The Twin Cities officially became major league in 1961, with the relocation of the original Washington Senators, who became the Minnesota Twins for that American League season, and with the expansion Vikings as the NFL’s 14th team.
There have been two stadiums to serve the needs of both teams: Metropolitan Stadium, from 1961 through 1981 in Bloomington, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, from 1982 until the Twins’ departure in 2010.
We were romantic over the demise of the Met, including a 1981 book by Joe Soucheray, then a Minneapolis Tribune sports columnist, titled “Once There Was a Ballpark.” A grass-roots community group, Save the Met, fought mightily to keep the erector-set-style stadium in Bloomington and stave off the Metrodome, and those activists almost succeeded. At the end, the Met was lovingly ransacked by the Vikings crowd assembled for its final event: a 10-6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 20, 1981.
There will be no such send-off Sunday when the Vikings and the Detroit Lions stage the last game in the Metrodome. It’s unlikely that Dome security would allow fans to bring in sledgehammers and start banging out souvenir seats, even if a few large men were as motivated to do so, as was the case on the final Sunday at the Met.
No one has written an ode to our longest-serving big-league stadium titled “Once There Was a Dome.” There was no ardent community group assembled under a “Save the Dome” banner. Opponents of Target Field and now the billion-dollar palace for the Vikings weren’t in that camp because of a fondness for the Metrodome. They simply didn’t want to see public funds used to assist “billionaires.”
We had numerous nicknames for the Metrodome, and few were complimentary.
It was the “Sweatrodome” in the first summer, when Don Poss — the man charged with keeping the cost inside the $55 million budget — told us that so much of the building was below street grade that it would be naturally cooled.
The Twins crowds that first summer were so small that the theory wasn’t properly tested. Then came the first Vikings exhibition, played on a sweltering August night. By late in the first half, there were more people outside gasping for air than sitting in the steam of the arena.
The air conditioning option was executed to start with the 1983 baseball season.
It was the “Metrodish” when the roof went down for the first time. It was the “Humpty Dump” when the off-white baseballs started getting lost in the off-white roof, and baseballs started hopping crazily on the rock-hard surface.
Met Stadium had been built to attract a Major League Baseball team and football was made to fit awkwardly in a ballpark. The Metrodome was built at the insistence and to the specifications of the Vikings, and our new version of baseball — with those roof doubles and screwy hops — came with a comic element.
The tarp used to create a 27-foot barrier in right field was referred to as the curtain, the baggie or, most popularly, as the “Hefty bag.” During the 1987 World Series, St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog was watching batting practice, noticed that the baggie was fluctuating rapidly and said, “Do they have a family living behind there?”
John Schuerholz, the general manager of the Kansas City Royals in the 1980s, had a suggestion as to how to improve the Metrodome as a baseball facility. “Nuke it,” he said.
Bobby Valentine, managing the Texas Rangers, was convinced the air flow in the Dome was being manipulated to blow toward the fences when the Twins were at the plate. Valentine sneaked out early in the afternoon and hung large strips of tape on the airflow tunnel behind home plate. Bobby V. didn’t realize that tunnel was the Dome’s main area for intake, not for sending air into the arena.
And yet for all the angst, baseball was the source of this stadium’s most favorable nickname: the “Thunderdome.”
This was earned during the madness of the postseason of 1987, when the Twins went 6-0 in front of the tireless hanky-wavers and won the World Series, and again in the postseason of 1991, when the Twins went 5-1 in their Dome and won a second World Series.
Game 6, Kirby Puckett. Game 7, Jack Morris. The greatest 27 hours, 33 minutes, start of Six to the end of Seven, in Minnesota sports history.
There was never a question of the Metrodome’s worthiness as a football stadium. Even the Gophers decided to abandon their antique “Brickhouse” on campus and to move a mile away to the new Dome.
In August 1982, the Gophers had a media day at the Metrodome. Coach Joe Salem looked around the big blue room in admiration and said, “This is going to be the Taj Mahal of college football.”
Not so much, Smoky Joe.
There was an injury issue with the earliest turf in the Dome. It was a thin layer with bad seams. Infamously, Billy Sims, the great Detroit Lions running back, got his right leg stuck on the turf making a cut on Oct. 21, 1984, blew out his knee and never played again.
The main complaint of Vikings opponents was booming music and pumped-in crowd noise. In 1987, the Chicago Bears were getting ready for a game in Minneapolis and coach Mike Ditka referred to the location as the “Rollerdome.”
Remarkable Mike Lynn, the CEO and general manager of the Vikings, sent Ditka a pair of roller skates, which Iron Mike was seen using that week as he moved around Halas Hall.
The Vikings fielded 16 playoff teams in their 32 seasons in the Metrodome. They were 6-4 in home playoff games, and the last was the best, a 34-3 smashing of the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 17, 2010.
The only time the Vikings played twice at home in the same postseason was after the landslide of offense during the 15-1 run through the 1998 schedule.
The Arizona Cardinals were dismissed 41-21 in the division round, and on Jan. 17, 1999, the Atlanta Falcons were in town for the only NFC Championship Game to be played in the Metrodome and … ah, you know the rest.
The Gophers bailed on indoor football to return to campus in 2009, and the Twins moved into their magnificent Target Field in 2010. It was that winter when the Metrodome gained its YouTube legacy: the roof collapse caught by an inside camera.
A Super Bowl. A couple of Final Fours and World Series. An NBA season with record-breaking attendance. Painfully loud monster trucks and the pings from the bats of small-college ballplayers at 3 in the morning. Heartbreak (Pat Summerall: “Gary Anderson … 39 yards away, and it’s not good”) and triumph (Jack Buck: “And, we’ll see you … tomorrow night”).
The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, opened in 1982, for an original cost of $55 million.
The insults were so frequent that the offended Dome staff for years had the slogan “We Like It Here” painted above the tunnel in the right field corner.
The more fitting epitaph for the Metrodome’s gravestone would be, “We Got Our Money’s Worth.”