Vikings’ new temporary home leaves lasting impression
MINNEAPOLIS — The sounds were the same — the booming Gjallarhorn, the strains of Led Zeppelin’s "Immigrant Song" as the team took the field — but the sights were much different.
Most notably, that dingy white Teflon roof was nowhere to be seen overhead. The open portion of the stadium behind the west end zone exposed the downtown Minneapolis skyline and a summer sunset, sights never witnessed from inside the now-demolished Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
The seats throughout TCF Bank Stadium were maroon and gold, not the purple and gold Friday’s home team wore. In the upper sections of each sideline, the word "MINNESOTA" was spelled out, only it wasn’t in reference to the Vikings.
Whether it feels like it or not, this is home for the next two years for the Minnesota Vikings as they await the completion of their brand new stadium, set to open for the 2016 season. That yet-unnamed stadium is being built on the site of the Metrodome, where the Vikings moved to in 1982 after spending the first 21 years of their existence outdoors at Metropolitan Stadium.
Friday marked the return to the great outdoors for professional football in Minnesota, albeit temporarily. And even though the Vikings were playing in someone else’s stadium, they’ve already adjusted to their new digs.
"I think it was new for everybody. It’s a new locker room, a new field. It’s all a new environment," said quarterback Matt Cassel. "But at the same time, when you start to be here with your teammates and run outside and see the purple and see the fans, it started to feel like a home game, for sure."
An announced attendance of 51,752 fans showed up, clad in purple T-shirts, jerseys, and some even in Vikings horns to watch Minnesota host Oakland for the first of four preseason games. Those who showed up to take in the action didn’t seem to mind the move to the outdoor stadium. Of course, the near-perfect weather didn’t hurt.
Those same fans chanted "Teddy! Teddy!" when rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took the field for the first time. They cheered when Matt Asiata scored the Vikings’ lone touchdown on a 1-yard run in the first quarter, and when the final horn sounded on Minnesota’s 10-6 victory.
The roars didn’t sound as deafening as they might have in the Metrodome, which had a reputation as one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, but the players seemed to appreciate the fans’ enthusiasm.
Whether or not it can be called home-field advantage when it’s only your temporary home is a different question.
"Obviously this is a great facility here. I talked about to the team the other night, you guys ask me all the time, ‘How can we make this a home-field advantage?’" said first-year Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. "Well, the easiest way is to win; play harder, play smarter and be more physical than the team you’re playing. It doesn’t matter where you play. If you don’t win you can’t make it a home-field advantage. So it’s good to get a win under our belt even though it’s just the preseason."
The Vikings had played here once previously, of course, and it was a forgettable game for Minnesota and former quarterback Brett Favre back in 2010. A hard hit against the Chicago Bears slammed Favre to the frozen turf and effectively ended the future Hall of Famer’s career. Minnesota was forced to temporarily transition to TCF Bank Stadium when heavy snowfall caused the Metrodome’s roof to collapse.
Preparations for that game were certainly more hasty than the work that went into preparing the Gophers’ home to play host to the Vikings for the 2014 season. This time, they had plenty of heads-up to get the field ready. That included painting the "MINNESOTA" lettering in each end zone with purple paint and adding the Vikings logo at midfield. Well before Friday’s game, new turf was added, complete with a heating system underneath to keep the field warm during those chilly — and potentially snowy — December games.
An additional 1,720 seats were added to the west end zone to help bring TCF Bank Stadium’s overall capacity to 52,525. Though there were some Raiders fans sprinkled into Friday’s crowd, the overwhelming majority supported the home team.
Oh, and for the players, there’s the added benefit of the new locker room. The Vikings share the Gophers’ home locker room, which is far more spacious than what the team was used to at the cramped confines at the Metrodome. There, players had to step over shoulder pads and avoid bumping into each other just to get from Point A to Point B.
"We can play catch in here," said running back Matt Asiata of the new locker room.
Never mind the fact that the locker room had the University of Minnesota logo in the center, with the walls lined with Gophers greats. On Friday night — and for many Sunday nights over the next two years — this locker room and this stadium will belong to the Vikings.
"That was the first thing we all noticed when we came in here was this was probably one of the nicest locker rooms I’ve ever been in. We had no idea what it was like," Smith said. "I don’t even know if it’s 10 minutes from our old stadium. Vikings on the field, stuff like that, all new turf. It felt like home."
Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter