MANKATO — August 8, 2017 marks the official end of an era when, after 52 years, the NFL Minnesota Vikings left Mankato State University and the city of Mankato for the very last time. After all these years, the Vikings will move to their new permanent office and training headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota in March of 2018.
All 32 NFL teams are in their second weeks of training camp, the rosters loaded with 90 players each fighting to make dreams come true. Last week I was Canton, Ohio for the NFL’s Hall of Fame game. Dallas edged Arizona 20-18.
Last year’s HOF game was canceled because of poor field conditions. Many changes have been made to Tom Benson Stadium just off highway 77 in Canton. This year’s 2017 HOF Class featured Morten Anderson, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, Jerry Jones, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Kurt Warner.
The Vikings pre-season starts Thursday night in Buffalo vs. the Bills. After carefully watching the Vikings working hard in Mankato, I am reminded how time just keeps moving on. When I started covering sports in the Twin Cities 39 years ago, little did I know I was the first Black sportswriter to cover the Vikings full time.
The Vikings had a private ceremony Monday thanking the city of Mankato and Mankato State University. Vikings ownership was there, team President Mark Wilf with team COO Kevin Warren as master of ceremonies, as well as the president of Mankato State and the city’s mayor.
The University’s president thanked the Vikings for helping Mankato State become the second-largest university in the state. He had the gathered group laughing when he said Mankato State might open an Eagan Campus.
HOF coach Bud Grant was there and shocked me by coming up from behind and emotionally hugging me. I remember covering coach Grant’s Vikings and how serious and stoic he was. I was so determined back then to not be denied. Coach Grant was always good to me — that’s why after all these years the Vikings are like family to me.
There have been hundreds of ball boys and staff employees over these 52 years at Mankato. Only a couple, however, have gone on to star in the National Football League. The late Dennis Green made that a reality for me; he gave my two sons Marcus and Larry, Jr. their first jobs. I hosted and produced the “Dennis Green Radio Show” for eight years.
I will never forget the hot August day that my son Marcus called me at 4 am to tell me Korey Stringer had died of heat exhaustion. I was in shock literally and jumped in my car and drove to Mankato. I never thought to check my fuel gage. I was just emotionally lost.
My car ran out of gas on highway 169 near St. Peter. Former Vikings star Joe Sensor stopped and helped me get gas after being stranded on the road. That would ultimately be the last season for coach Green. In 2001 the team could not overcome the death of Stringer.
The 2017 Vikings look good to me with Super Bowl 52 coming up in February of 2018. I believe this team is ready for the challenge in this final season of Vikings football in Mankato and the chance to win Super Bowl 52 at home in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Do you believe it’s finally time for the Vikings?
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com