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After 52 Years in Mankato, that’s all, folks!

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 info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com

Should Timberwolves acquire Kyrie Erving?

Nobody has done more to improve their roster than the Minnesota Timberwolves since Golden State captured their second NBA title in June over Cleveland. After the team finished 31-51, missing the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden took their time, rolled up their sleeves, and worked the system.
Suddenly the Timberwolves look like a playoff contender.

Trading veteran Ricky Rubio to Utah for a 2018 first-round pick, releasing forward Nickalo Pekovic, making the blockbuster deal with Chicago for All-Star Jimmy Butler in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Minnesota’s number-seven overall pick has set the tone for change.

That deal sent shock waves through the NBA community. It got players talking about Minnesota as the place to play.
All-Star guard Jeff Teague was signed as well as forward Taj Gibson; and the foundation for the future, Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns, 21 and 22 years old respectively, is already in place. What Thibodeau has done is infused the organization because he has credibility as a coach around the league. Players know he’s about winning and want to play where they can see progress in the making.

Suddenly two weeks ago, after all the moves the Timberwolves have made, even signing veteran reserve guard Jamaal Crawford, All-Star Kyrie Erving, one of the NBA’s top point guards, wants out of Cleveland. After three straight years in the NBA Finals and helping Cleveland win their first championship of any kind in 54 years, he says he wants to go elsewhere. And he tells his agent and Cleveland he wants to go to Minnesota.

Does he have issues with LeBron James? Is he upset that Cleveland just fired their general manager, the guy who drafted him number-one overall out of Duke? Remember, he came into the league after a serious injury his last year at Duke. Whatever his reasons are now for wanting out of Cleveland, if I were the Timberwolves I would not make that deal.

Erving’s body has taken a beating going deep in the playoffs three straight years in a row and logging deep minutes. Cleveland would want Wiggins in exchange, who the Wolves acquired in the Kevin Love deal three years ago.
As talented as Erving is having won a title already, Wiggins I feel has not yet hit his growth ceiling. He is still evolving as a player. I like his game and his mental approach to the game. I hope the Timberwolves are patient and pass on dealing for Erving and allow this current group they have now to grow together.

Erving has a history of getting hurt. It’s part of the game, but he plays with the ball a lot in creating contact in the lane. I want to see Towns, Wiggins, Butler and Teague together. I think the Timberwolves, with Butler’s leadership and Teague’s ability to push the tempo, are ready to go.

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 info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com

Just like that, summer’s over!

Summer — where did it go? Yes, it has been hot, humid and muggy. I was just getting used to it and bam! It’s over!
Yes, we are still in July, mind you, but the Vikings are in Mankato. And when the Vikings go to Mankato, you know what that means: back-to-school sales and the Minnesota State Fair.

They start playing pre-season games in a few weeks. The Vikings announced this is their final season training in Mankato. Mankato State University has been their summer home for 52 consecutive years. 2017 will be their last.
Training camp is all business. Ninety players each on 32 teams report at the beginning, and when September rolls around 57 players will have survived.

I must say training camp is not what it used to be. The players don’t hit as much as they used to. The teams, thanks to the NFLPA, actually show a greater concern for the players’ health.

Coaches for years built the mental toughness of their teams by working their players hard in the heat and humidity of late summer conditions. That meant lots of hitting during the twice-daily practices.

Everything the players do in camp except going to the bathroom is recorded on video. The contracts that the players sign don’t kick in until September, the start of the regular season. NFL players make about $400 each week during training camp.

Most of the jobs have already been won. However, for a few veterans who get challenged by rookies and second year players, this could be the end of the road.

It’s football, football, and more football — training, lifting weights, sprints and gassers. There is nothing to love about training camp. The coaches are seldom happy. They push you to the brink demanding that you show the potential or consistency they expect.

This is year four for Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. Two years ago he won the NFL North title. Teddy Bridgewater was his starting quarterback; in 2017 the job, for now, belongs to Sam Bradford. General Manager Rick Spielman has one playoff win in 10 years.

With Super Bowl 52 in February at U.S. Bank Stadium, the pressure is on this team to really be good. If the Vikings are to be a playoff team, they will have to be much better on offense. Last year they could not run the football, and Adrian Peterson is gone. Eventually it caught up with them.

I’ll be making my final trips to Mankato over the next few weeks to gauge the potential of the 2017 Vikings. NFL pre-season football starts with the Hall of Fame game from Canton, Ohio on Thursday, August 3, Dallas vs. Arizona.
You thought I was joking? Summer is over. It’s football season.

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 info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.