Starting with the 2016 season, the Minnesota Vikings will move into U.S. Bank Stadium, a 66,000 seat, state-of-the-art indoor facility that will be expanded to 73,000 when it hosts Super Bowl LII in February 2018.
Congratulations, Vikes. You just lost your home-field advantage.
See, NFL fans of a certain age associate the Vikings with the Metrodome. Fair enough–after all, the Vikings did call the dome home from 1982 through 2013. However, older fans were present for the true glory days of Vikings football, when the team made it to four Super Bowls in ten years (between 1968 and 1978). And THOSE teams played outside, at Metropolitan Stadium.
The “Met,” as it came to be known, was not the most comfortable place to watch, let alone play a football game. When November rolled around, the temperatures became unbearably cold, and once the December snow kicked in, it created an atmosphere rivaled only by Santa’s workshop thousands of miles north. And as the years went by, the Vikings created a nucleus of veterans that became easily acclimated to the cold weather. At quarterback, there was Fran Tarkenton, who was drafted by Minnesota way back in 1961 and would become a Hall-of-Famer in 1986. Then, there was tailback Chuck Foreman, who spent almost all of his career in purple and gold. And to top it all off, Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen anchored the “Purple People Eaters,” a unit that would become arguably the greatest defensive line in NFL history. As these guys built up their team chemistry, they also increased their tolerance to the coldest of the cold. Even though they were never able to win a Super Bowl, the Vikings were certainly the best team in their division during the 1970s, and maybe the best in the NFC, if you want to set off a debate with Dallas Cowboys fans.
Metropolitan Stadium closed after the 1981 season, and the Vikings moved into the brand-new Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The franchise was never the same. Despite having limited success, the team has not been back to the Super Bowl since moving indoors. In 2013, the Vikings went 5-10-1 in their last season under the dome. But times were changing. The team spent 2014 and 2015 outside again, playing at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium while U.S. Bank Stadium was being constructed. Almost instantaneously, the team improved. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater came into his own in 2015, and led the Vikes to an 11-5 mark and the NFC North title.
Then came the 2015 wild-card game. The Vikings were home against the Seattle Seahawks, with the winner headed to Carolina to take on the 15-1 Panthers. At kickoff, the temperature at TCF Bank Stadium was a balmy minus-6. With just thirty seconds left, it seemed as if the Vikings would pull out the win, as Teddy Bridgewater had marched his team into field goal range down 10-9. However, misfortune unfolded in true Vikings fashion just seconds later, when kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard chip shot to hand the ball over to Seattle in the waning seconds.
The Vikes might not have pulled out the win. But the atmosphere reminded older fans of a better time, when the Super Bowl was always a realistic possibility. Now, in a division with the always solid Green Bay Packers and the up-and-up Chicago Bears, how are we to know if a roof is the answer to the Vikings problems?
It was cold. Freezing. Really, it would have been unhealthy to be outside during that playoff game this past January. But it must have been damn fun for Vikings fans to be outside again. Now, when they move into their new digs in September, they’ll lose some of that spirit. They’ll lose some of the toughness and tenacity that their fans thrive on. Take Green Bay, for example. Evan as one of the most financially sound franchises in football, the Packers have prided themselves on playing outdoors, because they know their team thrives under the conditions. Who’s to say that the Vikings wouldn’t have the same reaction? Thanks to roofs, big-money construction firms, and long leases, we likely won’t know the answer to that question for a while.