MINNEAPOLIS — Tim Irwin wasn’t around when the Vikings broke ground on a new $975 million stadium earlier this month.
But the former Minnesota offensive tackle may want to book a flight from Knoxville, Tenn., to the Twin Cities when crews begin demolishing the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on Jan. 18 of next year.
“If they wanted me to, I’d swing the first hammer,” Irwin said. “If I could work a crane, I’d do the first wrecking ball.”
Irwin joined a handful of Vikings alums honored at Sunday’s game for their selection to the “All-Mall of America Field Team.” Everyone, including the punishing-tackle-turned Tennessee juvenile court judge, brought plenty of nostalgia with them to the second-to-last NFL game in the dome’s three-plus decades of existence.
But Irwin, who played for Minnesota from 1981-83, also understands the need for the new venue, particularly when it comes to ensuring the franchise remains here.
“It may be this place,” Irwin said, “that kept the Minnesota Vikings from being the ‘something-else’ Vikings.”
One of 27 current and former players recognized at halftime Sunday, Irwin warmly recalled the pounding in his eardrums during a big moment, being pumped with fluids from IVs in the training room and guarding the locker-room door at Bud Grant’s request before games — the coach refused to allow officials inside, a common practice for most teams at the time.
The stuffy heat inside the Metrodome bothered him. So did the increasingly speed-oriented style of play that came with playing on turf.
About 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds during his playing days, Irwin said his body type was better suited for the power game the Vikings deployed during his rookie year at outdoor Metropolitan Stadium.
“Can’t hit what you can’t catch,” Irwin joked.
Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle didn’t have any complaints.
The playing surface aided a swifter pass rush. And when a 64,000-plus crowd got going, its members earned their surname as “the loudest fans in football.”
“We had a huge (advantage),” said Randle, who played in seven Pro Bowls and led the Vikings in sacks nine times from 1990-2000. “As a defensive lineman, I couldn’t hear anything, and I know the (opposing) offensive linemen couldn’t hear anything.”
Irwin agreed. “The fans could really rock that place,” he said. “I’m not one of those guys that says ‘Oh, it didn’t matter to me if there were 15 people in the stands or 100,000’ — no, it mattered. It definitely mattered. I heard every one of them.”
Kicker Ryan Longwell learned that lesson long before Minnesota signed him ahead of the 2006 season.
Before that, Longwell kicked for the hated Green Bay Packers. He loved displaying his craft indoors but despised the complications that came with doing it in Minneapolis.
“We felt we had some really, really good teams coming over here and just could never, ever communicate because it was so loud,” Longwell said. “The volume in that stadium, when the fans get rocking, you can’t even have a conversation on the sideline. It wasn’t just the snap count and the communication on the field; it’s trying to communicate on the sideline to fix something, and you just couldn’t do it.”
Things went a little better for Longwell once he switched sides of the rivalry. In six years with Minnesota, he made 135 of 157 field-goal tries (86 percent) and was perfect on 44 extra-point attempts.
The Vikings’ Dec. 29 season finale against Detroit will be their last inside the 31-year-old Metrodome. Construction on its glass-encrusted, state-of-the-art replacement has already begun and is scheduled for completion in time for the 2016 football season.
The organization will call the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium home until then.
And when they tear the old place down in January, don’t expect Irwin to be too sentimental.
“It served its purpose,” Irwin said. “Let’s kill this one and move on to something bigger and better.”
The Vikings’ All-Mall of America Field Team, as voted on by fans during the past month:
Offense Daunte Culpepper, QB, 1999-05 Adrian Peterson, RB, 2007-13 Robert Smith, RB, 1993-00 Anthony Carter, WR, 1985-93 Cris Carter, WR, 1990-01 Randy Moss, WR, 1998-04,’10 Steve Jordan, TE, 1982-94 Tim Irwin, T, 1981-93 Gary Zimmerman, T, 1986-92 Steve Hutchinson, G, 2006-11 Randall McDaniel, G, 1988-99 Matt Birk, C, 1998-08
Defense Jared Allen, DE, 2008-13 Chris Doleman, DE, 1985-93,’99 John Randle, DT, 1990-00 Kevin Williams, DT, 2003-13 Chad Greenway, LB, 2006-13 Ed McDaniel, LB, 1992-01 Scott Studwell, LB, 1977-90 Carl Lee, CB, 1983-93 Antoine Winfield, CB, 2004-12 Robert Griffith, S, 1994-01 Joey Browner, S, 1983-91
Special teams Percy Harvin, RS, 2009-12 Chris Kluwe, P, 2005-12 Ryan Longwell, K, 2006-11 Chris Walsh, ST, 1994-02