Two events over the weekend at the Metrodome raised a couple of questions about football and public safety.
Issue #1: Why are the streets around the Metrodome closed during Viking games and, seemingly, for no other events? The short answer is that it’s a Homeland Security issue. The longer answer is slightly more complicated. According to Bill Lester, the executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (MSFC), the entity that oversees Dome operations, the reasoning comes from a number of factors. Attendance is the most obvious one; when a crowd of 60,000 is expected, you can expect Fourth and Fifth streets to be closed.
It’s also a matter of NFL parameters that were set after 9/11, something that other sports leagues don’t necessarily do. “If there’s some sort of credible threat,” Lester says. “The NFL takes the security thing far more seriously than MLB (Major League Baseball) does.” Of course, what that credible threat may be is anyone’s guess. Further, according to Lester and Minneapolis police Lt. Connie Leaf, who deals with Homeland Security issues, the NFL wants a 100-foot buffer from the last ring of stadium seats to any vehicle traffic.
But the two differ on who makes the ultimate decision. “It’s a combination of what the NFL and we recommend,” Leaf says. “But it’s the facility’s call.”
Lester: “The decision rests with the Minneapolis PD.”
Badgers and beer
If that seems a little fuzzy, that brings us to Issue #2, which involves imbibing at the Dome. Anyone who walked the streets of downtown Minneapolis on Saturday probably has never seen so much red and white in our fair city. Behold the drunken Badger fan. Before noon, Fifth Street between North First and Second avenues in the Warehouse District was packed with Badgers, shoulder to shoulder, drinking beer.
“They’ve done that in the past, done by some alumni,” says MPD spokesman Sgt. Jesse Garcia. “It doesn’t happen overnight. They apply for a permit through licensing.”
All in good fun during the day, but into the evening, post-game, things turned ugly. There were bar fights involving the drunken Badger, and packs of belligerent fans were roaming the streets of some of the downtown neighborhoods. While Garcia says the MPD doesn’t have any numbers that indicate higher assaults or arrests, Lester confirms that he heard similar tales.
“It’s pretty common with the college age,” Garcia says. “They can’t drink a regular amount, they’ve got to drink to excess.”
“I heard a story that someone’s mom was out there doing beer bongs with them,” Lester says. “I mean, Jesus, Mary and Joseph! I’m a pretty left-of-center guy, but that got me.”
Which raises a question: Is it a good idea to serve beer at a college football game, something that the Dome has done since day one? The Dome, according to Lester, is the only stadium in the Big Ten that serves beer because it’s off-campus. “We tighten it in terms of serving only one beer per customer,” he notes. (When the Dome hosts NCAA basketball, however, there is no beer served at the games, per NCAA policy.)
Lester says the commission goes over the policy each year with the University of Minnesota athletic department, and the client in this case makes the decision. “It’s the Gophers’ call,” Lester says. “It’s generally not a concern.”
Then again, after the weekend, some may be concerned in the future. “We cut it off after the third quarter,” Lester says. “But even Packer fans aren’t as diligent and single-minded about beer as Badger fans.”