EAGAN, Minn. -- Early in Wednesday’s first practice at Minnesota Vikings training camp, a Skol chant broke out in the stands. Later, there was another.
You better believe the players heard them.
“It was pretty cool,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “It’s been a while since I heard that one, so we’re finally creeping toward normalcy a little bit.”
Following a season in which the Vikings had no fans at training camp or home games because of the coronavirus pandemic, spectators were back for the start of camp at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan. It was the first time fans have been able to watch the Vikings in person in Minnesota since the Dec. 29, 2019 regular-season finale against Chicago at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It’s fun,” defensive end Jalyn Holmes said. “I’m glad they get to come out to see us in practice. That gave us a little more energy. I did hear the Skol chant a couple of times.”
There looked to be about 1,000 fans on hand Wednesday, a number that was perhaps lower than expected. But it was a humid day, with temperatures in the 90s.
Those on hand often were boisterous. The Skol chants were led by Scott Asplund, 57, of Plymouth, Minnesota, who dubs himself “Sir Skolt” and was dressed as usual in a Viking costume, carrying a shield and sword.
“It feels fantastic to be back here,” Asplund said. “(Fans) are itching to be here. This is part of what I live for.”
The Vikings played four road games in front of fans last season, with the biggest crowd being 16,031 in Week 14 at Tampa Bay. At U.S. Bank Stadium, there were two early-season games in which 250 staff members and their families were allowed to attend, but otherwise the stadium was empty all year.
Vikings players now only can imagine what it will be like this season during home games. Fans will be back for two preseason games, starting Aug. 14 against Denver, and then for eight regular-season games.
“I think the fans will be super loud this year, like obnoxiously loud, and help the defense, especially,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “Last year, we were missing that link for sure and I’m excited to bring that aspect back to the game.”
Quarterback Kirk Cousins said he’s “thrilled” to have fans back.
“We just broke our quarterback meeting and we talked about how people are giving up vacation time to come watch us practice,” Cousins said before Wednesday’s practice. “That sums it up right there. Honestly, it makes coming out to practice on a 95-degree day feel like a privilege when you realize that’s what fans are doing.”
The Vikings practiced for about two hours in a low-key workout without pads. They won’t put on pads for the first time until Monday.
Cornerback Jeff Gladney, who has a grand jury date Thursday in Dallas after being arrested April 5 on a charge of third-degree family violence assault, was the only Vikings player not on hand. Sitting out because of injury were tackle Christian Darrisaw (groin), center Cohl Cabral (undisclosed) and kicker Riley Patterson (undisclosed), who is on the physically unable to perform list. Nose tackle Michael Pierce (left calf) was limited.
“I thought it was a great day,” Barr said of the practice. “It was a little warm, but that didn’t seem to affect us too much. We came out and executed pretty well. It’s a long journey, but it’s the first step forward.”
The fans sure seemed to enjoy it.
“I’m excited as ever,” said Joshua James, 45, of Faribault, Minnesota, who has been a Vikings fan for three decades.
James attended Wednesday’s workout with his friend, Mark Tartaglia, 40, of Bloomington, Minnesota. Tartaglia pointed to how different it is expected to be this season when fans finally will be able to see for themselves last year’s breakout star — wide receiver Justin Jefferson, a rookie in 2020.
“Just wait until Justin Jefferson catches a touchdown pass with thousands of people watching him,” Tartaglia said. “I’m just excited for people to be back and the hooting and hollering and all that goes into it.”