One fan's review. Done right, I think outdoor football would be OK. I was a little apprehensive at first, but I think all of my apprehensions were related to the hurried change of venue.
Of course, by now we all know that the Metrodome roof collapsed in the wee hours on December 12. That days' game against the Giants was postponed before the collapse, for safety reasons, and eventually got played the next day in Detroit instead. The roof has yet to be repaired, so the game yesterday was moved to the University of Minnesota's TCF Stadium.
As a season ticket owner, we were understanding, but a little disappointed (if not upset). Sure, it's a weather thing (welcome to Minnesota!), and so we couldn't blame the Vikings. They refunded everyone for the Giants game, and we still got to watch from home as the NFL decided to broadcast the game for us. For the Bears game last night, they offered refunds to fans who wanted it, and seats to as many fans that could get in.
I'm not sure that I could have come up with any more fair system than they did. Essentially, if you had a ticket in the Metrodome, they'd try to get you in at TCF. If your ticket was for the upper deck (as ours are), that's where you'd go in the TCF stadium. Also, since they didn't have time to work out a system for assigning seats, they decided to go with general admission seats. They also decided on a "standard" price for the seats, so we'll be getting a partial refund since we attended the game.
And before I say anything more (some of which will certainly seem whiny), kudos to everyone for getting the stadium ready, getting a similar NFL show prepared, and even just for making the offer in the first place. Of course, civic pride almost makes it a sure thing to offer the one stadium when the other has a failure. I'm sure if there had been a field-ruining rainstorm during the Gophers' season, the MSC would have been expected to offer the dome to the U, even if the Vikings had a game the next day. TCF Stadium, of course, wasn't expected to see December games. The Gophers' season ends in November. Still, all of the parties involved did a bang-up job of making it work.
So the rules for the general admission as we knew it were that ticket segmentation (upper deck or lower deck), which also included lower-deck ticket holders getting into the stadium a half-hour sooner (at 5PM instead of 5:30 for the upper-deck, which didn't really make sense, but maybe they weren't going to be limited to sitting in the lower level...). Also, the stadium wasn't going to allow anyone to line up outside until 4PM.
With this in mind, we made a plan to arrive at around 4PM to queue up and try to get good seats. Really, we wanted to get good parking, and figured we'd have a better shot if we got there early. No tailgating is allowed at the U, but we also thought there might be a bit of festivity going on. Plus, we wanted to try to get the most out of the experience in general.
We expected cold weather. (Conversationally) it hasn't been over 20F degrees very often in the last few weeks. Sunday we noticed at 5PM the Jeep reported a balmy 15F degrees. This is what we expected to have for the game. We'd already gathered plenty of cold-weather clothing and chemical hand- and foot-warmers. Dressed in long underwear, lined or snow-pants, layered shirts, and our arctic-ready Columbia fleece-lined jackets, as well as two hats and a hood, we were ready.
We weren't expecting another snowstorm, though. Well, they warned us about it Sunday night, so we were kind of expecting it. Snow started falling about 1PM, with a heavy drop starting around 3PM (it may have been heavy before that, but that's when I was directly affected...), lasting while we were driving and standing in the queue.
We arrived at the U and parked at just on 4PM. We shuffled the couple of blocks to the stadium, found the end of a line, and took our place. Kind people working the event told us which line was for the lower deck (inside loop, almost under cover--they get all of the good stuff), and the upper deck (outside in the elements, I guess 'cause we're tougher? Yeah, that's the ticket...). We queued and made chatter with the fans around us. The line shifted every once in a while, probably as people got comfy with their line neighbors and reduced their personal space, or clumped more for warmth. At about 5PM both lines started moving, and it was quickly evident that they were allowing everyone in at the same time; we fully expected the inner circle, lower-deck people to be in the stadium before our line even budged, but it worked out better this way.
Once inside, we quickly took in the stadium. The wife had been there before at a Gophers' game, so she was a little more intent on good finding seating than admiring the stadium. Through our gate, everyone enters and heads up some stairs. From that concourse, on the outside were the restrooms, built-in vendors, and so on. On the inside was an open view of the stadium, with entry to go down stairs to the lower level and up stairs to the upper level. The fairly open view was largely unobstructed, except by the stairs and occasional vendor islands. The concourse was generously wide, and even though people were clumped and queued for the vendors, it was easy to move about without feeling trapped. So much better than the Metrodome concourses.
We moved into the stadium and picked a stairwell that looked like it would lead to seats inside the 30s (like where our regular seats were). We moved smoothly with the crowd up the stairs, and saw ahead of us plenty of open seating. When we got to the top of where people had already been choosing seats, we were turned away by security folk that wouldn't let people sit in the top half of the section. It didn't seem that they were doing anything like removing the snow from those sections, and they didn't offer any explanation; they just wouldn't let us sit there. Miffed, we moved back down, over a couple more sections and tried again, only to be rebuffed again.
Glancing across the stadium, it seemed like they were trying to fill the stadium from the bottom up instead of the middle in. Did they think that they wouldn't have enough people to fill the seats? There are many different views on how to choose a stadium seat, and I think this should have lent itself to ending up with a full or full-looking stadium. Some prefer finding the first available seat and taking it. Some prefer to be closer to the front. Some prefer to be closer to the middle. We're middle-before-front people.
