Dome disabled; Vikings turn to U's stadium

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 15, 2010 - 2:02 PM
The field at TCF Bank Stadium is frozen and blanketed by 5-foot snowdrifts. The concession stands weren't built to withstand temperatures below 30 degrees. There are no beer taps.

But determined to play their final 2010 home game in Minneapolis, the nomadic Minnesota Vikings said on Tuesday that they will face the Chicago Bears on Monday night at the University of Minnesota's 2-year-old stadium. The game will be played 29 years to the day since the Vikings' last outdoor home contest, a 10-6 loss to Kansas City at Met Stadium in 1981.

"They love outdoor football in Minnesota," said Scott Ellison, the university's associate athletic director.

For one night, Vikings fans will learn to love it without their usual seats, luxury suites and parking spots. And, possibly, without their favorite brew: Alcohol is not sold at TCF Bank Stadium during Gophers games. "That's one of a myriad of issues on the table," Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said of the possibility of selling beer on Monday night.

Also to be discussed, he said, was the problem of having sold 63,000-plus tickets to a game being played in a stadium that can seat only 50,000. Bagley said the Vikings will discuss adding temporary seats to the stadium with university officials.

The Vikings had little choice to going to the university if they wanted to play Monday night in Minnesota, after Saturday's snowstorm ripped the roof at the Metrodome.

"We're determined to play our game Monday in Minneapolis, in front of our fans," Bagley said earlier Tuesday.

That decision was made Monday night in Detroit, where the Vikings lost a "home" game 600 miles from Minnesota to the New York Giants 21-3 at Ford Field.

Vikings and NFL officials told the university on Monday night that they wanted TCF Bank Stadium ready and available for the Bears game if the shredded Metrodome roof could not be repaired in time, Bagley said.

It couldn't.

The university agreed on Tuesday morning and began the process of hiring 400 workers to prepare a site that Ellison said had been "winterized." The Vikings and the NFL will cover the university's expenses for clearing the snowy stadium and hosting the game, which could amount to $700,000 or more, he said.

While engineers and workers surveyed a Metrodome roof with a hole the size of a house, workers at the U field began bulldozing snow Tuesday. It is expected to take at least five days to clear the stadium of snow.

Task 'was not doable'

The Bears' defense may not present as many obstacles to the Vikings as getting the college stadium ready for a pro game. But fixing the hole in the Metrodome roof by Monday seemed an impossibility, said Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns the Dome.

The decision to move the game was made after representatives from Birdair Inc., the New York-based installer and manufacturer of the roof, and Geiger and Associates, the roof's system designer, spent Tuesday assessing the damage.

"Playing in the Metrodome was the top priority," Lester said. "But given how much ice was remaining in the layers of the fabric, we asked, 'Could we safely get the work done?'

"It was not doable," he said. "We were concerned about safety."

The roof, with mounds of snow hovering between its Teflon panels, presented the largest of many problems confronting a crew working in conditions similar to the cold outside.

One 40-yard line was plastered with four giant ice mounds that workers whacked away at with ice chippers usually used on driveways and sidewalks. They blasted warm vapor over the ice, chipped away and then picked up chunks by hand. Like an outdoor ice rink, the field was partially covered with plywood, so workers wouldn't slip.

The end zone closest to Fourth Street glowed when a hanging strip of the torn roof was removed and the sun poured in. It was one of the few bright moments in the three-day span since the roof caved in.

14,000 fewer seats

In turning to the university for Monday night's game, the Vikings chose a stadium with 14,000 fewer seats than the Metrodome and fewer luxury suites. The concession stands were built to withstand mid-November temperatures, 30 to 35 degrees at the lowest, Ellison said.

Shields that trap heat are expected to be placed at concession stands and rest rooms, making them serviceable, Ellison said.

Next week's final exams will keep many students away from campus, opening up parking spots, he predicted.

The snow, which will be trucked from the stadium to the St. Paul campus, remains the school's greatest concern, Ellison said.

It was not immediately known whether the Vikings might need a special environmental permit to play a weeknight game at a stadium used almost exclusively on Saturdays.

"We'll do whatever we can to get it ready," Ellison said of the stadium, adding that university officials are "100 percent confident in the building."

The Vikings, who will celebrate the top 50 players of the team's first 50 years on Sunday night at the Minneapolis Convention Center and at half time of Monday's game, also seem confident that the weekend will be a success.

They were "adamant" about playing in Minneapolis, said Roy Terwilliger, chairman of the sports facilities commission.

The team was told it will be assisted by NFL experts accustomed to planning "special events like the Super Bowl," Bagley said.

"We wanted our last game here," Bagley said. "Obviously, if the Metrodome is not ready, we want our home games at home."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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