From October 1991 through March 1992, the Metrodome was the Sun in the sporting solar system. With the MLB playoffs and World Series, Super Bowl XXVI and the NCAA Final Four all held at the dome during that period, it was a very good time to be a copy aide (aka newspaper gofer) in the Star Tribune sports department.
While the duties wasn’t overly thrilling — schlepping rolls of 16 mm film (remember that?) back and forth between the Dome and the Star Tribune photo lab two blocks away — the perks were amazing for a wide-eyed sports fan like me.
Among the memories I still carry are:
• Trying to be nonchalant while under the withering stare of Chili Davis as I walked through the Twins dugout to a photographer’s station.
• Seeing Kent Hrbek toss a very large splintered bat into a trash can right next to me after an at-bat (I thought about taking it as a souvenir but didn’t — it was gone by the next inning, memorabilia to be sold).
• Trying to stay close to the Star Tribune photographer as he moved about the field amid the jubilation after the Game 7 victory, overwhelmed by the celebration going on around me and the 50,000 fans screaming their lungs out.
• Watching Thurman Thomas race around the sideline trying to find his helmet before Buffalo’s opening drive in the Super Bowl, looking not much different from an Average Joe looking for lost car keys.
• Standing so close to the Washington punter in the back of the end zone that I could have caught the snap myself.
• Watching an apoplectic Buffalo fan turn three shades of red as he screamed at his Bills in disgust as they left the field at halftime.
• Being shocked by the sheer power of Michigan’s Chris Webber as he tomahawked a dunk (and let out a scream at the same time) right over me as I knelt under the Michigan hoop.
If it hadn’t been for the presence of the Metrodome, I would have experienced none of these. It will be missed.
Those little bats could make some noise
My poor mom. Taking a wild pack of 12-year-old boys downtown to a baseball game is already risky business, and then the six of us burst through the Dome doors and it turns out to be Mini-Bat Night. She must have wanted to pull the cord on the whole thing when she saw the guy hand us our new 18-inch, solid-wood souvenirs. Can you imagine a better weapon to beat your 12-year-old buddy with?
It was 1988, the hated-slash-awesome A’s were in town for a June weekend series, and we are in the last row of the packed and rockin’ Metrodome’s second deck. Our little gang of hell-raising Richfieldians had the times of our lives. Fans screaming all around us (I remember learning some new words from the fan in front of us as he was, loudly, addressing Jose Canseco from his high perch), Mountain Dew being chugged like water at an oasis and little wooden bats being furiously swung and slammed into any nearby object. Miraculously, the only casualty was my Homer Hanky. Nathan got mustard all over it while spending innings 4 through 7 repeatedly bashing the blue chair in front of him with his new bat, making the loudest noise you’ve ever heard.
But all of that sums up the Dome in its glory days, doesn’t it? Late ’80s. Louder than anything you had ever heard before. Fans stacked up all the way up to the last row. Hyper kids going nuts, obeying nothing and nobody. Those are my favorite memories of the place. My mom might have a slightly different take, however.
1987 Twins made Minnesota into winners
Favorite memory of the Dome? Tough one, because I covered games in the Dome for years, mostly Twins, but also regional and Final Four basketball and parts of the Timberwolves’ first season.
I saw Kenny Battle of Illinois slip on a puddle of water from a leaky roof, grabbed my notebook to interview him and heard Sid Hartman — our very own Dome booster — yelling, “You’re not going to write that, are you?” Yes, I wrote it. I saw Clem Haskins, whose ego could have filled the Dome by itself, bounce his ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day 1990 a good 40 feet in front of the plate. I never let him forget it. A chance to watch Mike Krzyzewski, one of the greatest college coaches in history, win his second NCAA title in a row (I was also in Indianapolis for the first).
Mostly I saw, and got to know, the Twins of the 1980s. I covered guys such as Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti, who went from 102-game losers in 1982 to World Series champs in 1987. So that final play of 1987, the grounder that Gaetti grabbed and threw to Hrbek for the final out in Game 7, tops my list of memories.
It was the first championship in a major professional sport for Minnesota — a moment a lifelong Minnesotan like myself will never forget. It was made more meaningful personally because the players who won that year were a rare collection of personalities, from Kirby Puckett’s nonstop clubhouse banter to the guttural wit and wisdom of Hrbek to Dan Gladden’s tough-guy persona, which I must tell you was mostly an act.
Yes, the Twins won again in 1991, with a team that in most ways was far superior to the ’87 Twins. But for me, at least, there will never be another team like the first group of Twins to win a Series.
Musselman went with what worked in Breuer
The Timberwolves played their inaugural season in the Metrodome, setting an NBA attendance record by drawing more than 1 million people for 41 home dates during the 1989-90 season before they moved into new Target Center the next season.
On a February night, 35,713 fans filled the Teflon joint and watched Tony Campbell score 44 points while he played every second of a 116-105 victory over Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and the aging Boston Celtics.
Two days later, Don Nelson brought his Golden State Warriors’ Run TMC show — Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, Chris Mullin — to town for a Sunday matinée. Before the game, Wolves coach Bill Musselman had that same look in his eye that he would get a year later when he unleashed 7-3 Randy Breuer to defend Magic Johnson in a game at Target Center.
This time, Musselman had another plan with Breuer in mind: He’d call the same post-up play for Breuer until he forced Nellie to double-team his big center before an announced crowd of 29,434.
Musselman called the same play to start the game and ol’ Nellie never flinched … all afternoon: The double team never came, Breuer took 28 shots, made half of ’em and scored a career-high 40 points over Manute Bol, Tom Tolbert or Jim Petersen and … the Warriors won 105-95 while Musselman called that same play repeatedly, from game’s beginning to end.