Instead of getting comparable seats to our regular seats, which are between the 30s, we ended up 5 yards deep in the end-zone opposite the gate we came in ('though on the same side of the field. Over the course of the game, they allowed people to fill those farther-up seats. This irked me quite a bit because now people who didn't make the effort (or perhaps couldn't) to show up earlier and stand in line longer were still rewarded with what I thought were better seats. This I put on the hasty decision-making of the crowd controllers. Surely they were expecting us to act more like the uncivilized college student than the normal NFL fan.
Whatever. That's really my only real gripe about the thing. Of course, no one can do anything about the weather except prepare for it. The facilities people did a great job of preparing and hosting. And they even avoided an annoyance of making us lesser-ticket holders wait longer by letting everyone queued just enter the stadium. They failed at letting us take advantage of the first-come-first-served general admission seating.
As for the game, and impressions of outdoor football, the weather seemed totally mitigated by the preparations. We dressed for the weather, and they were constantly clearing the field for the players. It snowed nearly the entire time after we got to our seats until just before the game started. During the game it was clear for a while, then it started raining, and then snowing again, more lightly, but that continued for the rest of the game. The temperature seemed to stay in the twenties, according to the display on the scoreboard, although when we got home and watched the DVR'd pre-game commentary they were saying "single digit temperatures and wind chill," probably for effect.
What I didn't foresee was that nearly everyone stood the entire game. Normally, at the dome, there's a lot of sitting between plays and during other lulls, but not at TCF. This affected me only because I'd chosen footwear to prevent snow from getting in my shoes; I decided to wear some boots that work great for walking and shorter stints of standing, but make for weary legs when standing for what amounted to seven hours. Also, the foot-warmers didn't make it their advertised eight hours, instead fading closer to half of that, and the seating area didn't leave much room to attempt a swap maneuver in the stands, so the toes got a little cold. My first choice was some comfortable sneakers, which may have been less for snow protection, but would have been much more suited for longer periods of standing, and would have made swapping the warmers trivial. That one's on me.
One of the more humorous side effects of the weather was the sound of gloved applause. Of course, the open air acoustics are totally different anyway. The addition of hats (in my case, two and a hood), and gloves led to a muffled golf-clap whenever the crowd got excited. This made the wife literally laugh out loud.
Another was the celebrations of snow. During the pre-game snowstorm, plenty of snow fell on the seats and walkways in the stands. In our area, most of this got kicked under the seats. During a few exciting moments in the game, like big catches and the couple of Vikings scores, fans were grabbing handfuls of the snow and launching them in big puffs of snow-rotechnics... These were mostly harmless even as the snow fell on other fans in the seats below. Of course, a few fans had to make snowballs, some trying to launch them onto the field, and some purposefully (and I'd like to think playfully) at the other (particularly Bears) fans. In one case, this happened right in front of us. A couple of fellas in their early twenties were in a few rows below us, and every once in a while one would make a big puffy snowball and lob it at a pack of Bears fans a little farther down. The puff would explode on someone, and they'd all look around, as if there'd be a vapor trail behind it. A little later the lob would be repeated. Everyone was chuckling, even the lobbed-on fans, so all is good, right?
The game play was what it was. It sucks that the Vikings lost, but we kind of went into the stadium thinking that might happen. I know the Vikings players were being good sportsmen and professionals and putting what they had into the game, but their season is all but done, while the Bears had something to get out of it (and did); the Bears victory allowed them to clinch the division title.
One from-the-stands bit of feedback about the game play that I think needs to be pointed out is regarding the booing of our punter's choice of kicking the ball out of bounds, instead of to the too often run-back-for-score waiting kick receiver, Devin Hester. A little background, for those that don't know: prior to the game, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe had made some Twitter comments about the conditions of the field. Looking at some, they're not particularly malicious or flattering, and are largely opinion. Things like how hard he thought the ground was, and that someone might get hurt (like Favre did). In fact, one needs to realize that a good portion of the fans there were actually Bears fans, and they (at least in our area) were a large part of the booing, because they felt ripped-off that their guy couldn't catch the ball. Sure, some Vikings fans were booing, and some of those were due to the Twitter comments while others were either expressing an opinion about the play or just joining in with the other crowd noise. Point of fact: when Hester did catch the ball, he ran it back for a score (which I recall got overturned due to a penalty, but still, he did run it all the way back). It was the smart play to kick the ball out of bounds.
In all, the experience was a hoot. Even standing in the cold and getting snowed upon. I'm still a little put out at the management of the seating, but in a regular setting I'd have an assigned seat, so that's really a non-issue. I'd assume an open-air stadium for the Vikings would take into consideration that the games go into December (and possibly January), so there'd be considerations for drainage or possibly other heating to facilitate ease of snow removal. I'd pack on some clothes and hit the stands for the few snowy, rainy, and cold games. I just got all three in one day and survived with a smile, even though the team got kicked 40-14.