Minnesota Vikings fans have become accustomed to making the short drive down Highway 169 to Mankato, Minn., in late summers for training camp.
The Vikings are set to open their 47th training camp in Minnesota on Friday -- only the Green Bay Packers have been in one place longer -- and the annual visits have given most Vikings fans the chance to become well acquainted with Mankato.
Minnesota's players are getting familiar with the place, too. They are reporting Thursday and staying until Aug. 16, the longest visit to Mankato since a three-week duration in 2008. In recent seasons, Minnesota would break camp before the first preseason game, but this year the Vikings return for one more week following their Aug. 10 preseason opener. Last year, due to the lockout, Minnesota had only 11 on-field practices in Mankato. This year they have 15 scheduled practice dates.
Last year, more than 45,000 fans made their way to the Vikings Village, the fan-accessible portion of Mankato's training camp site. It's hard to believe, but the gates are open again, and there is plenty fans need to know before they make the trip.
The Vikings are adjusting their training camp schedule this season, switching their full-padded practices to the afternoon, with walk-throughs to be done in the morning. The players report to Mankato on Thursday at the Gage dormitory and practices begin Friday. Minnesota will break camp following practices on Wednesday, Aug. 15 in preparation for the second preseason game at the Metrodome on Friday, Aug. 17. All regular practices in Mankato are free and open to the public. The practice schedule:
Friday, July 27 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Helmets Saturday, July 28 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Helmets Sunday, July 29 Players day off Monday, July 30 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Tuesday, July 31 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Wednesday, Aug. 1 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Thursday, Aug. 2 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Friday, Aug. 3 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Saturday, Aug. 4 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 7-9 p.m. - Full pads (Practice at Blakeslee Stadium) Sunday, Aug. 5 Players day off Monday, Aug. 6 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Tuesday, Aug. 7 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Wednesday, Aug. 8 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Thursday, Aug. 9 Travel day, no practice Friday, Aug. 10 Preseason game at San Francisco 49ers Saturday, Aug. 11 Players day off Sunday, Aug. 12 10:55-11:55 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Monday, Aug. 13 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Tuesday, Aug. 14 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads Wednesday, Aug. 15 10:30-11:30 a.m. - Walk-through 2:45-5 p.m. - Full pads
FEES, PARKING AND WHERE TO WATCH
Parking is near Blakeslee Stadium, just a short walk from the entrance to the Vikings Village. Parking is available in lots 20-23 and can be accessed through the entrance on Monks Ave. Minnesota State University charges $7 for parking in the fan lots.
Once in the Vikings Village, there are several fan-friendly activities and the practices are held on the fields between Blakeslee Stadium and the Gage dormitory. Fans can watch the practices from the open area to the east of the practice fields and the assembled bleachers, which fill up quickly.
In case of inclement weather, the Vikings may move practice indoors to the Myers Field House. Limited seating inside the field house may be opened to the public. In case of severe weather, the Vikings Village will close as well.
AUTOGRAPHS AND PHOTOS
Fans have two options to collect autographs. The Vikings set up their designated autograph zone at the north end of the Vikings Village and have a different position group signing each day. Many players will also sign autographs, typically following practices, as they make their way across the street back to the locker room. From the northern side of the practice fields, players will cross Stadium Road over to the field house.
The designated autograph zone is to the north of Blakeslee Stadium and south of Stadium Road. Entrance into the autograph zone is free, but the autograph sessions are scheduled for just 25 minutes and lines form early. The gates will open at the beginning of each practice, and fans are allowed to wait in line. Autographs are done on a first-come, first-serve basis and there is a limit of one item per person. Personal photographs are not allowed. The Vikings have a countdown clock for the 25-minute session, and a horn will sound at the end of the session.
Running back Adrian Peterson's autograph time is a fan favorite, and Minnesota uses a ticket system for the running backs session due to demand. The first 2,000 fans through the gates at the opening of practice will receive a scratch-off ticket, with 150 of those bearing Peterson's name for the chance to receive his autograph. Access to the remaining running backs are conducted with the usual autograph zone procedures.
The schedule for position groups in the autograph zone is:
July 30 Tight ends – 11:30 a.m. July 31 Offensive line – 11:30 a.m. Aug. 1 Linebackers – 11:30 a.m. Aug. 2 Wide receivers – 11:30 a.m. Aug. 3 Defensive ends – 11:30 a.m. Aug. 4 Vikings alumni – 5:30 p.m. Aug. 6 Quarterbacks – 11:30 a.m. Aug. 7 Defensive tackles – 11:30 a.m. Aug. 8 Running backs – 11:30 a.m. Aug. 12 Specialists – 11:30 a.m. Aug. 13 Defensive backs – 11:30 a.m. Aug. 14 Entire team – 11:30 a.m.
At the entrance to the Vikings Village, the team opens a temporary Minnesota Vikings Locker Room store to satisfy all fans' souvenir needs. The air-conditioned tent features merchandise, including jerseys, apparel and items that can be used in the autograph zone. It is the only souvenir area located in the Vikings Village. Food and drinks are available for purchase in the Vikings Village with a variety of concessions available.
Aside from the two-a-day practices and autograph opportunities, the Vikings offer a few special events for fans. Set up every day in the Vikings Village is a kids' section with several fun football-themed activities. Two special events for kids are also the junior football clinic and Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders cheer clinic.
The first junior football clinic will be held Saturday, Aug. 4 from 2:30-3:30 p.m. at Blakeslee Stadium as is free for participants. The second clinic is Tuesday, Aug. 7 from 1-2 p.m. Boys and girls of all ages are invited to participate. Each child must complete a registration form with a signed liability waiver. Registration forms can be found online at Vikings.com or picked up at the training camp information booth in the Vikings Village. Completed forms, with signatures by a parent or guardian can be submitted on the day of the clinic. Check-in for the clinic is 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the session at the north end of the stadium near the autograph zone.
The cheer clinic, conducted by the Vikings' cheerleaders is Saturday, Aug. 4 from 4-5 p.m. at Blakeslee Stadium. The clinic is free. A registration form and liability waiver is required.
Saturday, Aug. 4 is family football day at training camp with a complete day of activities lined up. Vikings Village will be open at 10 a.m. for the morning practice, per usual. Gates re-open at 2 p.m. for the afternoon session, which will include the junior football clinic and cheer clinic.
The one night practice of training camp is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be conducted in Blakeslee Stadium. Following the practice, at approximately 9:30 p.m., are team introductions with fireworks after at about 9:45 p.m.
Fan appreciation day is Tuesday, Aug. 14 for the morning practice, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. The entire team will be signing autographs in the autograph zone from 11:30 to 11:55 a.m.
Minnesota will host four season ticket owner's socials, scheduled from 2 to 6 p.m. on July 31, Aug. 1, 7 and 8.
WHILE YOU ARE THERE
The main draw for fans in Mankato is the Vikings, though there are several area restaurants and bars that cater to fans. Fans make the annual trek to Mankato to see the on-field product, though, and enjoy the football-related activities as the official start to football season.