The Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium? I Was There

I went to last night’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium so I could say, for the rest of my life, I was at the game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium.

I didn’t intend on going until late afternoon, when a co-worker not-so-gently coerced me into looking for tickets. I posted an inquiry on Facebook and within 15 minutes we had two upper level tickets for $40 a pop. We darted to Target to buy long johns, wool socks and hand warmers. We caught a few pre-game drinks at Sally’s nearby the stadium. We gaped at the stadium itself, illuminated by the falling snow and electricity of a fan base that had been subjected to indoor football for three decades.

Of course, the Vikings got smoked 40-14.

The game was meaningless to the Vikings, but it wasn’t without intrigue. It was their first outdoor home game since December 20, 1981. It may have been Brett Favre’s last start, despite being ruled out 48 hours to kickoff with a bum shoulder. It was a night the franchise celebrated it’s 50 best players in the team’s 50-year history.

It was a spectacle, albeit a drunken one. We sat by a gang of buffoons who felt it necessary to throw snowballs at innocent Bears fans while yelling things I’ve never before heard at a sporting event. (“Run like you’re a second grader!” and “F_ck you, Chicago!”) We saw paramedics working on several fallen comrades throughout the stadium. We saw liquor-dispensing gadgets that must’ve been invented by Q from the James Bond movies.

Was it cold? It was tolerable. There was a light snow which turned to drizzle, very little wind and the temperature hovered in the 20s all night. On TV, the field appeared a sheet of ice and the players appeared on the verge of frost bite. Someday, I’ll feel inclined to fudge the details — just as generations before me did with Metropolitan Stadium folklore — and say it was in fact a blizzard, the wind was whipping and it was so cold, you could see your breath turn to snow if not for the zero visibility.

The question was asked last night where the TCF Bank Stadium game would rank on my list of all-time best fan experiences. I have been privileged to see a lot of great players and a lot of great teams in some of the most historic sports arenas in the country. (To clarify, I’m not talking about the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.) I would rank last night’s game as the best fan experience of my life. It brought together past, present and future in football’s version of Back To The Future. It felt like a game at the Met, but it also felt like a game at the Vikings’ next outdoor stadium (if it ever gets built).

You buy a ticket to see something memorable. You might see a 40-14 drubbing. You might see the greatest quarterback of all time make the last start of his career. You might see shirtless men in 20-degree weather. You might see something no one’s seen for 29 years.

Last night, I saw it all.

Kluwe Cries Foul in Fear of Player Safety at TCF Bank Stadium

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is worried about player safety tonight.

Yesterday, after the Vikings held a walkthrough at TCF Bank Stadium to test field conditions, Kluwe tweeted the field was “unplayable,” adding, “The field is as hard as concrete an hour and a half after they took the tarp off, and anyone that hits their head is getting a concussion.”

Thousands of people — many of whom were temp workers – worked around the clock the past week to help remove the 17 inches of snow that fell on the Twin Cities last weekend. A few weeks previous, TCF Bank Stadium had been winterized and put into hibernation until spring, but when the Vikings faced playing a second straight home game outside of Minneapolis, a deal was made to revive/thaw the field for one more game. In Minneapolis, it’s being considered the sporting event of the year, even if the Vikings are 5-8 and out of the playoff picture.

Back to Kluwe. He’s right in that the NFL should’ve considered moving the game if player safety is the concern they claim it is. However, everyone outside of Kluwe — who won’t be a part of more than eight or nine plays — claims the field is hard, but playable. Maybe everyone else is playing tough guy, though.

You know what drives me up the wall? Football players who refuse to wear long sleeves when it’s freezing out. They have no problem gathering around the portable heater or heated bench on the sideline, but when they’re in the game, they wouldn’t be caught dead whilst properly dressed for the conditions. Wearing long sleeves in a commercial? Well, money talks:

Luckily for both teams, it’s supposed to snow 4-6 inches today and overnight. That could create more padding on the field, but more importantly, it’ll keep the temperature up. (Pardon the meteorological nerdery.) Monday’s forecast has gotten a little warmer each day since TCF Bank Stadium was officially named the site of tonight’s game. Originally, the guess was anywhere from 5-10 degrees at kickoff with something like a (-15) wind chill. If that was the case, players could’ve suffered frost bite to exposed skin in 45 minutes or less.

Kind of offsets Kluwe’s concerns about player safety, doesn’t it? Hard to ask the NFL to move a game hundreds of miles to Indianapolis or St. Louis for player safety when half your team refuses to put on a long-sleeve shirt like petulant children.

In 2002, I played in a high school football game where the temperature was 12 degrees. The field was actually frozen — our cleats were more like tap-dance shoes, unable to penetrate the rock-hard sod. We wore layer over layer and huddled around a propane space heater at every chance. On punts, the ball would bounce upward as if it’d landed in a parking lot. We won that game, no one suffered frost bite, and — most importantly — no one got a concussion.

It’s not something I would ever want to do again, but it wasn’t “unplayable” like Kluwe would probably claim.