Instead of carrying the helmets and shoulder pads of their veteran teammates off the field and to the locker room following practices, all the players were anticipating a night of entertainment and taking some jabs from the rookies.
"We unload a little bit," said linebacker J. Leman. "The rule about the rookie show is that nobody is off-limits. Even the head man isn't off limits. A lot of it wouldn't be funny, especially to somebody who is outside the team, but when you're with a team, especially for three weeks in camp, a lot of stuff gets funny that normally wouldn't be funny. It will be a good time."
Leman was teaming with fellow rookie linebacker Erin Henderson for their skit. He said their routine was set up to make fun of some of the veteran linebackers – especially the starters – and their position coaches.
Defensive tackle Pat Williams is known as a player that dishes it out. He can talk trash with NFL rivals, but he can also throw out the barbs against his teammates. He and Kevin Williams were expected to get some of it in return from the rookies.
"It's a little bit of everything. A lot of people get on Pat and Kevin," defensive end Ray Edwards said about the talent show. "They mostly pick on the older guys because we pick on them a lot during camp and they get us back during the talent show."
Cornerback Cedric Griffin still remembers his favorite skit from last year.
"Last year Marcus McCauley and Sidney Rice did a show, like a little free-style rapping skit. It was pretty good actually," Griffin said.
While the rookies were busy planning their skits for the last several nights, most of them were keeping their game plan secret before the event, just like the coaches do before a game.
Like Pat Williams, Jared Allen could hold a trash-talking talent show nearly every day of the week, but he recalled that his rookie talent show in Kansas City featured about an hour's worth of him poking fun of defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.
Head coach Brad Childress could be the target of some of the taunting Thursday night, too, but all involved know that training camp is a time for team bonding, and humor plays a big part in helping to get them all through the process.
"They have fun with each other. They jab each other with words, with fingers, with arms and elbows. But all in all, they kind of like each other," Childress said. "As I say, you can't have thin skin around these guys. You better be able to dish it out and you better be able to take it."
And following the talent show, the players were expecting to have another chance at socializing after a long camp.
"Tonight's the night that a lot of guys let loose," safety Darren Sharper said.
There were no fans attending the final 45-minute practice as crews began tearing down the VIP tent and cleaning up other areas around the fields during the afternoon practice, but Vikings officials and players seemed please with the turnout at training camp this year.
"The fans in Minnesota are really good right now. I think it's a big help with Adrian (Peterson) and all the playmakers on offense right now," said cornerback Cedric Griffin. "I love the fans coming out and supporting us. I think it's grown a little bit."
The Vikings were figuring they had more than 50,000 fans attend their 2008 training camp, despite not having a joint practice or scrimmage with the Chiefs in Mankato to help boost the numbers. The 7,000-seat Blakeslee Stadium had been full in the past when Mankato and the Vikings hosted such an event, but this year the Vikings traveled to River Falls, Wis., on July 31 to practice against the Chiefs. That made their increased attendance all the more satisfying.
"From the fans' standpoint, there's nothing like that for our guys to have people come out and kind of change what can be a boring, mundane environment, even though some of those guys are trying to win jobs," Childress said. "I just appreciate their support and their passion. To a person … (they're) passionate people. You would rather have passionate people than people that could care less. That's one thing Minnesota Vikings fans have always been."
After the Thursday morning practice, the players lined up and children were allowed to walk from player to player to get their autographs as part of Fan Appreciation Day.
So far, Henderson has been pleased with the feedback he has received from fans.
"Everybody has been really positive, as far as showing me encouragement. I go over and sign things when I have some time and they're really thankful, really appreciative of that," he said. "They're really good fans and I'm excited to see how things go once the season comes and everything ramps up."
THURSDAY AFTERNOON NOTES
The plan is still to try to get McKinnie into a pre-trial diversion program and avoid facing four charges, including one felony battery charge, as a result of that fight.