A Fan's-Eye-View of Vikings Training Camp 2013
The 2013 NFL season is in full swing, with all teams in the middle of training camp. That includes the Vikings, of course, and with that in mind, I thought I'd give MY impressions of camp, what takes place, how the fans are involved, and all the excitement there is for this team this year.
We went down Saturday morning, August 3rd, expecting to have to get in a line of fans waiting to be let inside the gates of training camp. We arrived at about 9:00 AM, and there was a line waiting. The gates didn't open until 10:00, but that didn't matter. There was ample opportunity to people-watch, and to talk Vikings with other people in line. Of course the types of people waiting ran the gamut from die-hards with painted faces, stylized jerseys and hats and shoes, to those who were dressed casually (no purple in sight), to even apparent fans of other league teams. I saw Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys, Indianapolis Colts jerseys, Denver Broncos jerseys, and even Green Bay Packers jerseys.
Why the Packer fans were attending training camp for the Vikings was beyond me. Of course some of them were with their family members (who were obviously Vikings fans), but to show up in an opposing team's uniform somehow seemed sacreligous. Of course the Vikings fans may have given them strange looks, but there were no obvious bad treatment toward them from any of the Vikings fans. But I digress.
The Vikings' organization sure seems to know how to market to its fans - as soon as you walk in the gate, you're guided (herded, really) through a climate-controlled tent where they've set up all kinds of Vikings-themed merchandise. Of course, it's a fan's dream store, and there were several registers set up to help people pay for their purchases. From jerseys and hats and plaques and flags, to scarves and mugs and trinkets and baubles, there was anything and everything that a fan could want to buy.
As we walked through the tent, there were Vikings employees handing out flyers, training camp booklets and other things. Walking further, we saw sponsor booths, an inflatable Vikings helmet, kids' booths, and the "beer garden" tent with a bar set up. There were also tables where people could sit and eat, and standing tables as well. Also, across from that (and directly behind Blakeslee Stadium) was the "food court", with several booths set up including kettle corn, nachos and cheese, beer and pop, hotdogs and brats. About the only thing missing was a giant grill for grilling hamburgers, steaks, ribs and everything else.
Walking into the stadium, there are bleachers facing the main practice field.There is a fence around the field as well, keeping out rowdy or overzealous fans. The stadium looks like a typical high school or small-college setup. The field seemed well-kept, and the sun was shining brightly, but it wasn't too hot. There is an entrance on the west end of the field, where the players, coaches and media come and go, and there is an earthen berm on the other end. When the bleachers are full of fans, many will sit on that to watch practices.
We spent a good part of the morning watching walk-through practices, as the offensive and defensive groups worked on fundamentals without pads. The weather was beautiful as we watched the team run through the drills. It was a very informal practice, and took about an hour and a half. I had brought my mini-helmet and silver, gold and bronze pens, hoping to get autographs, but it wasn't to be. After the practice was over (about 11:30), we decided to eat lunch and walk around outside the stadium. There were plenty of kids' things to do, so my 8-year-old companion Connor had lots of fun. That's one thing about the Vikings - they are always helping out kids, providing things for them to do at training camp, as well as through Vikings' Charities.
In the afternoon, the Vikings had a special treat in store with the kids. They were allowed onto the field and were taken through football drills - just like the big boys - such as throwing, footwork, working with blocking and tackling dummies, kicking field goals and others. Connor really enjoyed himself, and it was a learning experience for him. After that we went back out and took pictures, talked with friends who were there, and generally just took in the atmosphere. After dinner, everyone gathered in the stadium for a family night practice/scrimmage by the Vikings. Both sides of the bleachers and the earthen berm were full of fans, and when the players came out on the field, there was a big roar from the crowd. As the players ran through drills, offense against defense, special teamers and everyone in between, I felt a sense of togetherness on the field, a sense that this is a TEAM. Players were conversing with each other, shouting encouragement to one another and seemed to be concentrating well on the tasks on hand.
There were several things that stuck out to me watching the evening scrimmage:
1) Punter Jeff Locke has one heck of a leg. He was easily booming punts 60, maybe even 70 yards in the air with ease. His punts had tight spirals, and more than once he was able to direct his kicks into the corner. He is one of the best pickups the Vikings have had this offseason.
2) Christian Ponder is more confident than he has seemed before. His throws have accuracy, quickness, and his deep ball looked awfully good from what I saw at the practice.
3) The offensive line, together for several years now, seem to be a little slow in gelling together. During the drills I saw, the line had problems holding defenders, especially on the corners, and looked a little sluggish on their feet.
4) Blair Walsh is ready to go
5) The receivers, in particular Cordarelle Patterson, Stephen Burton and Greg Jennings, are looking really good. They seem to have a good sense of timing with Ponder, and are catching most of everything thrown their way.
Of course most fans, at this time of year, are going to be optimistic about their favorite team, and there is the old saying that every team is undefeated at the start of the season. There is very much to look forward to with the 2013 Minnesota Vikings. I know we have a very good team - I can see it. Here's to an awesome season!!
Shock's Trivia Question:
Last week's question was as follows: Who was the first MLB player to hit more than 50 home runs AND strike out less than 50 times in the same season?
The answer is Johnny Mize of the New York Giants, in 1947.
This weeks's question: Who was the first NFL team to have 3-1,000 yard receivers in one season? (Bonus if you can name the receivers and the QB who threw to them.