There were a lot of things about the Metrodome that were embarrassing.
There was a roof that collapsed under the weight of snow in a state that has a long and storied history of heavy snowstorms.
There were hallways so narrow that at any time of even moderate pedestrian traffic, it was extremely difficult to get from Point A to Point B without coming to complete stop and feeling like a sardine.
There were bathrooms that were built for crowds of 20,000, not 64,000. For the men, there was the distinct smell of a porta-potty well-used at an outdoor summer concert in the heat of July, complete with giant troughs that served as urinals. For the women, there was about a 15-minute wait any time a bathroom break was needed.
There was one legitimate tailgate lot for a fan base weaned on tailgating.
There was exterior that, for all intents, never looked completely finished.
There was a Jumbotron in the north end zone that was only slightly larger than a TV that could be purchased by the rich and famous.
Some even saw the image of a swastika on the roof, for God’s sake.
These were all things that any fan who came to the Metrodome could witness. There was a rope that separated the players and management from the fans. It wasn’t a velvet rope. It was more like the rope that keeps a small boat with a Johnson outboard moored to a wooden dock on a choppy northern Minnesota lake.
Behind that frayed rope was the team sanctuary within the Metrodome – the locker room.
By their nature, locker rooms are a reflection of the amount of respect athletes are shown in facilities. Some, like the Dallas Mavericks, would qualify as studio apartments or lofts in Manhattan and cost a couple thousand dollars a month – with a neighbor about 10 feet away. Some facilities have been built with an opulent locker room for the home team and Spartan conditions for the visitors.
But at the Metrodome, the locker wasn’t worthy of a downtown boxing gym in dire need of a makeover. Players, coaches and media alike routinely had to do-si-do with the person next to them to hopscotch the pads, chairs and gear bags that littered the cramped quarters.
By locker room standards, it was an embarrassment when the Metrodome was built. It was the shame of the organization not much later. Some players made a run for the showers because not all shower heads put out hot water and others ran out over time. County jails had better shower facilities.
It wasn’t until the Metrodome collapsed that the Minnesota Vikings learned how other Minnesota teams had things going for them. Forced to play at TCF Bank Stadium against the Bears in December 2010, the Vikings got their first look residing in the Gophers locker room.
At that time, The Bank was a stadium that was literally mothballed in the winter. At a time when power schools were building stadiums with 80,000 seats, knowing they will be filled on game day, the U of M built a 40,000-seat stadium where corners (and seat backs) were cut.
But when the Vikings inched their way through traffic to get to their de facto locker room, players could only imagine how brutal a frugal college stadium would be.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
One can only assume that the shock and awe of seeing a sub-par power conference football team with a plush locker room – and hot water on a continuing basis – left a stain on players who had occasionally opted to shower at home and buy rearview mirror trees to mask the stink because the Metrodome was that bad.
The Vikings this week showed the progress in the locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium as the team’s website put out photos and renderings showing just how opulent the new 4,600-square foot locker room will be. It may be a small fraction of the cost of the stadium project, but, for players who spent years sardined together in the league’s worst locker room, it may be the one amenity that means the most to them.
There were a lot of things that were embarrassing about the Metrodome that will see vast improvements once U.S. Bank Stadium opens. The one that may mean the most to the players will be one of the few areas that most fans won’t see in person.