The Vikings had one main goal for their two-year stint as temporary residents of TCF Bank Stadium while building their new headquarters at the site of the Metrodome: Make it feel as much like home as possible.
Friday night’s first preseason game was the housewarming party for the fans and team alike, and most left feeling like they would coming from a friend’s new digs — comfortable, impressed and possibly slightly drunk.
Playing hosts, the Vikings were admittedly scrambling a bit pregame trying to adjust to their new surroundings.
“I didn’t know how to get out to the field when I got here, and you know, where the locker room was, where my locker room was,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “And that’s always a little bit unnerving for a team when you don’t know exactly where you’re going.”
Linebacker Audie Cole said everyone knew the routine at the Metrodome but would find a new rhythm soon enough. In fact, he said the experience of playing on campus was weirdly nostalgic.
“Playing at night like this, it was kind of like going back to college,” Cole said. “It was fun. I think a lot of guys liked this place a lot.”
Linebacker Gerald Hodges had played at “The Bank’’ while with Penn State but said the experience was different from the home team perspective.
“I thought Penn State had a big locker room,” Hodges said. “But [then] I come here, and I see this locker room.”
While a bit of the Gophers’ maroon and gold logos peeked through the sea of purple jerseys in the stands, the Vikings did everything short of painting over the seats to make it seem as if they weren’t rooming with the college students on a warm summer night in Stadium Village.
The Norseman logo is hard to miss at midfield, along with NFL logos at the 25-yard lines and the word “Minnesota” in bright purple in the end zones.
Combine that with various Vikings banners on the LED boards surrounding the stadium, and one could almost miss the University of Minnesota “M’s” right next to them.
The fans were pleased with the transition from NCAA to NFL. Kris Larson, 41, of Rogers brought his two young children and wife to the game and sat in the expanded seating installed for the Vikings games. He said the seats were much better than the ones he had for games in the Metrodome.
“We went up and got pizza for my son and kind of walked around as [the Vikings] were going down the field, and you could see it the whole time,” Larson said. “At the Dome, you really couldn’t, and the concourses were so narrow. So it’s a better fan experience, I would say.”
But Zimmer said the Viking-ization wasn’t what made the experience feel so comfortable.
“It doesn’t matter where you play,” Zimmer said. “If you don’t win, you can’t make it a home-field advantage.”
Hodges said the people made the atmosphere.
“Our fans are going to make it feel like home,” he said. “And just playing with the guys you’re playing with … each and every day at camp, anywhere you play is going to feel like home.”