First they lifted ever-so-slightly up. Then came the beeping. And for the next five minutes, the five glass doors on U.S. Bank Stadium’s western wall swung slowly open.
Friday’s media event was the first public opening of the pivoting doors, the largest of which is 95 feet high and 55 feet wide. The doors descend incrementally in height from left to right.
The Minnesota Vikings will play their first game at the stadium at noon Sunday. On Friday, they practiced on the field for the first time. Then the media got a tour of the Vikings Voyage, an interactive space for fans to see memorabilia and test their running, hitting and passing capabilities through virtual reality, then pose on a bench amid the Purple People Eaters.
As the heavy-on-the-hype video near the entrance says, the voyage is a place to “bring people together to experience the passion of the Vikings” because “we are all Vikings” and “the fair weather fans? They flew south for the winter. Forever.”
In the entry to the voyage exhibit, fans ascend purple stairs under 1,000 shiny silver footballs suspended from the ceiling. The footballs commemorate each of retired wide receiver and Hall-of-Famer Cris Carter’s catches.
Among the pieces on exhibit: Former coach Bud Grant’s headset, old and new uniforms and the original drawing in 1961 of the team logo by Karl Hubenthal, a cartoonist for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. In an attached note, Hubenthal wrote that the colors purple and gold were the choice of the team’s general manager Bert Rose, a fan of the University of Washington Huskies.
As the voyage opened Friday, 9-year-old Maddux Shockman of Berlin, N.D., became the first to strap on a helmet and try to “catch” a touchdown through virtual reality. He jumped up and down, then lifted his arms and stood on his tiptoes, saying, “Oh, awesome.”
He dropped one pass, caught another and pronounced the experience “sweet.” He told his mom, a season-ticket holder who held a bag of purchases from the adjacent team store, “You could see everything; it was so real.”
The voyage sits atop the team store on the northwestern corner of the stadium. That shop features an expanded array of team memorabilia from $10 team insignia earrings to $14 faux rustic wall hangings that read, “All I need is football and my dog.”
Team hits field for practice
All the fan activity took place after practice on the field on a sunny, temperate August day. Kicker Blair Walsh was in the first group on the field, stretching, getting in some sprints, then booting ball after ball through the uprights. He nailed several from beyond the 50-yard line and fired off a few 40-yarders, one after another.
When the rest of the team came out, the players glanced around but then got right into their group stretching, which looked a lot like line dancing, and drills for more than an hour before boarding buses to return to Winter Park, their usual practice facility in Eden Prairie.
The new video boards hanging above each end zone got a test run, showing images of the players on high.
The clarity of the images was not unnoticed. After practice, wide receiver Charles Johnson smiled as he talked about how the close-up images visible on the screens would capture any skin imperfections. “You’ve got to make sure you’re looking right when you come out here,” he said.
Johnson said players are accustomed to traveling to new stadiums for games. “All stadiums are exciting to me,” he said. “It’s crazy the thought process that goes into building them.”
Offensive tackle Matt Kalil pronounced the building “awesome.”
Johnson said he liked the open-air feel of the $1.1 billion building, a characteristic attributable to a roof made of translucent plastic.
Bring your sunglasses
The five big doors made more of a statement from the outside looking in than from the field or inside the building. Although they add drama to the western face of the building, they don’t yield a sweeping view of downtown, because they’re partly obscured by the big video board.
It remains to be seen whether having them open will affect air flow in the building. The NFL requires the Vikings to notify visiting teams of the game-time position of the doors at least 90 minutes before kickoff.
Regardless of the position of the doors, inside the building is bright. Fans would be wise to wear sunglasses or caps during day games.
As for the fans’ new play space, the voyage, admission is free. But the space is open only on game days and only for fans who have game tickets — for now. Team officials said expanded hours and access are likely later in the season.