Like an unrepentant Scrooge, Minnesota winter in one stroke Sunday deflated the Humphrey Metrodome, orphaned the Minnesota Vikings and turned Detroit’s Ford Field into the world’s largest shelter for displaced football teams.
To the national football audience, it was a comic scenario in a season full of them for the Vikings. But the devastation at the scene of the broken old dome was somber, horrific stuff and made a stunning and unarguable case for a new professional football stadium in Minnesota.
The immediate effect was to shift the site of the re-scheduled Vikings-Giants game tonight to Ford Field in Detroit, a domed stadium where the Lions defeated the Packers Sunday afternoon. A persuasive reason for choosing Detroit was the coincidence of the Fox television cameras, still available for tonight’s game, meaning the game will be shown in locales that normally receive the Viking and Giant games.
Theater of the bizarre
For the Giants, it became a spreading theater of the bizarre, beginning with a rerouting of their flight to Kansas City Saturday afternoon. Then it got stranger when they then flew to Detroit Sunday and ended up walking through their plays in a hotel ballroom in Detroit.
They originally were going to play Sunday afternoon in the Metrodome, but the game already had been shifted to Monday night because of weather complications. That changed again, when in the early morning, the Metrodome “avalanched” under hundreds of tons of snow in the aftermath of one of the worst winter storms in Twin Cities history. Portions of the roof caved, making it irreparable for days. It was the fourth failure of the Metrodome roof in its nearly 30-year history, none of which seriously affected game schedules and none of them on the scale of this one.
The warning signs of the Metrodome collapse came a day earlier when the snow removal on the roof was halted because of the danger posed by high winds. What followed was something close to a civic catastrophe. The accumulating snow overwhelmed the thinly-skinned Teflon roof and cascaded by tons through several shredded panels onto the field and seating areas below.
The cleanup will take days. The fate of the Vikings’ game next week with the Chicago Bears has not been decided, and it may have to be moved to another site. The loss to the Vikings in terms of ticket refunds and miscellaneous costs could be large.
The culminating scenes, though, are still ahead. The league decision to go to Detroit was not met by howls of joy from the Viking camp. A game at the Metrodome would have given the Vikings the usual home field bonus of crowd bedlam that can wreck the visitors’ signal calling.
The Viking management’s first choice was to shift game to the University of Minnesota’s outdoor stadium. But it’s an icebox in winter, and the university’s budget is not geared to keeping the football field toasty during the nine months it’s idle.
The Giants’ management slyly suggested its own Meadowlands stadium, but the league settled on Detroit, where Ford Field will be open for any walk-ins who want to watch a pro football game free of charge. Viking Metrodome ticket-holders who show up will be escorted to the 50-yard line. The rest will be compensated or given credit for the 2011 season.
Sun Country, Lions ‘help out’
Sun Country Airlines quickly jumped in with a special offer of a $250 round-trip charter to coax die-harders into a round trip to Detroit for tonight’s game. The re-location is not without precedent. It was done when Katrina forced the transfer of a New Orleans game to New York City.
The Vikings have to give credit to the Ford Field custodians for brotherhood. They were busy after the Lions-Packer game erasing the Lions’ lettering and trademarks and replacing them with the Viking markers. The Vikings are, after all, the home team and play in the same division with the Lions. Plus, it’s a kind of audition. The Vikings play their last game of the season in Detroit.
But the significance of the impact of the Dome’s convulsions goes beyond the cost of the repair and this season. It reaches into the 2011 season, the last one in which the Vikings will be under contract to play in the Metrodome.
The weekend collapse of the old gray balloons made indelible its vulnerability — to extend the melodrama of its critics, its actual hazards to life. The talking points were as the obvious devastation of it shredded ceiling: The Dome is not only obsolete but dangerous. The Wilf ownership could hardly have ordered a more practical calamity, although its response was measured and involved no politicking in the wake of the crash.
But the pressures will grow, and so will the heady allures of California if the Legislature can’t find the money this year or next because schools systems are failing, thousands of people are out of work and bridges are ready to fall.
The team does need a new stadium. It needs one with a retractable roof that won’t be blown off by the next storm of the century. It also needs to listen harder to wise people who insist that the best new sensibly built stadium with a retractable roof ought to be built on the site of the expendable old one, where all of the digging has been done and foundations are in place.
The aging groans of the old stadium don’t have to be a provocation for new hardball campaign threatening the public. The Legislature can be prudent, and also try to figure out a way to meet the Vikings’ needs without expanding the hardship of a public racked by a continuing recession. The Vikings in turn can launch a new era of good feeling by offering to pay more than they have offered. It would be an excellent beginning.
So about Brett Favre and the game: One of his pals in the national media business disclosed the odd intervention of the snowstorm on Favre’s streak of starting 297 consecutive games. “He said he couldn’t have played if they played the game Sunday.” It was almost as though some extra-terrestrial force was intervening here to keep Brett on track, a measure of how daffy the pre-occupation with Favre and playing streaks has become. His availability and arm strength, weakened by a shoulder injury last week, are still in doubt for tonight. The Vikings survived a week ago with Tarvaris Jackson playing quarterback. But the Giants do rush harder than the Buffalo Bills.
And the game does matter. With Philadelphia’s victory over Dallas Sunday night, the Giants find themselves in an even more dramatic struggle with Philadelphia for a division title and playoff position.
But with Green Bay and Chicago both losing Sunday, the Vikings are still remotely alive as a playoff contender in the National Football Conference’s North. They won’t be if they lose any of their remaining games — to New York tonight, then Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit. These are desperation odds but they’re better than none; and the Vikings’ are playing well under the interim coach, Leslie Frazier.
If he wins tonight, after all of the consternation of the year and the weekend, he’s going to look highly attractive as the head coach for 2011.