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Dec. 21, 1981: Met Stadium's violent goodbye

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Crime, Sports Updated: December 27, 2013 - 1:43 PM
 
In a column given prominent play on the front page of the Minneapolis Tribune, Joe Soucheray captured the hooliganism that took hold after the Vikings' final game at Met Stadium on Dec. 20, 1981. What inspired the madness that afternoon? A few days before the game, Minneapolis Star columnist Jim Klobuchar interviewed the team's ticket manager, Harry Randolph, about crowd control for Sunday’s game. This quote attributed to Randolph suggested the Vikings were taking a hands-off approach to souvenir hunters:

“All we want to do is to hold down the self-inflicted injuries to minor concussions and treatable fractures. If they are going to carry off their seats, we prefer handsaws to the standard Black & Decker ripsaws in the commercials. If they are going after the goal posts, we suggest they come wearing helmets and hard-toe boots.”

Klobuchar’s column drew complaints from the team, which disputed the quote and said it had to hire extra security for the game. By Tuesday, the Star acknowledged the humorous quote was a fabrication and Klobuchar was suspended for two weeks without pay. But the damage, whatever the proximate cause, was done. Here was Soucheray’s take on Met Stadium's messy final act:
 

Destructive fans bid violent adieu to Metropolitan Stadium

 
Metropolitan Stadium officially expired at 3:10 p.m. Sunday. By then, hooligans had scaled the northern wall of the big red and blue scoreboard, yanking so many wires and popping so many bulbs that the clock stopped dead in its track. It was frozen at 3:10 and will be forever.
 
A great deal of Metropolitan Stadium was destroyed yesterday by thousands of people who never displayed any similar enthusiasm for the games that were played there. And the racket made by those souls who ripped out their own memories of the ball park that has been condemned was louder than any cheer issued for the Vikings yesterday.
 
 
  The trouble begins: Fans in the center-field bleachers hauled down the American flag in the fourth quarter. (Star Tribune photo)
The Vikings went out losers, 10-6 to the Kansas City Chiefs, failing to achieve the milestone of a 10th victory in the only home they have ever known, a home that began to fall down around them in the game's final seconds. And afterward a terrible rending took place, the stomping of thousands of boot heels on chairs, the cracking of wood, pounding and tearing and pulling.
 
The Vikings had promised an increased security force for yesterday's game, but you knew there was a hole in this plan when a man in an extremely obvious gorilla suit waltzed by the enforcers and onto the field with five minutes still to play. It was about then that seats began to disappear from their moorings in the right-field bleachers, whole sections of plank were lifted out and passed down the row.
 
And at the final gun thousands of people stormed the field. The goal posts came down first, on both ends of the field. Set upon and devoured, components of the goal posts were then paraded around the turf as the thieves wondered what in the world to do with such bounty. Or what to do with the iron railings that were worked on by gangs who bent them this way and that until they broke? Or what to do with toilet seats or trash barrels?
 
The field itself was attacked, but it is virtually impossible for even the foulest perpetrator to tear frozen sod from the earth. No one was bold enough to bring a jackhammer into the stadium. Smaller instruments of destruction included wrenches and industrial strength wire cutters.
 
Vikings authorities who witnessed the Met's last act were reluctant to place a dollar value on removed seats. But it became clear that what perhaps began as an act of sentiment turned into random acts of destruction. The scoreboard, for example, was scaled by a hundred or so fools for no apparent purpose other than to destroy the thing. Scoreboard lightbulbs were popped. Lettering was ripped out and thrown to the ground. Speakers atop the scoreboard were yanked out and dropped to the ground.
 
“There is certain sentiment in trying to take a seat home,” the ticket manager of the Vikings, Harry Randolph, said yesterday as he watched the destruction from the press box. “But people climbing the scoreboard are sick. They endanger themselves.”
 
“There must be more destruction than you anticipated,” somebody said.
 
“Our main concern was that people didn't hurt each other,” Randolph said.
 
It did not seem possible that long-standing season ticket holders led yesterday's chase to ruin. Over the past couple of seasons, the Viking crowds have become as dull as the Vikings, and yesterday's game might have been the dullest ever played at the old ball park. Randolph said nearly 4,000 tickets are sold for each game on an individual basis, tickets that might attract a “transient” crowd. And other customers could have sold their season tickets to yesterday's game, perhaps anticipating cold weather. But Randolph did not dare venture a demographical profile of those customers who went slightly mad for about an hour after the conclusion of yesterday's game.
 
As usual, the entertainment proceeded at its own crawling pace, with only scarce clues as to what would follow. Patrons in center field bleachers did haul down the American flag and cut loose its halyards in the fourth quarter. And the St. Louis Park Parkettes wisely vacated the premises earlier than they ever have, to preserve their 21-year virtue, not to mention hide and hair.
 
But no one could really have anticipated the mob reaction that followed. By comparison, the crowd after the last Twins game at the Met conducted itself as though on a tour of the Louvre.
 
By dusk yesterday, the Met was empty of all creatures. The field remained uncovered in the sleet that began to fall. In the failing light, some merciful electrician pulled the plug on the scoreboard. Those bulbs not destroyed flickered and went out.
 
The Met is closed.
 
 
Minnesota nice: One Vikings fan brought a sign to show his displeasure with the stadium's demise. (Star Tribune photo)
 
The oh-so-frozen tundra: The sun set on Metropolitan Stadium and its snow-covered parking lot in 1981. (Star Tribune photo)
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