Verizon Vikings Training Camp will look entirely different this year due to the guidelines and restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least one thing will remain the same, however, as the team enters its 60thseason: the bonding and camaraderie between teammates, socially distanced or not.
Training camp over the years has brought a number of different experiences – bocce ball with Bud Grant, two-a-day practices in Mankato, the year Jared Allen arrived in an RV, a move in 2018 to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. So as Verizon Vikings Training Camp is ramping up, we took some time to catch up with Vikings Legends and listen to their favorite training camp memories.
For this segment, Vikings Radio Network and VEN analyst Pete Bercich, a former Vikings player (1995-2000) and assistant coach (2002-05), hosted Randall McDaniel (1988-99), Mike Morris (1991-99) and Dixon Edwards (1996-98). Below are some of the highlights from their virtual reunion.
Summers can be notoriously short in Minnesota, and that's particularly the case with training camp serving as an unofficial fifth season — winter, spring, summer, training camp, fall. The calendar may have said July when players of this era reported to Minnesota State, Mankato, but summer officially ended in the minds of players before they headed southbound on Highway 169.
Bercich: "I always remember the Fourth of July was happy, and when the fireworks were done, 'Life's over. Here we go.' "
Morris: "It got that way. About two weeks going into it, I developed a really bad case of camp lip, just this attitude, that any stop sign I pulled up to around town or stoplight, someone had an issue with me, I just wanted to jump out and beat them up, but you know you're working on borrowed time. It's tough to know your family is walking around and you're thinking about one thing, which is going to camp and checking in and getting your bags ready to go. You're checking in with your roommate to see what he's bringing and what you need to bring, the mini-fridge or microwave."
McDaniel: "What's a long snapper have to do to get ready? Your job is to bring the stuff for the fridge, the TVs, and that was it. For me, it was always, the season would end, I would take a couple of weeks off and then work out and start getting ready. I always figured, 'Never let your body get out of shape, always be prepared, no matter what.' So that was me."
View photos of Vikings legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel.
Edwards: "In Dallas, we started working out around April 1, preparing for camp. When I got to Minnesota, I was talking to Cris Carter, and he said, 'We don't have a conditioning test,' so I never worked out until I got to camp. I didn't do anything. I figured I'd get in shape in camp."
Bercich: "I do remember Denny (Head Coach Dennis Green) saying, 'If you're not in shape, camp is its own punishment.' "
Edwards: "[Original athletic trainer Fred Zamberletti] knew I wasn't in shape, so after practice, he was giving me extra workouts. I was doing up-downs and everything after practice. He was getting me in shape."
Must-have items for Gage Hall
Austere Gage Hall, particularly in comparison to the modernized amenities of the building that replaced it, housed generations of Vikings. The residential tower was utilized by the Vikings from 1966-2012. It was imploded in 2013.
Televisions, VCRs, micro-fridges and fans were quite common, but Morris and McDaniel additionally brought a large map and toy soldiers.
What did each player consider must-have items?
Morris: "It was always, 'Make sure you've got the right pillow, your toothbrush and go.' I was just glad to be there, to be honest, more than happy to check in and have another season to play. The main thing I guess was, 'Don't duplicate something that your roommate is going to bring.' "
McDaniel: "Movies, and an extra bag so I could steal all of the army men out of the room. We were there six weeks, five weeks, so you made sure you had everything you wanted. TV, fan, toiletries and movies to watch."
Edwards: "I used to bring my Bible because I was going through a divorce and needed some strength. I did a TV also. What I think would be cool, was to have an RV sitting out in the parking lot, one of those busses. We could have hung out there and played some poker inside of there."
Edwards apparently was ahead of his time with that thought since Allen succeeded in bringing his RV.
King Ugly: 'A Beautiful Contest'
Hours turned to days and then weeks as the grind of training camp stacked rep after rep.
Monotony seeped into mindsets, accompanying sore muscles.
Relief was desired and came in the form of a "King Ugly" contest.
Beauty was in the eye of the buck holder.
A tradition that launched in 1980 and lasted more than two decades involved posting pictures in the dining room. Players voted for the teammate they most wanted to "win" at the cost of a dollar a ballot.
By the time Bercich, McDaniel, Morris and Edwards were on campus, the stakes were pretty high.
McDaniel: "King Ugly was the talent show you did at the end of camp. The rookies put it on, we voted for the guy you wanted to see who was King Ugly. It was an ugly contest. One guy would lead it for a while, and then, 'I don't want to win.' It was great to break up the monotony after being there for four or five weeks. You had to do something. We had paintball, everything else, we had a bunch of fun, but you had to do something to break it up, and the King Ugly contest was the best thing we could come up with."
Morris: "It was a beautiful contest. Everything else was run by ugly judges taking ugly bribes and rules. The king himself got the least money. I always let the third-place guy be an offensive lineman so he would get the most money and then have to spend it at Sarge's pizza (Jake's) or whatever. Todd Steussie was in the lead for most of the King Ugly [contests]. His wife didn't like that. It would get to the end and Todd would give me $200 or $300 to keep his name out of the paper. I would report it to the paper right away, no matter who it was. I would take money all noon hour and take as much money as I could. You could vote at any time you wanted, a dollar a vote, and I'd have hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars in this thing by the time it was all said and done. … That was bequeathed to me by Tim Irwin. I did it for four or five years, and I don't know who took it after I was gone. I mean the Vikings have been doing that for years, and Irwin said, 'I'm tired of doing it.' He gave me this box that I had to carry around everywhere to get votes."
Best of Burnsie
Jerry Burns had been Bud Grant's longtime offensive coordinator for more than a decade by the time he succeeded Grant as head coach in 1986. Burnsie had a distinct approach that contrasted Grant's stoicism.
McDaniel and Morris recalled their best camp memories of Burnsie.
McDaniel: "Darrell Fullington had the 'bring the noise' vehicle, the Bronco, so we were in the fifth week of camp and everyone is at each other's throat. If someone looked at someone wrong, we were ready to go at it. Burnsie's gone [from practice], and we don't know why. All of a sudden, you hear reggae music playing, and this Bronco drives by, and it's Burnsie driving Darrell's car, playing reggae music. He's just cruising the field, doing circles around the players and everything. Finally, he tells us, 'Get out of here.' That was probably the most fun, seeing Burnsie come out and do that. Even though we had finished practice, it felt like he had let us off for the rest of the day. Burnsie was a little different, but I loved him."
Morris: "The first year I came in with the Vikings was with Burnsie, his final year. We normally spent five or six weeks at training camp. I was walking down to the breakfast table. I walked down, and there's a ton of people going ballistic in the cafeteria. I run up the steps, and Burnsie is on top of the table and breaking camp. He broke camp early. 'You big knockers can't pull the trigger anymore. Get out of here.' He was so unhappy with the way practice was going. I was like, 'Are you kidding me? This guy is sending us home.' He literally just got tired of training camp, and to hell with whatever deal he had with Mankato and the Vikings had, but Burnsie said he had enough. Practices weren't meaningful enough for whatever reason. He was breaking camp to get up to Winter Park. He just thought there were more distractions down there."