There’s never too much preparation that can be done for opponents in the NFL, and while the Minnesota Vikings celebrated the ribbon-cutting of U.S. Bank Stadium, it was used as a teaching and learning moment for General Manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer.
While everyone else was looking on in awe at their opulent surroundings, Spielman and Zimmer were already trying to determine the nuances of the stadium, such as how sunlight through the translucent roof will impact vision on the field and what the preseason games will teach them along the way about the unique conditions they be facing at The Bank – an indoor stadium with an outdoor look and feel.
“I was sitting here talking to Coach Zim as the events were going on today and we’re looking at the sun come down on the field and it was like, ‘OK, this is what it’s going to look like at kickoff time,’” Spielman said. “I know the sun changes (it’s trajectory) a little bit later on in the year, but it gives you an idea how the sun is going to set on the field. It truly feels like you’re outdoors.”
The biggest variable the Vikings will face will be determining what impact the iconic moving glass doors will have on the stadium game atmosphere. As with retractable-roof stadiums, team officials will have to make determinations as to whether to close the glass doors or keep them open during the game.
It has been a factor the Vikings have never had to deal with before at home games and Spielman and his staff are taking in everything they can now to gather as much information as possible – something that will have a learning curve associated with it.
“I think it will be a little bit of a feel to go through this (process),” Spielman said. “Doors open, doors closed, we’ll follow the NFL’s policy on open- and closed-air stadiums. We’ll have to follow that. We’ll have to make those determinations 90 minutes before the game.”
One advantage the Vikings will have during the preseason is the layout of the preseason home schedule. The NFL is looking to showcase the new stadium, which will give the Vikings the opportunity to acclimate themselves to the different conditions the sunlight and the potential for wind can have at the playing level.
Of the two preseason home games, one will be a nationally televised game at noon local time, which will, in many ways, replicate the sunlight conditions for a standard noon game in the fall. The final preseason game will take place as the sun is going down and will finish in complete darkness, allowing the organization to get a gauge as to how the lighting in the stadium will impact the game on the field.
“To have that first preseason game at noon will give our team and us an indication of what it’s going to be like to play an afternoon game here,” Spielman said. “That last (preseason) game will be in the evening, so we’ll get a pretty good sense of what it’s going to be like for a night game with the lighting.”
Spielman said the Vikings have already conducted some studies as to how the wind can impact the game if the five pivoting glass doors that are 95 to 75 feet high are open, determining if there will be swirling at the goal-post area. While the field itself will be recessed below street level, the coaches and front office types are already looking at the potential impact small factors could have on the game before they become issues.
It may appear to be overthinking, but those are the little factors that can provide a home-field advantage. Of course, the biggest advantage the Vikings want to create will involve the 66,200 fans that will be filing into the stadium on game day. They won’t be able to replicate that until the games start being played, but Zimmer and Spielman are already trying to figure out what impact that will have as well, as they look to make The Bank a place that, while aesthetically beautiful, is going to be a nightmare location for opposing teams to come to.
“There are so many things going through my mind now, like the way the sun comes into the building and, when the doors open up, what that’s going to be like?” Zimmer said. “We’ll figure it all out. More importantly, we’re excited for our fans to see us play in here and for us to make this truly the loudest stadium in the NFL. We want this to be the place where everybody hates to come to except our fans.”