The Minnesota Vikings and their fans stepped into U.S. Bank Stadium and history Sunday for the team’s first preseason home game at their new $1.1 billion digs.
Fans came prepared, a healthy percentage of them wearing purple jerseys stamped with the names of players of different eras and fortunes, from 1970s heroes Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page and Mick Tingelhoff to the more recent but less-venerated Daunte Culpepper, Percy Harvin and Randy Moss to current stars Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson, in whom fans have invested their seemingly bottomless faith.
The mostly meaningless preseason game against the San Diego Chargers (Vikes won 23-10) sold a reported 66,143 tickets, a record for a Vikings home game, although many of the building’s 66,200 purple seats appeared to be open.
Of arguably greater importance this year than the preseason field action are the behind-the-scenes logistical dress rehearsals going on before, during and after the games.
“They’re working out the kinks,” was how Elizabeth Schulze summed it up as she waited in line for her turn in a nursing station with her 1-year-old daughter Faith, who was wearing purple noise-cancelling headphones and a Vikings jersey.
Schulze said she and her husband aren’t season-ticket holders, but they wanted to try out the new building. She forgave a lengthy wait at security to get in as a “necessary evil” and deemed the overall experience as “so far, so good.”
She was, however, unable to find another nursing station because they were missing from the team’s iPhone gameday app.
The noon game was the first daytime event at the new stadium and the biggest so far, and previous problems seemed to be starting to ease. The first sporting event, also a capacity crowd for the building, was a soccer match Aug. 3, a weekday evening. Fans elbowed and shuffled through congested concourses and waited in long lines for food that night. Chicken and lamb ran out early. After that match, some fans waited 90 minutes to board their light-rail trains.
There were hits and misses Sunday, too. The team’s app crashed when the gates opened at 9:30 a.m. but was fixed within 15 minutes. Some lengthy security waits were reported, but by game time, the lines had been cleared and fans were inside.
Fans warmed instantly to new pregame options on the western plaza and the nearby park. It was much easier to walk on the outside spaces, although there were congested areas. Some lines for food remained long, especially for the $12 nachos with chicken or beef and the bacon cheese curds.
Demand was strong again for Revival’s chicken, but the line appeared to be moving faster than it had at the soccer match. Ditto the wait at AZ Canteen, home of the popular rotisserie lamb.
Long lines snaked toward many of the men’s restrooms. Women could walk right into their restrooms.
Exit is trickle, not deluge
This game didn’t truly test the postgame exit capacity. After the third quarter, fans started steadily flowing from the building. By late in the fourth, the stadium appeared half empty. For regular-season games, the fan egress will be a deluge rather than a trickle.
One can hardly imagine fans leaving early from the first game, on Sunday night Sept. 18 against the Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings play another preseason game Thursday night, and they’re hoping to open the five pivoting doors for that one, something they didn’t do Sunday because of high humidity.
But fans in the building Sunday saw the realization of one of the biggest hopes for the Vikings’ new home: an outdoor feel in the comfortable confines of an indoor stadium. Sunlight filled the building. The air was fresh and cool, an undeniable upgrade from the dungeonlike perma-gray inside the Metrodome.
Bridgewater noticed it, too. “It just felt like outside. It’s a good feeling. You get to work up a good sweat,” said the Vikings quarterback.
Another departure from the Metrodome days unfolded before the game.
“It’s so pretty; the old plaza was kind of a zoo,” said Pat Johnson of New Brighton as she watched her grandchildren crawl atop playground equipment in the alcohol- and smoke-free family zone that includes games, face-painting and rescue dogs catching Frisbees. Johnson, the grandkids, and her friend Sueanne Anttila of Delray Beach, Fla., came downtown to tailgate with family who went to the game.
“This is fun. I love it here,” Anttila said as she looked around the grassy park.
It wasn’t so perfect back at their prime tailgating spot in the purple lot on the stadium’s north side. “The setting is gorgeous, but they need more port-a-potties,” Johnson said, noting there were none in her lot and only two in the adjacent lot.
Parked in the lot just before game time, Jeremy and Tanya Wigand had the back of their truck open with a large TV, a canopy and an impressive array of freshly grilled food that included spicy pork chops and mushrooms topped with chorizo and cheese.
The Wigands had season tickets at the Dome but said prices in the new stadium with the seat licenses were too high for them. Their solution: Buy a parking pass for the season in the tailgating lot for $690.
“I love the atmosphere. I love the fans. I love cooking and sharing food with friends,” Wigand said of his tailgating-only plans for the new season.
The Reppes, a family of five from Eau Claire, Wis., were wandering around the plaza and the Vikings’ new Longhouse bar. “And we’re off,” Ernie Reppe said to his sons Charlie, Simeon and Manny at kickoff. Although the family didn’t have game tickets, they soaked up the scene.
“They love it that they can watch the game on the big screen,” Reppe said of his young sons, who had been able to see the big screen on the western prow of the stadium from their hotel room downtown.
The season of firsts continues Thursday with the first night game.