Not even the arrest of star running back Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges seemed able to cast a pall over the enthusiasm of Minnesota Vikings fans for the return to outdoor football.
Fans still wore Peterson jerseys aplenty at the team’s home opener in temporary quarters at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota, although a salesman at the team merchandise concession said there were “definitely” fewer sales than usual of shirts bearing Peterson’s No. 28.
One of the loyalists, Rod Sylvester of Savage, proudly wore his Peterson gear, proclaiming he’s had season tickets for 15 years, since his son Josh was 9 years old.
“I still show my support for Adrian,” Sylvester said. “He’s innocent until proven guilty in my eyes.” Of the charges that Peterson beat his 4-year-old son with a switch, however, Sylvester conceded, “Obviously there’s something there.”
Peterson was indicted last week by a Texas grand jury and flew to Houston Saturday where he was booked and released on $15,000 bond. His lawyer released a statement saying Peterson did not intend to hurt the child, but the Vikings deactivated him for Sunday’s game and he did not attend the 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots.
Vikings fans Courtney Olson and Dan Kunkel, who got engaged Friday, were tailgating in a lot across from the stadium Sunday with their friends Lindsey and Brian Schacherer of Des Moines, Iowa, who wore Patriots jerseys.
Olson had planned to wear her Peterson jersey, but changed her mind after the abuse charges surfaced.
“I actually went out and bought a new jersey,” she said, showing off her No. 84 jersey with Cordarrelle Patterson’s name on the back. “I think they’ll do just fine without him,” she said of Peterson.
Sam Holland of Bloomington also changed, from a Peterson shirt to a Favre jersey, at the last minute. “I’m a teacher,” she said. “I couldn’t condone child abuse.”
Tailgater Bonnie Russ said simply, “I don’t want to talk about that. It’s very sad.”
Still the sun was shining, there was a slight breeze and the beer was cold.
Most fans didn’t want to dwell on the charges against Peterson. It was just too nice to be in a bad mood.
“We love outdoor football,” fans said both inside and outside the stadium. Many said it reminded them of the old Met Stadium in Bloomington, where the Vikings played before moving to the Metrodome in 1982.
Some mentioned that they weren’t looking forward to winter games.
“I’d rather scour off my nipples than come here in the winter,” said Bryan Greer of Fairmont, Minn.
Tom Holland wasn’t quite as graphic: “I hate winter,” he said. His wife, Sam, told him she’d already been invited by a friend to the Dec. 20 game and that she planned to go. She’d likely be wearing mittens and a parka, though, rather than the jeans and jersey she wore Sunday.
The couple gave up their season tickets after learning they’d have to pay a seat-licensing fee at TCF stadium. On Sunday, they weren’t so sure that was a good decision. They’re looking forward to the new $1 billion stadium under construction on the Metrodome site opening in 2016 and might buy them again then.
A dozen or more families and groups of friends tailgated in the Gateway lot and other surface parking lots before the game. Footballs were tossed, beanbags were thrown.
They weren’t discouraged by the $40 parking fee and, at the pace concessions were selling, they didn’t seem discouraged either by the $8.75 beers, $9 cotton candy or $6.75 burgers. “A luxury tax” for Vikings fans, Sam Holland called it.
Former St. Paulites Jim and Lynda Burmeister now live in Balsam Lake, Wis.
“An hour’s drive, but worth every penny,” Jim Burmeister said. They were thrilled to be able to park in St. Paul and ride the light rail to the game. They were thrilled, too, to be at outdoor football again, but also glad to be seated under an overhang in case of rain or snow.
“We’ll enjoy these two years out here, but we’re going to look forward to the new stadium,” he said.
Public transport woes elicited the only complaints from fans Sunday. Some tweeted that SouthWest Transit buses from Eden Prairie were jam packed. Some said two or three stuffed light rail trains went by before they found one with some room.
Despite some earlier concerns from neighborhood residents about the effects of game day festivities, University of Minnesota police reported no major problems. “Just the usual intoxicated person here and there,” a dispatcher said.
Restaurants in Stadium Village were bustling before and after the game. Managers at Campus Pizza and My Burger were too busy to even come to the phone.