Barely two hours after the Vikings were thumped by the Packers at the Metrodome a few weeks back, a fresher (if fleshier) group of gridiron heroes ran onto the same hallowed turf -- sans fans or cheerleaders this time -- with flags on their hips instead of pads on their shoulders.

Although the Vikings are far and away the Dome's best-known tenant, numerous other teams, organizations, agencies, businesses and schools have used the stadium regularly for years, including J.D. Pride's adult flag football league.

As the Legislature again prepares to wade into the debate over subsidizing a new stadium for the Vikings, the fact that more than 100 other groups held 500 separate games, events and activities at the Dome in 2010 could help proponents argue that a multipurpose stadium is more than just a palace for helmet-wearing millionaires.

"I don't think anybody thought in 1982 how versatile the facility could be," said Pride, a former Gophers tailback who has leased the Dome for his fitness programs and sports leagues for 26 years. "It's been accustomed to everything, from tractor pulls to Final Fours."

The number of events actually increased last year after the Twins left for Target Field. Last week, Dome officials canceled the next three months of stadium events to allow time to inspect and fix the storm-damaged roof. Included among the cancellations: TwinsFest and 300 college and high school baseball games.

Many legislators remain unconvinced that the Dome is urgently needed for non-Vikings events.

"The groups that have to find different venues are finding different venues," said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, the new chairman of the House Taxes Committee. "The game plan is to hear the bills and try to get [a new stadium] accomplished without using general fund dollars. It really doesn't change the debate for me."

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, who will become an assistant Senate majority leader when the Legislature convenes this week, said a new stadium remains low on lawmakers' priority lists. "I don't think this in itself changes the discussion. The economy and the budget is the focus," he said.

Looking at the bottom line

The Vikings played 10 games at the Dome last year and used the stadium a couple of dozen times in all. But those occasions were greatly outnumbered by college and prep baseball, youth football games, military physical tests, police and fire training, band practices, even model airplane flying.

"We call it Minnesota's rec room," said Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and operates the Dome and is overseeing the roof's repair.

But Lester added that the rec room can't stay open without the Vikings.

The Dome takes in about $8.5 million a year; $6.6 million of that comes from the Vikings, and $1.9 million from other bookings. Lester said that commission officials have had meetings with the Northern League about locating a minor league baseball franchise at the Dome, but that cash flow would still be an issue without the Vikings.

"Our analysis shows that with current levels of income, we could probably last a couple years" if the Vikings decided to leave, he said. "The commission is the creature of the Legislature, and there's nobody to pick up the difference between revenues and operating expenses."

The Super and the day-to-day

The Dome has helped the Twin Cities host national sports events, large concerts and rallies having nothing to do with either the Vikings or the Twins: one Super Bowl, two Final Four college basketball tournaments, the Special Olympics, Billy Graham, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, among others. It has put Minneapolis in the running for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

At the other end of the spectrum, an estimated 750,000 in-line skaters have rolled through Dome concourses over the years during winter months. Runners and walkers, paying $1 each, fill the same corridors on many Tuesdays and Thursdays. Arlene Fried, a retired Minneapolis resident, said she is "devastated" by the Dome's collapse. She lives five minutes away and has been a weekly in-line skater there for years.

"It's my major form of aerobic activity during the wintertime," she said. "We survive Minnesota because of the Dome. It's a place to go, and it's a place to be active."

Although in-line skating and running have been canceled for the time being, Dome officials said those activities might resume soon.

Twins left, others arrived

The Dome is especially popular with college and high school baseball and softball teams, as well as youth football and soccer programs. Last year was the first ever at the Dome without a Twins season, but the newly opened dates didn't last long, Lester said.

"Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do college baseball coaches," he said. "The 81 Twins' home games were replaced by 240-odd other games. We fit the equivalent of three major league seasons [into one]."

The Dome has picked up the slack when other venues weren't an option. It's hosted the state high school football finals for years, but when the Halloween blizzard of 1991 made playing outside impossible it took on the entire playoff schedule -- 71 games in all.

The Minnesota Timberwolves played there as a brand-new franchise before Target Center was completed, and the Dome hosted a number of events while the Minneapolis Convention Center was under construction.

Anyone with the money and proper insurance can rent the Dome for private parties, which happens perhaps half a dozen times a year, said Bobbi Ellenberg, the stadium's events manager. Many requests are rejected because the desired date is already booked, she said.

Questions were raised last week about the need to close the Dome for three months. Lester said that if there were a safe way to reopen the Dome faster than that, they'd do it. But he said it will take time for engineers from Texas and New York to assess which of the roof's 106 fabric panels need replacing. At least nine faulty panels have been identified, including five that were destroyed by the storm or efforts to speed snow removal.

Lester said that engineers are using laser surveys, photographs and hands-on inspection to test the quality of the surface. Their work will be summarized in a report later this month to the commission, which will decide how to proceed. When that happens, new panels will need to be fabricated, then shipped to the Twin Cities and installed on the roof.

"We're very conscious of the safety factor both for users and participants and spectators," Lester said.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455