Vikings die-hards, 6,000 strong, streamed into the Metrodome on Saturday evening to snap pictures on the field, toss footballs around and peek into the locker room of their favorite football team on the eve of the last game at the 31-year-old stadium.
“It’s awe-inspiring,” said Dino Neis as he stood in the end zone, taking in the scene.
Neis has been driving a party bus from St. Cloud to Vikings games for more than six years, typically dropping fans off at the door but never going inside. He has had to watch the team on TV at bars or at his sister’s house while he waits for the customers.
It wasn’t until Saturday that he grabbed his chance to stand on Mall of America Field at the invitation of his boss.
The event was a prelude to the Vikings’ final game there Sunday, before they play two seasons at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium while a new stadium is built. Plans are to demolish the dome, beginning in January.
After catching a ball thrown by his boss’ young son, Neis playfully reprimanded him: “You’re never going to be a Viking if you throw the ball where someone can catch it!”
A few minutes later — whack! — the ball smacked Neis in the neck while he was turned away. “See, now you could be a Viking — you throw it when somebody’s not looking!” he told the offender.
The festivities drew one fan from Wyoming — Dawn Brehmer drove 800 miles to attend Sunday’s game. She grew up in Minnesota, and had her husband, Eric, take pictures of her in front of the Vikings ship on the field.
“I remember them building this [stadium],” she reminisced.
Nearby, Paul Podemski stretched out on the floor as though he were catching a ball as his son took a photo.
“A lot of touchdowns have been scored in this end zone,” said Podemski of Duluth, wearing Adrian Peterson’s All-Pro jersey. His family has held season tickets for 32 years.
Tears welled in Marcie Petrie’s eyes as she looked around, reflecting on all the games where she had cheered. She and her husband, Sam, waited in a line that stretched halfway across the field for more than 20 minutes so she could get a photo at the goalpost.
“Touchdown!” Petrie exclaimed as her husband snapped a picture of her in the end zone leaning to catch an imaginary ball. Then she went to the goalpost and threw her hands in the air before wrapping her arms around it. Two more photos.