Back to the great outdoors for Vikings fans

Fans are happy in the cold as the Minnesota Vikings are forced to play their first open-air home game in 29 years.

Fans cheer as the Minnesota Vikings take to the field at TCF Bank Stadium for their first outdoor game in 29 years.
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Thermal underwear, check. Turtleneck and sweater, check. Wind pants, gloves, absolutely. Insulated boots and hooded jacket - with Vikings logo, of course - done.

With memories of winter games at the old Metropolitan Stadium, Ellen Swanson and tens of thousands of Minnesota Vikings fans bundled up for an unusual and highly anticipated Monday night football game against the rival Chicago Bears, a contest preceded by a driving snowstorm.

"It's not even that cold out here," Swanson said with a laugh outside TCF Bank Stadium a few hours before kick off on the 29th anniversary of the Vikings' last outdoor game.

The temperature at kick off was minus 6°C, with wind. "This is football how it should be," Swanson said.

The NFL thought so, too, approving the game at the University of Minnesota's outdoor stadium while repair crews worked on the snow-damaged roof of the Metrodome. When the Vikings moved the last home game of their 50th season to the campus stadium, workers scrambled to get the stadium ready. That led to speculation on what the players would endure on an artificial grass field without any heating elements underneath to soften things up.

In a twist so perfect it almost seemed scripted, a fresh blast of snow arrived in the Minneapolis area on Monday. Crews of workers shot the field with blowing machines ahead of the game, though the snow had eased to flurries by kick off.

It was fallout from Minnesota's extra-snowy December that forced the Vikings back outdoors this season. A winter storm on December 12 and 13 dumped 43cm of snow on the roof of the Metrodome, causing its Teflon roof to fail and dumping massive piles of snow on the field. The Metrodome's operators soon decided there was no way to get the Vikings' home back into shape for Monday's game.

TCF Bank Stadium holds about 50,000 football fans and was hosting a game with about 64,000 ticket-holders. The Vikings decided fans would line up outside Monday and be given unassigned seats on a first-come, first-served basis. Fans started to stream into the stadium about 5pm in what appeared to be an orderly fashion.

A university spokesman said he knew of no major problems, and fans still were straggling in at kick off, heading for what appeared to be at least a few thousand empty seats.

The fans Matt Ausmus and Matt Hansen were not born when the Vikings played their last game at the since-demolished Metropolitan Stadium, a 10-6 loss to Kansas City on December 20, 1981. Waiting in line, they were not too worried about finding seats.

For some fans, the game was an early Christmas present. Older fans have fond memories of outdoor games at the old Met Stadium, when coach Bud Grant and quarterback Fran Tarkenton led powerhouse Vikings squads that treated the bitter conditions as their ally en route to four Super Bowls.

Jennifer Kosmala, a Bears fan who flew from Chicago with a friend to watch the game, said she was accustomed to outdoor football in the winter - and enjoyed the chance to needle Vikings fans.

"The Packers and the Bears have it right," Kosmala said. "The Vikings and the [Detroit] Lions [who both play indoors] - they're sort of pansies. This is what real Midwestern football is."