Vikings superfan Dave “Diggz” Garza has had his game time outfit laid out for days — Under Armour leggings, two sets of long johns, face mask, gloves, boots with two pairs of socks. In all, five layers of insulating protection against Sunday’s super freeze.
“It’s going to be too cold to be cute,” said the vice president of the Viking World Order fan club.
Kristi Etter knows it. The Eden Prairie Vikings fan and blogger will be wrapped in her usual toasty garb of faux fur, insulated boots — and hand warmers stuffed into her bra. “That warms the core right up,” she said.
Good thing, too. For the first time in nearly 40 years, when frigid winds last froze the nose hairs of die-hard fans in the east bleachers at Metropolitan Stadium, the Vikings are hosting a playoff game outdoors. With subzero temperatures possible for Sunday’s noon kickoff with Seattle at TCF Bank Stadium, the team, its purple-and-gold faithful and the stadium groundskeepers are girding for something hardy Minnesotans used to take for granted: bone-chilling, frozen tundra-embracing playoff football.
At least when it comes to battling the cold — if not the Seahawks — Etter is oozing confidence. She’s a Minnesotan, after all.
“We pretty much have it down to a science here after two years [at TCF],” she said, adding that her husband, Gary, is a hunter who is used to sitting for long periods in snow-covered trees. “Heat packs are your friends. Put them in possibly any place you can.”
Despite what may come across as a casual attitude by some toward the cold, spending more than 30 years inside the now-demolished Metrodome might have softened even the most frost-hardened Vikings fans before the team moved to “the Bank” last season.
Recognizing that Sunday could be brutally painful, team officials on Thursday announced steps to comfort fans, offering free coffee in the Fan Zone located on Oak Street, free hand warmers at all entry gates and the use of nearby Mariucci Arena as a pregame warming house, starting at 9 a.m.
Fans also are encouraged to bring in non-battery-operated blankets, as well as Styrofoam, cardboard or newspapers to put under feet to help keep toes from going numb.
As kickoff neared, forecasters projected game-time temps near 0, with a high of no more than 3 or 4 degrees. Even for the well-prepared, those are dangerous conditions, especially when exposed for four or five hours. In those temperatures, fans are at the most risk for frostbite and hypothermia, said Dr. Doug Brunette, a hypothermia expert at Hennepin County Medical Center.
His best advice? Wear layers, bring a blanket to cut the wind, don’t sit on aluminum or steel and wear a mask to cover most of your face.
“If I were going to this game, I would have virtually no skin exposed,” he said. “And it’s critical to stay dry. If you get wet and it’s that cold out, you will place yourself at risk for frostbite and hypothermia.”
Use common sense
As a longtime veteran of cold combat, both in the hunting stand and stadium seats, Gary Etter said surviving the chill requires common sense.
He shakes his head at the memory of the shirtless Vikings fans he saw last week at chilly Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., or the bikini-clad fan he saw a few weeks ago at TCF Bank in a home game against the Bears. She was asked to leave by stadium personnel.
“It was way too cold for a bikini,” he said. “I would definitely say it was the liquor that day.”
Nicolas Spadaccini, a Vikings fan from West St. Paul, has a cold-weather football pedigree. His father, Vic, won national championships with the Gophers in the mid-1930s before going on to play for the Cleveland Rams, and used to take his son to games at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Spadaccini remembers fans in the bleachers wearing big blankets that they pulled around them “like a burlap sack. You could pop a little heater in there,” he said.
Now, he said, the trick to staying warm is sticking to the heated tents when tailgating, making regular stops in the stadium’s heated restrooms and moving during the game action, even if it means hiking up and down stadium stairs.
“It makes a difference,” said Spadaccini, who plans to start getting his subzero tailgate on at 5 a.m. Sunday.
In some ways, the players may have it the easiest.
Unlike the Vikings’ championship seasons of the ’60s and ’70s, when former head coach Bud Grant forbade sideline heaters or gloves for his players, today’s players enjoy heated benches, warm-air blowers for their helmets and insulated game apparel. On Sunday, an Eagan business is going so far as to supply warming layers — gloves, shirts, etc. — to both the Vikings and the enemy Seahawks.
The playing field, too, is more inviting. Forty years after the Vikings beat the Los Angeles Rams at the Met in the team’s final outdoor home-field playoff game, its TCF Bank digs boast underground coils that help heat — and soften — the field. To make sure that turf is toasty, the grounds crew last week put down tarps to shield the field from snow and ice, and fired up several burners to pump in some heat.
Such luxuries were foreign back in the NFC championship years, when the Vikings turned the ice box of the Met into a cold-field advantage, according to former head trainer Fred Zamberletti. The Vikings were 7-3 in home playoff games vs. their often windchill-addled foes.
Zamberletti said Grant, a Hall of Fame coach, “did his best coaching when the turf was not good.”
Grant charted the spots of the field that froze early and became slick, Zamberletti said. That helped with strategy, both in calling plays to attack the defense, or favoring a runner who worked best on icy turf. “We just accepted it,” he said.
Not that Vikings players didn’t try to generate some heat.
Once, somebody put an old sauna in an out-of-the-way spot under the stadium, Zamberletti said. Players would then smuggle hot sauna rocks to hold under their capes on game days.
“We had some guys who were genius,” Zamberletti said. “They found a way.”
For some die-hard fans, however, the best way to beat the elements Sunday and enjoy the game is simple: stay home and watch on TV.
“I’m a fan, but it’s too cold,” said Sue Hannon, a longtime season-ticket holder from St. Paul, who plans to give her two tickets to her 23-year-old son, Kevin.
For his part, Kevin Hannon admits it’s been tough finding friends willing to brave the conditions. Still, he plans to do just that, wearing as many layers as he can find to celebrate what may well be the team’s only outdoor playoff game for years to come.
“I can’t miss it,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a point of pride. But it would be a cool thing to look back and say you were at this game.”