Vikings begin 50th summer in Mankato as NFL trends other way
MANKATO, Minn. (AP) Terence Newman has started his 13th season in the NFL a little bit like a rookie.
This is the veteran cornerback's first year with the Minnesota Vikings and, thus, his first time attending professional training camp on a college campus.
''I'm showing my age, now. It's been about 14 years since I stayed in a dorm. Holy guacamole! It's going to be different for sure,'' Newman said at Minnesota State University, thinking back to his alma mater, Kansas State. ''I always used to say, `I wish I could go back to college,' and technically I'm going back to college.''
Newman spent nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, who take their training camp to Oxnard, California, but players there stay in hotels. Newman's last three years were with the Cincinnati Bengals, one of the many teams who've recently relocated out-of-town training camp operations to their usual in-season site.
The Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers, who were the first teams in the league to report for camp this season due to their participation in the Aug. 9 exhibition game on Hall of Fame induction weekend, have each launched celebrations of their 50th consecutive year at the same site. The Steelers go to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The Green Bay Packers have trained at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, for 58 straight summers.
''I do think the situation we're in right now, this is the best for us to get ready as a football team,'' coach Mike Zimmer said. ''I think Mankato does a great job of helping us feel welcome, and the university here as well.''
The home-away-from-home setup has been fading like the role of the fullback and the prominence of the Tampa Two zone defense, with more teams building state-of-the-art practice facilities at their suburban headquarters for cost efficiency instead of taking the show on the road for a few weeks. This year, a record 20 of 32 teams are holding training camps at home. Fifteen years ago, only five teams stayed on site.
Vikings headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, have long been cramped and dated, making training camp impossible there with 90 players and many more fans who want to watch practice and fetch autographs. There's always the possibility of a newer, bigger facility in the southwest Minneapolis suburbs that could host training camp, but for now the Vikings have been in discussions with Minnesota State University about returning in the near future after the current contract expires at the end of the summer.
''Our entire organization has a deep appreciation for Minnesota State University and the city of Mankato,'' spokesman Jeff Anderson said. ''We have developed strong relationships within the community over 50 years and value the unique opportunity for Vikings fans to interact with our players and coaches.''
As a team with a regional fan base that stretches well into Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, going southwest to Mankato gives more fans the chance to watch. As the first full practice began on a steamy Sunday afternoon, a group of fans serenaded the stretching players with a verse of the team's ''Skol, Vikings'' fight song.
The support is welcomed, but especially for the veteran players with young children the choice, if given one, would always be easy.
''The biggest deal for me is sleep in your own bed, having your family at home, being able to see them,'' said defensive end Brian Robison, starting his ninth season with the team.
Backup quarterback Shaun Hill returned to the Vikings this year after nine seasons away, all of which were spent with teams that trained at home. The cinder-block, mid-1960s high-rise twin towers the team used to stay in here have since been torn down. The new building has central air conditioning.
''It's still a dorm,'' Hill said, ''but it is an upgraded dorm, for sure.''
So does the site make a difference for a team's preparation, putting aside the precious issue of sleeping in a player's own bed?
''In training camp, you're around guys so much you're going to team build anyway. I don't know. They say, `Be here,' so we're here,'' wide receiver Mike Wallace said. ''So that doesn't really matter. It's just like any other job. They want you somewhere, you've got to be there.''
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