The Twins were playing at home in the Metrodome on a fall Sunday in the early ’90s. It was shortly after noon and General Manager Andy MacPhail and a couple of media members were at a table in the dining room.
There was an NFL game on a television and a fierce collision had taken place. A player was being rolled off on a stretcher, as members of both teams put one knee on the ground and prayed.
“Fifty years from now, young people are going to see football highlights from the past and not believe we really played this game,’’ MacPhail said.
America is nearing the halfway point of that timeline and football has a chance to last longer than MacPhail anticipated. The operative word there is “chance.’’
The Metrodome was the home to the Vikings from 1982 through 2013. Presumably, for the price tag of $1.2 billion compared with $55 million, the new stadium would be deemed satisfactory for a longer period than 32 seasons after it opens in 2016.
If so, there’s a substantial degree of probability that the stadium — the Taj Ma Zygi — will last longer than football itself.
One of the amazing disconnects in American sports is that the NFL is continuing a long run at the zenith of its popularity, at the same time the numbers of males sticking with the game through their teenage years is in decline.
People in their 40s will put on their jerseys and beads and head off to their favorite sports bar whenever the Vikings are scheduled to kick off (including exhibitions). They will holler and drink to excess and forgive a running back for all his off-field failures as long as he can convince an opponent not to put eight defenders near the line of scrimmage.
They will celebrate each victory and pout through Mondays after a loss; basically, they will live and die with an outfit that has been inept more often than not dating to Jan. 14, 2001.
The Vikings zealots will do all of this, but if they are like many of their neighbors across Minnesota, what they won’t do is allow their sons to play football.
Even a place such as Eden Prairie, where winning is a rite of passage for all those lads who commit to playing football, numbers have fallen recently in the lower ages. It is a contest between a fantastic tradition and concern from parents and their young men, and concern has been winning in Eden Prairie and elsewhere in the suburbs.
We have been hearing about the decline in numbers of young baseball players for 15 years, maybe more. The No. 1 knock against baseball is boredom for American’s new age of high-tech youth.
If I was selling participation in a game, boredom is an issue I would prefer to deal with over the No. 1 knock against football: potential brain injury.
It wasn’t a surprise to read that from 2009 to 2014, the largest declines in high school football participation were 15 percent in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. The other leaders in lost high school football players were Colorado (14 percent), Massachusetts and Maryland (8 percent), New York (7 percent) and California (4 percent).
Those states rate among the most highly educated in the country. But you know another state that lost 2.8 percent of its high school football players over the previous five years?
I thought football was the official religion of Texas.
Mike Kaszuba had an article in Tuesday’s Star Tribune on the surge of soccer in the Twin Cities, with much of it traced to the growing Hispanic population here.
That’s not where the decline in football players comes from. It’s coming from families with a lifelong passion for the Vikings — from game-watching, bead-wearing, Teddy-loving parents with young boys that they seem to be aiming away from football.
This is anecdotal, but I had conversations with numerous such Vikings zealots (during my nine-day nightmare of radio work at the State Fair) and eventually would ask if they had a son who played football.
Eight or nine of a dozen people in their 30s, 40s and 50s gave me one of these answers:
“He didn’t want to play football.’’ “We didn’t want him to play football.’’ “I don’t have a son, but if I do, I’m going to have a hard time letting him play football.’’
The NFL season opens Thursday night with Pittsburgh at New England. As a football fan, you’ll be sure to join in to produce a gigantic TV rating.
Enjoy yourself. The game you love to watch has maybe two decades left before it runs out of players.