It's lights out for Metrodome

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 30, 2013 - 12:02 PM

Well-behaved Metrodome fans bid farewell to an era.Hometown heroes of all stripes helped build memories.

Joe Lonke was say­ing good­bye to the Hu­bert H. Humphrey Met­ro­dome on Sun­day af­ter­noon long be­fore he ac­tu­al­ly left it.

Ever since his moth­er drove him down­town to see his first big-league base­ball game, the 39-year-old sports buff from Ma­ple Grove has been hooked on the sights and sounds of a place where home­town heroes won over hearts and de­liv­ered doz­ens of thrills over three mem­o­ra­ble de­cades.

So Sun­day af­ter­noon, as the Vi­kings played their fi­nal game in the soon-to-be-razed 31-year-old ven­ue, Lonke couldn’t help but think about his late moth­er and the mem­ories they shared.

Kir­by Puck­ett’s 11th-in­ning, walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Brett Fav­re’s magi­cal au­tumn of 2009. The Twins World Series ti­tles in ’87 and ’91. The Vi­kings’ heart­break­ing NFC title game loss to At­lan­ta in 1999. Game 163 against De­troit.

“I’m not even watch­ing the game at all,” Lonke said as he walked the con­course min­utes be­fore the fi­nal gun sound­ed in a 14-13 Vi­kings vic­to­ry that closed out the Met­ro­dome era. “I’m just wan­der­ing around look­ing at ev­er­y­thing and think­ing about the his­to­ry. It’s as much about me say­ing good­bye to this place for her as it is for me.”

Lonke was one of 64,000 fans who braved a bit­ter De­cem­ber chill to bid fare­well to the much-ma­ligned Tef­lon-co­vered sta­di­um that was of­ten the butt of jokes but served its local teams so very well.

They came from I­o­wa and North Dakota and as far away as London to catch a piece of his­to­ry and may­be, in a sea­son of too many “L’s” and too much dis­ap­point­ment, to see a vic­to­ry.

In coming weeks, the Dome, named for one of the state’s most promi­nent politicians and home for de­cades to the Twins, Vi­kings and University of Minnesota foot­ball team, will be razed to make way for a $1 bil­lion, state-of-the-art up­grade.

“Peo­ple called it a dump,” Lonke said as he looked around the sta­di­um. “But it was our dump. And we loved it.”

Quiet end­ing

Un­like the Metropolitan Stadium fi­na­le 30 years earli­er, when fans stormed the field, tore down goalposts and scam­pered up the score­board, the Dome went out Sun­day with a bit of a whim­per.

With ex­tra se­curi­ty of­fic­ers lin­ing the field at game’s end and an ad­di­tion­al 50 off-duty Minneapolis po­lice of­fic­ers work­ing the con­course and the crowd, dam­age was slight — fold­ing chairs, cup hold­ers and signs were re­port­ed­ly the big­gest loss­es.

“No one was in­jured. Every­­thing was re­spect­ful,” said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair­woman of the Minnesota Sports Fa­cili­ties Authority, which runs the Dome and is over­see­ing con­struc­tion of the new sta­di­um. “It was a great day.”

Hours be­fore the Dome’s re­volv­ing doors stopped turn­ing for good, fans gath­ered in near­by park­ing lots for a fi­nal tail­gat­ing bash.

Decked out in pur­ple and gold jer­seys and stock­ing caps and beads and face paint, they grill­ed bur­gers and brats, guz­zled cold beer and sipped strong­er spir­its in a subzero De­cem­ber chill that made the toast­y con­fines of the Dome, even at its ad­vanced age, seem all the more ap­peal­ing.

While the sta­di­um goes down and the new one goes up, the Vi­kings will play the next two seas­ons out­doors at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota cam­pus. The new sta­di­um is sched­uled to open in time for the 2016 NFL sea­son.

“It’s a big day,” said Al Moore, a sea­son tick­et-hold­er from Plymouth. “And I’m tak­ing it all in. I just want to say I was here.”

Moore, his wife, Jen­ni, and their par­ty of eight pulled into a park­ing lot a few blocks from the sta­di­um well be­fore sun­rise af­ter drop­ping off their kids at grand­ma’s house in St. Louis Park.

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