For Vikings fans, Friday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium was the first time many of them had been there. For a large number of the Vikings players, it was their first official business trip to the stadium and they were pleasantly stunned.
It could argued that the locker rooms at the Metrodome were the worst in the league. Cramped, crowded and with showers that would run out of hot water, every visit to the Metrodome locker room was an adventure. That was even more true when temporary lockers were put in the middle of the locker room to provide lockers for all 90 players on the preseason roster.
For those who had never seen The Bank, it was an awe-inspiring sight. The field itself and the layout of the stands reminded many of them of storied college stadiums they played in, but it was the Taj Mahal of locker rooms that grabbed their attention the most. Spacious and roomy, it was far cry from the sardine can they came from in a “professional” stadium.
“I walked in here and said, ‘This is ridiculous,’” Matt Kalil said. “This is a big locker room. I thought UCLA’s locker room at the Rose Bowl was huge, but this is the biggest one I’ve ever played in. Coming from the Metrodome to this has been amazing.”
Safety Harrison Smith had heard that the new digs were going to be an upgrade from what they had three miles away at the Metrodome, but more important to the players was to feel comfortable in their new surroundings and feel at home.
“I wasn’t surprised when I got here, because I had heard good things, but I’m really happy about it here because it feels like home,” Smith said. “That was something we talked about was making this place our home. It feels like that already. That was the first thing I’ve noticed was this locker room. It’s one of the nicest locker rooms I’ve ever seen.”
Even those who played for elite college teams like Sharrif Floyd from the Florida Gators marveled at the posh accommodations at The Bank.
“This is gorgeous,” Floyd said. “This is college? This is like two Florida locker rooms with the size and the high ceilings. This is nuts. You might forget some of your teammates’ names in here.”
For those players who had been on the team back in 2010 following the Metrodome roof collapse, they had a similar reaction when they saw the stadium for the first time and were equally stunned when they entered the cavernous locker room.
“You guys (in the media) have to search for us because it’s so huge,” Greenway said. “Some of us were with the team when we played here in 2010 and the first thing I said when I came in here was ‘Holy smokes!’ This is pretty amazing. The locker room is great. The fans are right on top of you. It’s like a college atmosphere.”
Players from smaller colleges actually got a bit jealous of what the University of Minnesota has built. It’s not a coliseum like they have in places like Ann Arbor, Mich., the Rose Bowl in Pasadena or several of the large football palaces throughout the south. The Bank has 50,000 seats but maintains an intimate atmosphere that impressed players like Brandon Fusco, who had never played in front of a huge crowd before coming to Minnesota.
“It feels like the fans are right on top of you,” Fusco said. “I would say it’s a college atmosphere, but, I played for Slippery Rock, so we never had crowds or facilities like this. It’s been amazing and it makes me a little jealous that so many other guys had that opportunity to play in facilities like this. I love it.”
Will the players like it as much in November and December as they did on a cloudless August night? Probably not. But for those who endured the Polar Vortex that defined last winter, what didn’t kill them can only make them stronger.
“We all live here, so we know what it’s like in Minnesota in November, December and January,” Kalil said. “I think we’re used to it and it won’t be as big an issue as some think it might be. The best part for most of us is that we know we probably won’t ever see a winter like we just went through. If we could survive that, we could survive pretty much anything.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Vikings rave about new accommodations at TCF
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