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The final home game of the Minnesota Vikings' 50th season promises parka-wrapped fans sitting in general admission seats, stomping their feet to ward off the single-digit chill, without even a beer to ease the pain.
With the release of a ticket plan Thursday to handle the switch from the blizzard-damaged Metrodome to the University of Minnesota's stadium, the team virtually ensured that it will be playing Monday's game in Minnesota, as it preferred. It also will mean the Vikings will play their first outdoor home game in 29 years.
But the plan also means that some fans with tickets inevitably will be left outside the gates of the U's TCF Bank Stadium or unhappy about the arrangements, as the Vikings acknowledge. Squeezing 64,000 ticket holders into 51,000 seats at the U isn't going to happen, and seating will be first-come, first-served, with lines forming three hours before game time.
The Vikings also reached an agreement with the U not to serve alcohol. The university bans alcohol at its football games.
The team is looking into off-campus sites for displaced fans to gather and watch the game.
But ticket holder Paul Karon plans to grab a front-row seat in his living room, with a beer in hand.
"It's going to be cold. ... And I don't want to sit 20 rows back when I bought front-row seats," said the Minneapolis resident who has had season tickets for about 10 years.
On the other hand, Jon Froehlich of Las Vegas was enthusiastic about the prospect of attending his first NFL game. He bought tickets to it in May for himself and his son as a Christmas present, he said.
"I'm excited to stand out in the cold and be part of Vikings history," he said. "If this doesn't happen, I will never hear the end of 'I told you so' from my wife."
Eric Hoffman of Stillwater said he'll bundle up with long underwear and jackets, wait in line and hopefully score his usual lower-level seats.
But Hoffman, who's had Vikings season tickets for 13 years and runs a Vikings fan website, said some fans looked at the game as the last straw.
"They're upset," he said. "There's a lot of frustration that's boiling over ... what they've felt all year. It's just one more thing."
Some season ticket holders were even threatening not to renew their tickets, saying that general admission is no way to treat loyal fans.
The Vikings acknowledged that this arrangement is far from perfect. They looked at several ticket scenarios and chose what they saw as the best option, said Steve LaCroix, the team's sales and marketing chief. "We just wanted to make it as fair as possible," he said.
Under the plan, fans with lower-level seats at the Dome will be seated in the lower level at TCF Bank Stadium, until seating runs out. Those with upper-level Dome seats will be seated in the upper level at the campus stadium. Anyone turned away from the game can apply for a refund of their ticket's face value, the Vikings said late Thursday.
Season ticket owners who decide not to go to the game can get credit on their accounts if they send their tickets to the Vikings by Saturday. Refunds will go to the original buyer of the ticket.
"We don't want to turn people away, but we also want a full house," LaCroix said. He added that the NFL is sending event professionals to Minneapolis to help with lines and traffic flow at the game.
LaCroix said that the team and the university are working out arrangements for the TCF Bank Stadium suites, whose owners have the first shot at using them. Concessions will include the standard fare available at Gophers games, he said.
Temporary bleachers won't be built at the stadium's open end, as originally proposed. Instead, that will be a standing-room-only area for about 2,000 fans, LaCroix said.
Getting into game shape
As of Thursday, nearly half of TCF Bank Stadium field had been cleared of snow, and the entire field could be free of snow by noon Friday, said Scott Ellison, university associate athletic director.
That would allow the field to be covered with heaters and a tarp. Remaining ice spots will be treated with salt and not chemicals, Ellison said.
The stadium will be ready for Monday night, Ellison said.
"The FieldTurf can take this kind of abuse," he said. "It will be playable and safe for players."
Meanwhile, work at the snow-damaged Dome remained suspended Thursday after the break of a fourth fabric roof panel that sent more snow and ice cascading onto the stadium floor.
Officials with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Dome, spent Thursday planning how to remove the heavy snow and ice still on the roof so that crews can work safely on replacing the torn panels.
Dome officials said they could not yet say when the stadium will be ready for use again, nor what the cost will be to replace the damaged roof. A new roof would cost an estimated $12 million to $15 million.
The commission's board voted Thursday to add $1.5 million to its repair fund to help cover immediate expenses.
Dome officials said they didn't know how many additional fabric panels, if any, were at risk of breaking. Bill Lester, the commission's executive director, said that an inspection of the 28-year-old roof this year showed that it was "well within its useful life" and the cable system providing support was good.
Half the Metrodome field was covered Thursday with plywood planks to protect the turf against the hydraulic booms set in place to help with repair efforts. Yellow bands were strapped to the underside of several roof panels identified as possibly needing additional support.
But attention Thursday clearly had shifted from the Metrodome to the new site.
In Yankton, S.D., a bus will leave early Monday for the game but it won't be full. Radio station WNAX organizes a bus for every game. But of the 56 people who had planned to go Monday, two dozen have bailed because it's an outdoor game.
"It drives me crazy," said Steve Crawford, the station's operations manager. "It's the way the game is supposed to be play and watched. Evidently, we're getting a little soft."