Move over, Metrodome
MINNEAPOLIS – For close to half of the Metrodome's 32-year life, the Minnesota Vikings pushed for a new place to play.
In 2016, they'll break in a new, sleek stadium on the same downtown site. Perhaps they'll enjoy the same edge they often had at the dated, cramped dome.
When it's torn down next month, though, the Vikings will leave a whole lot of home-field advantage in the rubble. They play their final game at the Metrodome on Dec. 29 against the Detroit Lions.
"It's a building that the Vikings and their fans probably don't look forward to going to, but I'll guarantee you the visitor hates it even more," former center Matt Birk said.
The rival Green Bay Packers are at the top of that list. Brett Favre needed six tries to win his first game there, and finished 6-10 as the opposing quarterback, losing there in 1996 with the eventual Super Bowl champions. Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka loathed the Metrodome so much he declared it fit for no better than a roller skating rink.
"The volume in that stadium, when the fans get rocking, you can't even have a conversation on the sidelines. It wasn't just the snap count and the communication on the field. It's trying to communicate on the sideline to fix something, and you just couldn't do it," said retired kicker Ryan Longwell, who, like Favre, played for both the Packers and Vikings. "We'd walk out of here with a great team – and a loss. It obviously got into our heads a little bit."
Then-Packers coach Mike Holmgren accused the Vikings of enhancing the crowd noise by playing recordings through the speaker system, but the inflated Teflon cover was going to trap and amplify the cheering, shouting and chanting regardless of manipulation. The circulated air was dry, and unaccustomed opponents could quickly dehydrate.
The Vikings, too, frequently had rosters built to thrive on the artificial turf in the controlled climate.
From Chris Doleman to John Randle to Jared Allen, they've had some of the most dominant pass-rushers in the NFL. For the offensive tackles who strained to hear the cadence and left his stance a half-second late, thwarting a sack became a greater challenge.
When the Vikings had a quarterback who could consistently complete deep passes, like Tommy Kramer, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Daunte Culpepper and Favre, they had some of the league's best offenses without having to worry about limiting late-season weather. When Cris Carter and Randy Moss were the wide receivers, the precision, speed and confidence of the passing game was almost impossible to stop.
"We always won the same way," former strong safety Robert Griffith said. "We got a lead, you knew it was a track meet in there, and guys had to keep up with us."
Moss, Cunningham, Carter, Randle and Griffith were the key cogs of the 1998 team that went 15-1, set the later-broken NFL record for single-season scoring, and cruised to the NFC championship game. They lost to the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, the only opportunity the Vikings had to play for a Super Bowl spot in their domed home.
They also lost three other NFC championship games on the road during the Metrodome era, which will be marked as much by talented teams that fell short as by the success they had there from 1982-2013.
According to STATS research, the Vikings (162-90) have the seventh-best home record in the NFL – third-best in the NFC – since the Metrodome opened. But they never were able to put it to its ultimate use: fuel for their first championship.
When a snowstorm pelted Minneapolis the night before a game in 2010, the roof caved in, forcing the Vikings to play their last two home contests elsewhere. That literal collapse served as sort of a sardonic symbol for the star-crossed franchise's history.
Built on time and under budget for $55 million, the Metrodome was from the end of a gone-by generation of versatile-but-sterile pro sports venues before high-def and wi-fi became must-haves. First named for former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, the Metrodome has been known as Mall of America Field since 2009 thanks to a sponsorship by the super-sized suburban shopping complex.
Shaped like a marshmallow-covered muffin or a low-rise spaceship, depending on one's mood or view, the Metrodome was deemed fancy enough by the league at the time to host a Super Bowl after the 1991 season.
The Minnesota Twins won two World Series there. The University of Minnesota football team called it home for 27 years. The Minnesota Timberwolves averaged more than 25,000 fans per game in their inaugural season while they waited for their arena to be finished. Billy Graham held a crusade. U2 and the Rolling Stones once played shows less than a month apart. Monster trucks romped around the field.
And a bunch of 6-year-olds, like Birk at his birthday party in 1982, walked through those aisles and concourses with wide eyes and eager attitudes.
"We thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was inside, with AstroTurf. At the time, it was right up there with the airplane as far as one of the greatest inventions ever," said Birk, who grew up a few miles away in St. Paul. "It's lost a little bit of its luster since."
But Minnesota got its money's worth. The new stadium will cost $1 billion. Adjusted for inflation to present-day dollars, the Metrodome's price tag still would've only been about $130 million.
"What I've seen that we have to look forward to, I'm not sad at all. I'm excited," running back Adrian Peterson said. "It's been here for a long time, and it's got a lot of history. So from that sense, good times, good memories. But it's time to move forward."