The Not-So Great Outdoors

For those applauding Zygi Wilf's loose chatter about preferring an open-air stadium, it's been a long time since you asked to plop your butt on a frozen seat.

Memories get fuzzy over time. What was remembered at the time as a painful event loses much of the bad connections as time goes by and is replaced by an inexplicable fondness -- which explains why women are willing to go through the child birth process more than once. Apparently the same goes for Vikings fans.

I might be the only person in Minnesota who thinks the Vikings shouldn't have an open-air stadium -- and, barring something unforseen, I'd likely be sitting in a heated press box anyway and wouldn't be affected. My objection isn't for my benefit, it's for everybody else.

Zygi Wilf's recent (and rare) comment about owning the Vikings included his statement that he's not locked into having a domed stadium. In fact, Uncle Zygi would prefer an open-air stadium. He believes it would add to the mystique of the Minnesota football experience. My advice? Be careful what you ask for, because, simply stated, Vikings fans aren't that tough anymore.

I know from where I speak on this matter because, like many Vikings fans too young to be termed a Baby Boomer and too old to be tagged as Generation X (I guess that makes me Generation XL), I attended Vikings game at the old Met Stadium. Not the games where the weather was gorgeous in September or in the crisp autumn winds of October or even the chilling temperatures of November. No, I was lucky enough to get tickets for games in December. Why? Because season ticket holders wouldn't go and plenty of good seats – if there ever were good seats for watching football games at the Met – were still available.

I sat there as a young teenager, risking pneumonia and frostbite to watch my favorite team and I wasn't without my own share of memories of the Met. I got to see Tommy Kramer's coming-out party in which he rallied the Vikings for three touchdowns in a 28-27 win over the 49ers. I just about lost two toes in the process, but I remember it – even fondly if not for the recurring pain I still have in my feet when it gets really cold. But, the only reason I got to see that game is so many "die-hard" Vikings fans weren't willing to risk their own mortality sitting for four hours in the frigid cold.

Back then, you had a fan base that was made up of families – Dad, Mom and three or four kids would all have season tickets. That was then. This is now. They also had a pool of money set aside by Twin City Federal bank to buy up unused tickets to avoid blackouts. If not for that money, thousands of Vikings fans would have missed two or three games each year because the Met wouldn't sell out – and that was back at the tail end of the Vikings glory years.

The fact of the matter is that Vikings fans have been pampered by playing indoors for 25 years. The only place you can find those flamethrowers they used to thaw the field are by purchasing them on e-Bay. As often as I've heard Vikings fans whine and complain about how cold it was from their car to the Metrodome makes me wonder if those same people could tolerate sitting mummified in an upper deck seat with the wind howling and the snow flying. Those same families that had blocks of season tickets have been replaced by corporate ticket holders who got Bears tickets from the boss for a job well done. The day of the blue-collar family of five or six dropping $100 apiece on tickets for every game is long since over.

This belief that the Vikings would somehow recreate the glory of yesteryear by returning to an outdoor stadium has been promoted by and large by people who never actually had to sit in those seats year in and year out. Sure, they can spout some pathetic Garrison Keillor-type rhetoric about the Spartan existence of Minnesotans, but that's a crock. The same people that used to freeze their butts off ice fishing now have heated fish houses with TVs and reels that announce when a fish has been stupid enough to swallow their bait. The same goes for an outdoor stadium. Build it and the suits won't come in December.

To bolster his point, Wilf said he wants to bring back the mystique that the Packers enjoy at Lambeau Field. Well, guess what, Zygi? Green Bay has more bars than stop lights so they probably couldn't afford to put a roof on the old stadium and they still talk about Vince Lombardi like he might drop in for noodle hot dish after a game – not that he's been dead for more than 30 years. He also brought up that he sat in the stands at the Meadowlands in bad weather. I, too, have been at the Meadowlands in January for a pair of playoff games and, while the weather was admittedly miserable, it was tolerable. The same can't be said for Minnesota in January.

If ever there was a team that should have a domed stadium, it's the Vikings. They've built a team that is predicated around playing a minimum of nine regular-season games indoors – if not 10, 11 or even 12 games. On those occasions when they have been outside, their record over the last several years has been awful – for a reason.

If Zygi is looking to save $100 million by not putting a roof on the stadium, so be it. Just come out and say so. Don't try to harken up the ghosts of teams past. Whether they felt it gave them an advantage or not, most of the players hated being outside and so did many of the fans. And those fans didn't know any better because they'd never been able to compare what watching a Christmas Eve game could be like in 68 degree comfort instead of 10 degrees with a chance of six inches of snow.

We don't have outdoor plumbing in Minnesota anymore – at least most of us don't. We learned that indoor plumbing is much more convenient and better for you. The same should apply to a stadium. Minnesotans aren't that tough and Zygi may find that out the hard way that if you build it, they may not necessarily come.


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