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Better days: The Metrodome was aglow with Super Bowl lighting in 1992.

RICHARD SENNOTT • rsennott@startribune.com ,

Upcoming season will be Vikings last in the Metrodome

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW
  • Star Tribune
  • February 22, 2013 - 5:56 AM

 

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, host to one Super Bowl, two World Series, a major league All-Star game and dozens of monster truck and tractor pulls, is done at 31.

Official word came Thursday, after the architect and builder for the glitzy new venue scheduled to replace it decided to raze it early next year to make way for a $975 million upgrade.

The outmoded, aesthetically challenged stadium, named for a beloved local politician and home for decades to the Vikings, Twins and University of Minnesota football team, fell victim to age and the trend toward sexier venues with waterfront views, luxury suites and more than enough restrooms.

“There are a lot of buildings that were built bigger and better and designed bigger and better,” said Bill Lester, who retired last year after 25 years as the building’s executive director. “But the main thing is, it served a community need. If you got a similar return out of any other investment, you’d consider it money very well spent.”

Built for about $55 million, the Dome opened in 1982 to high hopes and no air conditioning. Over the next three decades, maybe no sports facility in the land was so celebrated, ridiculed, praised and scorned.

It was home for two magical World Series championship teams and a few Hall of Fame moments, including Kirby Puckett’s 11th-inning, Game 6 walk-off home run that gave the Twins new life in the 1991 World Series.

It’s where Vikings greats such as Adrian Peterson and Randy Moss, ran through, around and over opposing defenses, and where McCartney, the Stones and U2 jammed before thousands.

It could get loud — so many Homer-Hanky waving fans hollered and screamed in the 1987 World Series that the place was dubbed “Thunderdome” — but could quickly go silent — thousands sat in stunned disbelief when Vikings kicker Gary Anderson missed a fourth-quarter field goal in the 1999 NFC championship game that killed the team’s Super Bowl dreams.

It was quirky, too. Oakland’s Dave Kingman once hit a ball so high it went through a roof air hole and never came down. Kingman was awarded a “roof rule” double.

“Everybody hated the place, but I loved it,” said former Twin Kent Hrbek, a first baseman on the team’s championship teams. “It was my home. I spent my whole career there. We won a couple of championships there. And we got our butts kicked there.

“It’s the only building I ever walked into where my hair stood up on my arms because of the electricity of the fans in there. I’ve been to some pretty exciting games in different buildings that were wild and had a great atmosphere. But it was nothing like the playoffs and World Series games and noise and excitement and sheer energy of the building.

“Opponents couldn’t stand the place. But that gave us a little edge right away.”

For all the noise that made the place rock, the Dome never seemed to impress the outside world.

Former Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka ridiculed it often, calling it the “Rollerdome” and “a barn.”

Former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin said the stadium should be “banned” and dubbed it a “Little League field” after his team lost several fly balls against the roof’s backdrop.

“It stinks,” he once said. “It’s a shame a great guy like HHH has to be named after it.”

One manager suggested blowing it up.

“It was like someone was telling you you have ugly children,” said Lester, who admits that the criticism got to him.

But over time, he said, he realized the stadium’s looks didn’t matter.

“The magic was not the bricks and mortar,” he said. “The magic was the celebrations and the joys and the people coming together to watch people they cared about and create these terrific memories.”

Time, however, wasn’t kind.

As retro-looking ballparks on scenic waterfronts and spectacular NFL venues with retractable-roofs and first-class boxes became the norm, the faded Teflon-roofed stadium in Minneapolis seemed worn and weary.

When the Gophers and Twins pulled out for new digs a few years back, it seemed inevitable that the Vikings would soon follow — either to a new stadium in the suburbs or for one in L.A.

When the roof collapsed during a December 2010 snowstorm, the Vikings were forced to play their final home game a few miles away at TCF Bank Stadium. A new roof went up the following summer, but by then, the end seemed near.

Indeed, Thursday’s announcement was something of a formality.

The stadium authority and Vikings had said for weeks that the team would probably play two seasons, rather than one, at the University of Minnesota before the new stadium opens in 2016.

Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the stadium authority, said the final decision was made to simplify construction in a downtown neighborhood where space is already tight.

How the Dome goes, however, has yet to be determined.

It could be with a bang — explosives — or, more likely, piece by piece.

Either way, fans and the curious have another year to say goodbye.

“I’m sure I’ll be there when they tear it down to shed a tear,” Hrbek said Thursday. “I know I’m going to miss it. It was magical.”

 

Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425

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