Excited Minnesota Vikings fans decked out in purple regalia rocked U.S. Bank Stadium in the first regular season game that brought smoke, fire, purple rain and a historic win against the Green Bay Packers in their new digs.
The Minnesota Orchestra took the field at halftime, playing from a classical repertoire as footage of past Vikings games were projected onto a 15,000 square foot screen laid on the field. In tribute to Prince, the Steeles sang his ballad "Purple Rain." The field and the seats were dark for the performance, but fans held up lit cell phones during the ballad, an unscripted and moving gesture that looked like twinkling stars in a dark sky.
As the moody music played on, thousands of dime-sized battery lights attached to bent paper floated from the ceiling above the two endzones, creating a shimmering image of purple rain.
Season ticket holder Kristy Wilke of Minneapolis said she's been attending games for a decade and found the halftime tribute meaningful with the orchestra playing Prince. She also "loves" the $1.1 billion building, saying Vikings fans have suffered too long in subpar stadiums. "It's got great food, ample bathrooms and a wonderful view," she said. "I just hope the team can live up to it."
The announced crowd at the game was 66,813, a team record. Fans got loud, especially when prompted by those two huge video screens at times that would make play calling difficult for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The new building comes with new traditions, including a "Vikings War Chant," a crescendo of single claps following the lead of a drum. Hall of Fame Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton led the first uneven effort before the game. On a second attempt late in the fourth quarter, fans enthusiastically caught onto the rhythm.
The in-stadium pregame ceremonies began with a video on the giant screens above the endzones. "What you truly deserve is finally here," the narration said.of a pregame video shown on the giant screens told fans.
The celebration began long before fans entered the wide open glass doors of the building and the mood seemed to reflect the sunny, 80-degree September afternoon and balmy evening.
The Vikings put on a big show.
To get onto the field, players ran through a replica of a Vikings ship with purple eyes on the head of the prow. Fireballs shot from the mouth, producing a blast of heat that could be felt on upper levels and leaving behind a ball of black smoke.
There was heat, too, and plenty of smoke in the tailgating areas.
Brian Lewis of St. Charles, Minn., stood over a smoking grill full of chicken, potatoes and steak some three hours before the game. "This is not our first rodeo," he said. "I was born and raised a Vikings fan."
He and his friends even set up their own portable toilet — a one-person biffy fastened to a fence with buckets, plastic bags and tissue inside. No waiting in those long lines for the portable toilets for them.
In a nearby lot, Arnold Rossa was on the job for Shake Creative Media, directing a drone and recording the action at another party. He'd been hired to create a "hype video," with footage from the party.
Packers fan T.J. Kaminski, recognizable because of his Aaron Rodgers jersey and his similarly dressed friends and family, drove in from Madison and Milwaukee for the game. They do one Packers away game a year and this year, this was it. They snagged a spot to tailgate without a reservation.
"We like to hang out and tailgate even with Vikings fans," he said with a smile. "We're just looking for a good game and a great time with family and friends, that's all that matters."