In five weeks, the long wait for the Minnesota Vikings to get into their new workplace at U.S. Bank Stadium will be over. The first home preseason game will finally put into the rearview mirror a long, winding, frustrating odyssey that got the Vikings out of the landfill that was the Triple-H Metrodome and into a state-of-the-art stadium for the first time in franchise history.
Most fans are familiar with the stadium history. They remember the team playing more than 20 years in a piecemeal-built baseball venue at Metropolitan Stadium that had an inordinate number of sideline fights because both teams were on the same sideline to make to a football field fit in the footprint. When flamethrowers were in vogue, opposing players couldn’t wait to get the sideline and warm up.
They remember the 30 years the team played in the Metrodome, which never appeared to have been completed. It didn’t dominate the East Minneapolis skyline. It looks more like sweltering zit on the city landscape. Concourses were far too thin. The builders never considered that bathroom cow troughs don’t work for women, creating long lines of angry ladies with full bladders – never a good combination. The hot water worked in about half of the showers in the locker room. The roof collapsed. What a dump!
The most opulent stadium the Vikings have ever played in as their "home" was TCF Bank Stadium. Because Minnesota Gophers football is such a non-draw, while other schools are building 90,000 seat stadiums, Minnesota went about half that size because they know their fan base and it isn’t that much.
Those stories are easy to recall. But, do you remember the potential homes of the Vikings that went by the wayside?
Long before Los Angeles found an owner like Stan Kroenke, the Vikings were the carrot being dangled in front of the open L.A. market. Leaving was always a possibility, but the State of Minnesota was always able to throw a signed agreement in the Vikings’ face that basically said relocating would come with too steep a cost for the team to bail out of the Metrodome lease.
But it didn’t stop the local stadium efforts.
When Red McCombs arrived in Minnesota, he blanched at the sight of the Metrodome. There are high school stadiums in Texas that were more impressive. He was the first to come up with a stadium being part of a much bigger economic growth plan.
McCombs looked into relocating the Vikings north of the Twin Cities and south of Forest Lake in the Trout-Air property that was wide open spaces with easy access to both Highways 35-E and 35-W. He planned to open up the possibility of creating a city around the stadium – restaurants, shops, retail stores, bars, hotels, etc. He had big ideas, but, at that time, owners contributed very little to the brick-and-mortar costs of building a stadium. Suffice to say, if Red was still the owners, the Vikings wouldn’t be playing in The Bank this season.
McCombs had a vision. The State Legislature had myopia and an ironclad lease. McCombs ended up selling to Zygi Wilf’s investment group.
Wilf made his money as a land developer, so there was reason to believe that something would get done. After all, the Sword of Damocles was going to go away when the Metrodome lease expired and, at long last, the state had to get off of Square One and actually kick in some money to build a stadium.
Building on the Metrodome site was not a viable option at first. Wilf got shunned by the state, so he went to Ramsey County and got a compliant, celebrity-sniffing county board to agree to co-brand with the Vikings in Arden Hills. Like McCombs, Wilf envisioned a breathing entity that would rise from the poisoned soil of an abandoned munitions plant (they never have cleaned up the contaminated soil leaching into the Arden Hills water table). It was only when he got county approval and posed for a grip-and-grin shovel photo that he got the attention of the real movers and shakers in Minnesota politics. Arden Hills got shot down like a clay pigeon after an accomplished hunter yells, “Pull!”
But Arden Hills wasn’t the only option. There was swell of support for a stadium in Shakopee next the Canterbury racetrack. There was a plan to knock down a few buildings a half-mile from the Metrodome. There was a proposal to sardine-squeeze a stadium at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market and Basilica sites. St. Paul had a stadium deal cooking.
Without warning, once Arden Hills died on the vine, the Vikings became the most beautiful in school after being an ugly duckling for more than a decade. Suddenly, everybody wanted them.
But it shouldn’t be forgotten that the stadium deal for The Bank was dead in the Legislature when it died on the vote of a previously anonymous subcommittee. Only then did NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell descend from the heavens in Rog-Force One to strong-arm political shot-callers in Minnesota.
The stadium bill wasn’t the first historical subject to rise from the dead after three days, but suddenly not only was the stadium deal alive among the politicos in St. Paul, it was a near-mandate. Nobody has officially confessed that Goodell promised Minnesota a Super Bowl in exchange for a stadium deal, but it could have been a bargaining chip.
It has been a long and winding road that brought the Vikings from the Metrodome to the line in front of The Bank. With just five weeks before the Vikings christen the building – the Metallica crowd will rid the building of that new stadium smell – the clock is ticking down to a moment a lot of Vikings fans thought they would never see. In many ways, a stadium shouldn’t have happened, given how many potential plans got shot down to point of being bullet-riddled by the time other potential sites were proposed.
The wait ends in five weeks and the results will be glorious for those in attendance. This is what a stadium is supposed to look like and perhaps the long wait was worth it because, it’s safe to say, had one of the other proposals been approved, it wouldn’t be as opulent as the stadium Minnesota ended up with.
Seeing will be believing and, considering the dumps the Vikings played in at the Met and the Metrodome, it will be well worth the wait to unveil the eye-popping new digs.