For more than a year as U.S. Bank Stadium was going up, the Vikings have dreamed and plotted to make Sunday’s inaugural regular season game spectacular.
They’ve bulked up staff, consulted with Walt Disney Co. and expanded the building before it even opened. After test runs for concerts and preseason games, they’ve added signs to help fans navigate the building and tripled the number of kiosks selling nachos. It’s a big day for the franchise and for its fans, perhaps none more so than uber-fan Cory Merrifield.
“I love the way the stadium turned out,” said Merrifield, who started the grass-roots new stadium movement “Save the Vikes” seven years ago. “I love the look and feel of it. It’s going to feel like our home.”
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley called Sunday’s season opener in their new $1.1 billion home “a watershed moment for the Vikings organization,” a culmination of years of work by the team, thousands of workers, politicians and fans.
Jordin Sparks, who at 17 won “American Idol” in 2007, will perform the national anthem for the prime-time game against the Green Bay Packers. The Minnesota Orchestra scrambles onto the field to perform at halftime, a complicated enough feat that the team requested an extension of the standard 12-minute halftime break. The team also will honor Prince, a lifelong Vikings fan, with something so special that most staff haven’t seen a preview.
For the first time, the building will be at football capacity with an anticipated 66,566 in their purple seats and sidling up to bars with black quartz counters flecked with purple sparkles in swanky suites that ring the bowl.
The franchise sold out the entire season even though fans had to pay a collective $100 million before they could buy season tickets.
The Vikings aren’t even trying to play it cool.
“We want to make the Green Bay game perfect for the fans,” team vice president Tanya Dreesen said.
To make that happen, some members of the Vikings’ staff convened with Walt Disney Co. staff to learn the approach that has made the brand a global leader in customer relations. They learned some tricks but won’t divulge them.
The festivities start at the stadium at 3 p.m. — 4 ½ hours before kickoff with live music and family-friendly activities in the Commons (note: alcohol and smoking aren’t allowed). The Vikings’ new outdoor bar has added more tables since the preseason games. The stadium will open at 5 p.m.
To prepare for this day, the team has built up the front office in the four years since the stadium legislation passed. The Vikings went from 100 employees to the current 150.
More than 20 Vikings alumni will attend, including nine members of the Hall of Fame. Former quarterbacks Fran Tarkenton and Tommy Kramer will be in the house.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will join team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf for the nationally televised game. Gov. Mark Dayton will be there, as will Minnesota Lynx stars Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore. Three-time NBA champion Devean George, a Minneapolis native, is attending, as are comedian Nick Swardson and Minnesota Twins Trevor Plouffe and Phil Hughes.
The team also plans to honor Jacob Wetterling.
The weather appears to be joining in the production, with temperatures forecast in the mid- to upper 60s and dry. Even if it’s cloudy, this will be a starry night.
Merrifield, the fan, is extremely excited about the new Vikings war chant, an attempt to bring the raucous Reykjavik greeting for the Icelandic soccer team last summer into Minnesota. Predicts Merrifield, “It’s going to shake the rafters.”