The Minnesota Vikings have called four stadiums home since the team’s inception in 1961, and each has impacted how the NFL franchise was run, ranging from business strategies to player rosters. Here’s the road from Metropolitan Stadium to U.S. Bank Stadium, as the team will once again play under a roof.
When Max Winter and his investment group landed an NFL expansion team for the 1961 season, Met Stadium was already a proven pro-football venue. Opening in 1956 as home of the minor-league Minneapolis Millers, Met Stadium hosted annual NFL exhibition games since its opening and two Chicago Cardinals regular-season games in 1959, attracting over 28,000 fans for a Cardinals/Giants match along the way. Winter, a Minneapolis restaurant owner and sports promoter who once owned a share of the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers, had sought an NFL team in the late 1950s, been rebuffed, and ultimately was awarded an original AFL franchise. But when the NFL agreed to expansion in 1960 and 1961, the AFL plans were dropped, and the Minnesota Vikings entered the NFL along with the Dallas Cowboys.
Metropolitan Stadium was designed for baseball: the original layout for the Minneapolis Millers featured the three-tiered grandstand and little else, in a lonely Bloomington location surrounded by acres and acres of farmland. In that era the NFL relied heavily on baseball parks as home fields: the Giants out of Yankee Stadium, the Bears out of Wrigley Field, the Cardinals out of Comiskey Park, the Lions out of Tiger Stadium and the Steelers out of Forbes Field. Even the Green Bay Packers played half their games at Milwaukee County Stadium.
It was at Met Stadium under Bud Grant where the Vikings first thrived, gaining a reputation as the toughest team in what was considered the NFL’s toughest division. Grant didn’t just tolerate the cold that was part of playing at a northern outdoor venue: he embraced it, banning sideline heaters and prohibiting players from wearing gloves or long underwear. (Bill Brown, the prototypical Grant player, never wore long sleeves under his jersey, no matter what the temperature.) Vikings fans embraced the cold as well, showing up on those chilly November and December game days in snowmobile suits, with plenty of pockets for a flask or a fifth. Though the Met wasn’t the best place to take in a game, with awkward angles galore and grandstand seats set far off the action, it arguably was the NFL stadium of its era that had the greatest impact on rosters, game strategies and fan interaction.
But discomfort as a marketing strategy can’t last forever, and the Vikings ownership, led by GM Mike Lynn, pushed for a domed stadium to replace the Met. The Metrodome opened for the 1982 MLB season, with the Vikings and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers debuting in the fall. The technology that gave the Metrodome its dome, a forced-air system keeping a Teflon-coated fiberglass roof afloat, was already in use in Pontiac and Syracuse. Though designed for both baseball and football, the Metrodome worked best as a football venue, with an intimate bowl and good sightlines. (Baseball, not so much.) In an especially shrewd move, the Vikings funded construction of the luxury suites and kept all revenue from all events. But the emphasis on suites sales combined with the indoor venue changed the tone of Vikings games: no tailgating, a higher-end crowd, and a team built around speed. The Vikings’ prototypical player went from Bill Brown to Darren Nelson.
The Metrodome came in under budget, partly because of the Vikings’ contribution and partly because it was a very basic, utilitarian facility, and as the fan experience evolved, team needs evolved as well. When the Golden Gopher football team moved to the Metrodome, a lot of the alumni base didn’t follow, so eventually the University of Minnesota built a new on-campus stadium, TCF Bank Stadium, designed to evoke memories of venerable Memorial Stadium while providing a modern fan experience. Indoor baseball was a novelty in 1982, but fans stopped responding to the Twins and stayed away in droves. The solution was Target Field, which opened to acclaim in 2010. And when it became apparent that the Metrodome had outlived its useful physical and economic lives, the city of Minneapolis moved ahead on a new Vikings stadium.
While that stadium was under construction at the Metrodome site, the Vikings played two seasons at the aforementioned TCF Bank Stadium, funding a turf upgrade along the way. Not the ideal situation, obviously, but it became the third venue used by the Vikings since their inaugural season. It did change the fan experience in one big way: tailgating returned for Vikings fans.
This month sees the regular-season opening of U.S. Bank Stadium as an NFL facility, though some high-school and college baseball will be played there as well. That ability to host baseball was politically important as the team and the city faced down some serious opposition to public stadium funding, but it didn’t really affect the design: the facility is first and foremost a football stadium. And an indoor one, to boot, although the translucent ceiling and opening windows will let in plenty of light and wind. A workable transparent roof has been the Holy Grail of stadium architects since the opening of the Astrodome in 1965 (where the translucent roof failed), but the technology has trailed the ambitions, until the emergence of ETFE (ethylene-tetra-fluoro-ethylene) copolymer plastic. It’s lighter and more durable than glass, and it covers 60 percent of the roof. Add to that five 95-foot tall pivoting glass doors on the front of the building, and fans will have access to fresh air and sunshine.
So, ironically, the team will be back in an enclosed stadium for the second time in team history. But U.S. Bank Stadium is designed to provide pretty much the opposite experience than the Metrodome in every way. Fans who attended Vikings games will remember the Metrodome as being a pretty sterile atmosphere: all plastic, fiberglass and forced air, with a lack of party spaces and group areas. That won’t be the case when the team launches into the regular season on Sept. 18 hosting divisional rival Green Bay Packers.
Photo of Met Stadium courtesy Minnesota Historical Society. TCF Bank Stadium photo by Jim Robins. U.S. Bank Stadium photo courtesy Minnesota Vikings.