Dawn had yet to break over the University Avenue skyline as Hillary Howse, snug in her parka and boots, trudged up to the east entrance of TCF Bank Stadium, shovel in hand.
On any other raw December morning, the 20-year-old college student from Elk River would be under the covers, sound asleep.
But Thursday morning, there was money to be made.
So Howse woke early and beat the rush-hour traffic to the University of Minnesota, where the Minnesota Vikings, homeless since the Metrodome roof collapsed Sunday, needed the public's help and muscle.
The job: Help clear snow from the aisles and seats of TCF Bank Stadium. The payoff: About $40 for four hours' work.
"I'm a college student, and I always need money," said Howse, home from Union University in Tennessee. "And I love snow."
Howse was one of more than 400 Minnesotans who turned out in 17-degree weather for the first of three four-hour shifts in the upper and lower decks of TCF Bank.
So many shovelers answered the call that many, much to their dismay, never got in. Some waited more than an hour to enter and sign the required paperwork. Others were turned away after several hours in the cold, cursing as they left. Still others left in disgust on their own.
By 10 a.m., university officials said they needed no more help Thursday.
"We're making terrific progress," said Garry Bowman, director of athletic communications at the U.
By Thursday afternoon, Bobcats were clearing snow from the playing field while dozens of workers shoveled seats, benches and aisles in the upper deck. Workers pushed the snow toward center aisles, where it glided down giant slides to the field. From there, it was loaded onto trucks and taken to St. Paul.
Scott Ellison, associate athletic director at the U, said late Thursday that the lower deck of the stadium was clear. The upper deck should be clean by late Friday. Workers will then walk through a final time to clear out any remaining snow on seats, on benches and in aisles.
"It will be ready," Ellison said.
'I've just had it'
Smooth as the work seemed by late afternoon, there were glitches.
The first of the three shoveling shifts was scheduled to start at 8 a.m., but by 9 a.m. most of the 400 to 500 people who showed up were still standing outside. Several were so impatient they pounded on the stadium's metal doors. A few hollered threats as they pushed through the crowd.
Megan Steinke, 18, who lives near Dinkytown, got to the stadium at 7 a.m. After more than a two-hour wait, she gave up. "I've just had it," she said. "I'm going home and warming up."
Shortly before 10 a.m., police announced to about 75 prospective workers still outside that no more people would be let in until noon.
"After a while, you just get too many workers, and it just becomes too inefficient," said Ellison, adding that the U could handle no more than 300 shovelers at one time.
In the mood for money
Hours earlier, the mood had been lighter.
Among the first to arrive at 6:30 a.m. were Jeff Korum, 18, and brothers Tyler Naughton, 20, and Adam Naughton, 18, all of North St. Paul. The three Minnesota State University, Mankato, students were home on Christmas break when they heard about the chance for quick cash.
"We need money," Tyler Naughton said.
Beth Ann Henning felt the same. The 41-year-old from Inver Grove Heights wanted to add to her Christmas budget. "I'm not a football fan, but I'm certainly a fan of money," she said.
Some wore the purple and gold of the Vikings, while others wore jackets of the archrival Green Bay Packers. Several said they wanted to be a part of something special -- Monday's game will be the Vikings' first in TCF and the first outdoor home game in nearly three decades.
"I could have stayed in Rochester and made more money," said Roger Armbrust, 51. "But I wanted to check this out, be a part of history."
Greg Williams, 47, unemployed and living in a Minneapolis shelter, hoped to earn enough money to buy Christmas gifts for his sons, 11 and 9. But he also wanted a look inside TCF, which he'd never seen.
Williams said his girlfriend tried to talk him out of it.
"She told me 'You're too old, you'll have a frickin' heart attack,'" he said. "But how often does this happen? Years from now, it's a story to tell people."
Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425