Vikings exhibit opens at historical society in Mankato

Published 9:29 am Friday, July 24, 2015

MANKATO — Training camp was no picnic for John Swain when he played for the Minnesota Vikings three decades ago.

In fact, it sounded like a rather grueling experience.

Swain recalls two-a-day practices on the Minnesota State University campus and living in Gage Hall, which doesn’t have air-conditioning, during the peak summer heat.

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“The two-a-days aren’t fun at all,” he said Friday, “but you got to get through it.”

Swain was in Mankato last week for the kickoff to the Blue Earth County Historical Society’s exhibit commemorating the 50-year anniversary of training camp in Mankato, according to a press release. The free exhibit runs through Sept. 4 at the museum.

The exhibit features Vikings memorabilia from each decade the team has been in Mankato. Local fans loaned items, such as scarves, autographed footballs and pictures, for the exhibit.

The Vikings donated the display cases, Historical Society Executive Director Jessica Potter said.

“When we have a milestone year, that’s a perfect opportunity to document history,” she said.

Swain, who runs a nonprofit in Minneapolis, encouraged all people in Mankato to see the exhibit. He said Mankato has been a welcoming place for former players such as himself, noting that people still remember them.

He said he recalls the food being his favorite part of camp, noting the seafood was “top of the line” and that he remembers eating frog legs (“which tasted just like chicken”).

Swain will be at camp as a fan and season-ticket holder this year and said he plans on evaluating the rookies and first-round draft pick Trae Waynes. He said he will be working as a uniform inspector this year for the Vikings, making sure that players are in compliance with National Football League regulations.

He said his son, J.J. Swain, just became the head football coach at Edison High School in Minneapolis.

Former Vikings running back Dave Osborn was also at Friday’s exhibit opening. He also recalled hot practices and no air conditioning in the dorms.

“It’s a lot different than it is today,” he said.

Osborn, who played for the Vikings from 1965-75, said fans didn’t come from outside the region for training camp back then as they do today. He said he participated in Friday’s event because of his appreciation for the team’s fans.

“The fans are the reason we had jobs, so we owe a little back to the fans,” he said.

Fans Cindy Walters and Marci Rodriguez of Mankato were among those at the exhibit opening. Walters sported a Fran Tarkenton jersey and Rodriquez wore a Daunte Culpepper jersey. Both said Tarkenton is their favorite player.

Both said they plan on going to as many Vikings practices as possible this year, adding that they hope to get an autograph from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

They said they are excited about the team’s chances this year.

“It definitely gives us fans something to look forward to,” Walters said.