The Vikings on Sunday finally opened the gates at U.S. Bank Stadium for football, celebrating the first game at their new home with cheerleaders strutting through a pregame routine alongside dozens of their alumni, Olympic swimmer and local golden boy David Plummer tooting a souped-up gjallarhorn and fireworks exploding inside the building during the national anthem.
The most glorious sight for the announced crowd of 66,143 came, though, when Teddy Bridgewater jogged out for the first play from scrimmage in the 23-10 victory over San Diego.
The quarterback 10 days earlier was a surprise scratch in Seattle as he dealt with a sore shoulder, and he was not cleared to throw until Tuesday. Even then, he did not attempt a pass more than 15 yards downfield his first day back at practice.
But Sunday, Bridgewater put to rest any remaining concerns about his health by passing for 161 yards and a touchdown before taking a seat at halftime.
“I hope I did. I hope I did by just going out there and competing,” he said. “The shoulders feel great, and I had some fun out there playing with the guys.”
Bridgewater’s right shoulder looked up to snuff when he completed a trio of impressive downfield strikes in the final two minutes of the first half.
The third-year QB whizzed a throw over the head of Chargers safety Adrian Phillips to wide receiver Charles Johnson for a first down. On the next throw, Bridgewater powered a pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who was running a deep out route from the slot, for a 22-yard completion.
Then he threw a bullet up the seam to tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught the pass and stampeded into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown. Bridgewater got toppled while throwing and watched Rudolph score from the turf.
Bridgewater, who completed 12 of his 16 attempts, led three scoring drives.
“I told you there was nothing to worry about,” said coach Mike Zimmer, who never actually had said that in Seattle when explaining why Bridgewater sat.
Bridgewater’s touchdown pass to Rudolph was one of many unofficial firsts at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. Technically, the stats there won’t count until Week 2 of the regular season, when the Green Bay Packers come to town.
Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff at the new stadium 29 yards. Bridgewater completed the first pass, hitting Diggs on a shallow crossing route for a first down. Jerick McKinnon popped the first big play, bursting through the middle, then down the right sideline on a 35-yard run.
McKinnon, who started at running back with Adrian Peterson being held out as a precaution, gained more yards on that run than he had in 14 carries over the team’s first two preseason games. He finished with 56 yards on eight carries.
Their opening drive eventually ran out of steam, but the Vikings scored the first points at their new home when Blair Walsh booted a 23-yard field goal.
Moments later, safety Harrison Smith had the first interception, picking off Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers after cornerback Trae Waynes’ timely hit on intended receiver Keenan Allen caused the ball to carom to Smith.
U.S. Bank Stadium was rocking then, never mind that it was the preseason. The volume Sunday was recorded at a Metrodome-esque 114 decibels.
“It’s starting to [feel like home],” Smith said. “It’s cool that they’re so close. They really get to be part of it. It’s going to be very loud. That’s what we love.”
The Chargers took a 7-6 lead in the second quarter when running back Melvin Gordon bolted untouched through the middle of the defense for a 39-yard touchdown. Veteran linebacker Audie Cole had a free run at Gordon but he instead tackled Rivers, who still was able to hand off to his running back.
The visitors then cashed in a Rudolph fumble for another three points.
On the ensuing drive, the one that ended with Bridgewater’s touchdown pass to Rudolph, the Vikings went 78 yards on six plays to go back up 12-10.
The Vikings, thanks to Patterson recovering MyCole Pruitt’s fumble in the end zone and Shaun Hill connecting with top pick Laquon Treadwell for a two-point conversion, pulled away from there.
Many Vikings fans lingered in their seats until the final whistle, except for when they busted out “the wave” in the fourth quarter, to soak in what they hope was the first win of many at the team’s new home.
“Today was unbelievable,” Bridgewater said. “I just can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for the ‘Sunday Night Football’ game against the Packers.”