appreciation activities.
After more than five decades, Mankato could no longer boast that it was the “Home of Minnesota Vikings Training Camp.”
Two years removed from the last Mankato camp however, that nickname is out of sight, out of mind.
Camp started last week at the team’s headquarters, the TCO Performance Center, in Eagan, and Mankato folks simply went about their business — almost as if the Vikings had never been here at all.
It’s not that people aren’t paying attention to the team and its many preseason story lines, of course.
The Vikings are still the most popular team in the state playing the most popular sport in the country.
If they were here, there’d be a rush to campus to see yet another new offense in the Mike Zimmer era, to scrutinize the progress of $84 million quarterback Kirk Cousins and, of course, to cheer on everyone’s favorite wide receiver, MSU alum Adam Thielen.
Fans would be up there hoping to see signs of a rebound season after the major disappointment of missing the playoffs last year. They’d be watching with great anticipation what should be another top defense but also watching with great an- xiety the special teams, especially the kicking competition.
Those things are now happening up in Eagan, and that suburb is also now reaping the financial rewards of having training camp there. According to a Pioneer Press report printed in Monday’s Free Press, that city expects a nearly $5 million economic boon, a number often cited by Mankato officials over the years.
The NFL is celebrating its 100th season this year, which means Vikings training camp in Mankato was part of the league for more than half of its history.
But the Vikings have moved on, and so have we, resigned to be just like any other greater-Minnesota city when it comes to following the Vikings
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 507-344-6373 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more college hockey coverage, read Shane Frederick’s Puckato blog and follow him on Twitter @puckato.