MINNEAPOLIS – Outdoor pro football is back in Minnesota for the first time in 29 years. Cue the snow.
The Minnesota Vikings’ odyssey from the crippled Metrodome to the University of Minnesota’s open-air stadium was made complete just hours ahead of Monday night’s game with the Chicago Bears when a gentle snow began to fall, the leading edge of a storm threatening to dump between seven and 12 centimetres on the area.
For some fans, the game at TCF Bank Stadium was as an early Christmas present. Old-timers have fond memories of outdoor games at old Metropolitan Stadium in suburban Bloomington, when coach Bud Grant and quarterback Fran Tarkenton led powerhouse squads that treated the bitter conditions as their ally en route to four Super Bowls. The Vikings played their last game at the Met exactly 29 years ago, a 10-6 loss to Kansas City, before moving to the new Metrodome downtown.
It was fallout from Minnesota’s extra-snowy December that forced the Vikings back outdoors this season. A winter storm Dec. 12-13 dumped about 43 centimetres on the roof of the Metrodome caused its Teflon roof to fail, dumping massive piles of snow on the field. The Metrodome’s operators soon decided there was no way to get the Vikings’ home back into shape for Monday’s game, the final home game of the team’s 50th season.
After moving last weekend’s game to Detroit, the Vikings vowed to hold what they called a special event before a Minnesota crowd, and the university stadium emerged as their preferred option. TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009, and Monday marked its first time hosting a pro football game. School officials spent most of last week getting it ready, recruiting teams of workers to shovel snow and making efforts to warm and soften the field to reduce the risk of injury to players.
Temperatures were hovering around -6 C, not as cold as had been feared last week.
TCF Bank Stadium seats about 50,000 fans, a potential problem for a game with 64,000 ticket-holders. Team officials said it was the best they could do given limited time.
Vikings officials predicted enough fans would return their tickets that no one would be turned away from the game. Another potential disincentive was the decision not to serve liquor at the school-owned stadium, which is dry for Gopher games.
Sandy Barin, a Minneapolis broker who said he typically attends 4-5 Vikings games a year, decided to get the refund on his tickets and said he’d be watching at a local watering hole instead.
“You’re lining up beforehand for two hours, sitting in the stadium for another two-and-a-half before the game starts, and then a three-hour game,” Barin said Monday. “No thanks. I just think there’s the potential for it to be a complete free-for-all.”