MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings’ first exposure to TCF Bank Stadium was a mostly forgettable late December loss in 2010 except for providing the final chapter in the Hall of Fame NFL career of quarterback Brett Favre.
Minnesota was displaced from its home, the Metrodome, after snow caused the roof to collapse and the Vikings were left to play one game, outdoors, at the stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.
The Gophers, the usual inhabitants of TCF Bank Stadium, had finished their season a month earlier. The stadium had been winterized before being reactivated for the Vikings and the ground was frozen for the 23-degree, Monday night game between Minnesota and the Chicago Bears.
Favre’s fantastic career essentially ended that night. Chicago defensive end Corey Wootton — who is now a member of the Vikings — had grabbed Favre by his shoulder and slammed to the frozen turf causing a concussion. Favre missed the final two games of his final season.
Minnesota will try to make better memories when it returns to TCF Bank Stadium this year, and the lessons learned in December 2010 instruct the Vikings’ and Gophers now.
"Certainly we took into account what occurred in that game," Vikings spokesperson Jeff Anderson said. "We all know that the field in that situation was frozen during the game and we didn’t want that to occur this time around. Now, the thing you have to remember at that time was the field was under several inches of snow and had been for a couple months when that occurred. So obviously we’re going into a much different situation and we’ll be prepared for it throughout the fall and into the winter."
With the Metrodome torn down to make way for the Vikings’ new $975 million stadium, the team will play at least two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium. To prepare, the Vikings’ have made $6.6 million in improvements to the stadium, including heating coils underneath new turf.
Permanent heating was added to restrooms at TCF Bank Stadium, which opened in 2009. Each year the University of Minnesota was forced to winterize the stadium to prevent freezing.
"We built it for fall usage," University associate athletics director Scott Ellison said. "Now that we’re making these modifications, it’s going to make it into more of a year-round stadium."
The Vikings increased storage by 4,500 square feet to accommodate the team’s game-day equipment, heating will be installed in the stadium’s loge seating and the Vikings have added 1,720 seats to the west end zone to bring the capacity for games to 52,525.
But the biggest aspect of the improvements was to the field, accounting for a third of the total improvement cost. The "hydronic" heating system includes 38 miles of plastic tubing underneath the field, which will allow the new turf to be heated and kept from freezing to avoid situations like the team experienced in 2010.
"Always a focus for us as an organization is to keep our players safe and to give them the safest possible environment," Anderson said.
The field work was started in late April after the Gophers’ spring football game and was wrapped up in June, allowing for University football coach Jerry Kill’s annual camp.
"We’re excited about the improvements because it’s going to help us in the long run," Ellison said. "We’re going to end up with a heated field out of the deal, more heat in the bathrooms for late season games, which we really didn’t need the additional heat up there. But it’s going to help in case we do get that cold November, which we haven’t had yet but could most definitely."
The university had made modifications to the stadium to account for cold weather previously. The university hosted an outdoor hockey game in January between the Gophers and Ohio State. The modifications made then were temporary. Many of those changes will now become permanent in the latest improvements.
"All the winterization we used to do, we’ll have to do some of it but not to the depth that we had to do it before," Ellison said. "Makes life easier for the stadium staff, no doubt."
The cost for improvements came from the Vikings’ $975 million budget for the new stadium. The team will also pay the university $3 million each season in rent and shared revenue.
Oak Street, outside the west gate of the stadium, will be shut down three hours prior to Vikings’ games to provide a place for fans to congregate before games. More portable concession stands will be added and the entry points to the stadium will be increased from 64 points of entry for Gophers’ games to 83 for the Vikings.
"Generally speaking, it’s just a much better fan experience all around," Anderson said, in comparison to the Metrodome. "You have a more intimate setting, tremendous sight lines, obviously a state of the art video board, a wider variety of food and beverage options, nearly twice as many restrooms; all of the things that you want to experience on a game day."
The Vikings do encourage fans to prepare for the change and arrive early to games and plan their routes. The use of light rail is another option for visitors.
Not all of the improvements have been finished. Ellison projected the work would continue into September. The installation of heating in the loge boxes has not yet started.
But as Ellison showed members of the media around the stadium on Wednesday, the Vikings’ logo was at midfield, the "Minnesota" in the end zones were painted purple, the extra seating was in and TCF Bank Stadium was just about ready for the Vikings’ preseason game against the Oakland Raiders on Friday.