On April 1956, Sid Hartman, then a 35-year-old sports reporter and columnist, strolled the grounds of the newly constructed Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington with Horace Stoneham, the owner of the New York Giants baseball team.
“I didn’t think this stadium would be built when some of the Minneapolis people talked to me about five or six years ago,” Stoneham told Hartman. “But they fooled me.”
Hartman was not fooled.
With state legislators, members of the Twin Cities business community and other employees of the Minneapolis Tribune and Star-Journal, Hartman had promoted the construction of Met Stadium as a civic necessity to bring pro sports to Minnesota. Five years later, the Twins and Vikings would each play their inaugural seasons there.
In the 62 years since the Met opened, the Twin Cities community has argued relentlessly regarding the necessity for stadium construction and public financing for those buildings. But Hartman has always stood firm in saying that stadiums should be built, and the public should help finance them, no matter an owners wealth.
Some may disagree, but Hartman’s belief in that cause has won out. And in the last two decades the Wild, Twins, Timberwolves and Vikings were all granted financing for either new stadiums or significant remodels.
On Sunday, a month shy of his 98th birthday, Hartman will walk into U.S. Bank Stadium – the largest public-private financial partnership in state history – to cover another game: Super Bowl LII.
Build it or they will leave
Between April 16 and May 21 in 2012, the crucial period when the Minneapolis City Council debated whether to pass new stadium legislation for the Vikings, Hartman published 19 columns, 10 focused on the stadium debate.
“If Vikings are sold, they could be moved,” ran one headline.
“Pay a little now or a lot more later,” read another.
As the weeks wore on he got more direct: “Wilfs have several ties to California,” ran the headline on May 4.
Three days later, he struck a more conciliatory tone: “Stadium would be benefit to everyone.”
The Vikings were awarded financing on May 24, with taxes funding $498 million of the $1.1 billion stadium.
“They would have definitely moved,” Hartman says of the Vikings. “The Rams, Raiders and the Chargers all moved. Somebody was going to be in L.A. None of those teams moved before the Vikings got their stadium. “You have a choice of putting tax money in, and it’s no different here, this is all over the country.”
That point, more than any other, has been the crux of his lifelong stadium promotion: If you do not do it here, it will get done elsewhere.
“You talk to presidents of companies and they will tell you that if they want to hire somebody it is important that you have major league sports,” Hartman says. “This town right now, look at what you have. “In St. Paul you’ve got the Xcel [Center] and the soccer stadium [being built for the Minnesota United FC]. You have Target Center and Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium [in Minneapolis]. Outside of New York and Los Angeles this city is a big time city for sports. It’s a big time operation.”
'I'll take some credit, but ...'
Hartman said that Minnesota’s pro sports franchises have never been so stable.
Asked if he played a unique role in that stability, he said no. When it was pointed out that it’s not necessarily common for a sportswriter to have two press boxes named after him, as he does with the Twins and Vikings, and a statue of himself outside another stadium, as he does with the Timberwolves, he said, “I’ll take some credit for the changes in sports here, but I think the key of getting pro sports here was the owners of the Star Tribune.”
Still it seemed that if Hartman was fighting for stadiums in 1956, and fighting for stadiums in 2012, his influence on stadium bills might be greater than anyone in state history. I looked through the Star Tribune archives from 1979, when the debate on getting the Vikings out of Met Stadium and into the Metrodome, was at a fever pitch. It didn’t take long to find what I was looking for.
On January 2, Hartman’s column, from Pasadena, Calif., started like this: “Carroll Rosenbloom says he will not block a move to Los Angeles by the Minnesota Vikings after the owner of the Los Angeles Rams takes his team to the expanded Anaheim Stadium in 1980.”
They broke ground on the Metrodome 11 months later.
What does Hartman think when he considers the journey from opening the Met to opening U.S. Bank Stadium?
“The city has changed so much. I mean that was farmland when they built Met stadium there,” he said. “That stadium was built to bring major league sports. “Now the Super Bowl, it’s so big that it’s unbelievable. Broadcasting out of Minneapolis it’s the biggest audience of any sporting event that has ever been here — out of any event, not just sports. And the announcers will be saying, ‘We’re live from Minneapolis, Minnesota.’”
A handful of missed games
One day in 1954 you’re standing out on a piece of farmland in Bloomington, wind sweeping down a wide open expanse. Ideas are being tossed around and you can almost see them. Seven years pass and you’re at that same piece of farmland listening to a young scrambling quarterback tell you that he’s beginning to learn the game of football after the Vikings win the first game in franchise history.
Nineteen years later an offensive tackle, who has been with the team for 13 years, tells you the game he just played in was, “the greatest finish I have ever been a part of.” They nickname it the “Miracle at the Met.”
A few years after that, fans help tear the place down, rip the seats out by the bolts.
Now everything is domed and raucous. The noise swirls around you every Sunday. Relationships build up and the coach who took the team from the farmland to the dome tells you he’s going into the Hall of Fame and wonders if you’d come with him, to say a few words.
Seven years pass and the best receiver you have ever seen tells you, “I play when I wanna play.”
Nine years later the roof caves in. So it’s time for another new stadium. It has been 57 years. You’ve covered 446 of the 457 Vikings home games. So even if it takes a little extra effort these days, you might as well go to another game. And even though they’re losing, you might as well stick around, even if there’s only 10 seconds left, just enough time for one more play.
There is no way of knowing what future was imagined when the first professional sports stadium opened in Minnesota in 1956. But I have to believe that it didn’t include Sid Hartman covering a Super Bowl in a $1.1 billion stadium, in Minneapolis, in 2018.
You could call it the Minneapolis Miracle, if that wasn’t already taken.
Jeff Day is a Star Tribune staff member who has worked with Sid Hartman for nine years.