It was the summer of 1966 when Mankato welcomed the Minnesota Vikings to training camp from their short-lived summer home in Bemidji.
That first sweltering training camp would be the first of what would be 52 summers together. The community on the Minnesota River provided a unique opportunity for more Viking fans to get up-close with their heroes, as the drive was about an hour from the Twin Cities... a far cry from the three and a half to four-hour trek to Bemidji.
As for the Viking players and coaches, it was... well, training camp. Hot, humid and plenty of hard work. KARE 11's Randy Shaver sat down with long-time head coach Bud Grant and some Viking legends to ask them what they remembered about Mankato.
"No air conditioning,” said Grant, eliciting plenty of laughs.
“I mean it was tough,” said Hall of Fame safety Paul Krause. “Everybody thought it was a terrible place to be and it was, but we made the best of it that we could.”
Like the year in Mankato when the entire defensive line in training camp consisted of the Purple People Eaters... Page, Marshall, Carl Eller and Gary Larson.... plus just one other guy.
“We had five defensive linemen,” said Page. “Five defensive linemen and the routine didn't change. We worked just as hard those are kinds of things bring you together.”
Sometimes, that bonding involved creative off-field activities that took place after the pads were put away. “We shot rockets off, we did so many things," Krause recalled. "I know Mr. Marshall shot a frog up in the air came down and lived didn't it?”
“With a parachute,“ said former Viking great Alan Page.
“All of those things go into making our team, “ said Krause.
“It might not be the best time to bring it up Paul, do you have the trophy that we won in the bocce ball tournament?" asked coach Grant.
“I do, I still have it and our picture together,” Krause told his coach. “I'd like to see it again. Bud and I were bocce ball champions.“
Despite the hard work and challenging conditions, there were a few Vikings that actually seemed to embrace the time grinding it out in Mankato.
“There were actually people who enjoyed training camp. Bill Brown enjoyed training camp, card games, the camaraderie. He'd stay there all year if he could, a lot of players made it tolerable,” said Grant.
Tolerable, and yet for a vast number of Vikings weeks sleeping in a college dorm and practicing twice a day under a summer sun was also what memories are made of. Mankato is where players earn a spot on the club, forge a relationship, and take the first steps towards making Super Bowl dreams a reality. The Vikings have started every season since 1966 in Mankato, and this will be their last before moving to a state of the art facility in Eagan.
The Mankato Free Press, which generously shared historic images for this story, has compiled many of the pictures into a book that chronicles five decades of Vikings Training Camp in the community. You can find information on that book on the Free Press website.
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