After 29 years in the warm and cozy confines of the Metrodome, the Vikings finally went back outdoors.
Some fans had been calling for this move for decades, saying that if the Vikings wanted to return to the Super Bowl, they needed to play their home games in the elements again and regain the advantage they enjoyed throughout their period of dominance in the late 60s and early 70s, when they made the big game four times. Owner Zygi Wilf seemed to agree with this old-fashioned element of the fanbase, indicating that when and if the Vikings leave the Metrodome for a new stadium, he would favor an outdoor facility. No one – not Zygi Wilf, not the hearty old school fans, not Bud Grant himself – could’ve predicted the circumstances that would finally lead the Vikings to return to the great outdoors.
It all began early on the morning of December 12, 2010. An epic storm had dumped 18 inches of snow on the Twin Cities in less than 24 hours. The Vikings-Giants game scheduled for that day had already been moved to Monday as a result of the blizzard. The Metrodome was empty, save for a few maintenance people and some Fox cameras, when the weight of all that snow overwhelmed the teflon-coated fiberglass inflatable roof, sending a white cascade tumbling to the turf below.
With the Metrodome now unusable, the Vikings were forced to play the rescheduled Giants game at Detroit’s Ford Field, going on to lose the game in frustrating fashion. But what about the home finale on December 20 against the Chicago Bears? The Vikings, not wanting to lose revenue and homefield advantage, shot down the league’s plans of holding that game in Detroit, Indianapolis or even faraway Atlanta. They favored staging the game at TCF Bank Stadium, the outdoor home of the Minnesota Gophers football team. Unfortunately, TCF had already been put into hibernation for the winter, leaving the playing surface buried under two feet of snow.
Thus began a herculean effort on the part of the Vikings, TCF Bank Stadium workers and plain old everyday people with shovels to get the facility ready for an NFL game. The first order of business was to clear all the snow from the field and seats. Then began the process of thawing out the turf, which had frozen solid underneath the snow cover. Tarps and heaters were used to restore the surface to something like a playable condition. By the weekend before the Bears game, NFL officials and most Viking players had declared the stadium fit to host a game. There were dissenters of course, most notably Vikings punter Chris Kluwe who took to Twitter to call the field unplayable and predict that anyone who hit their head on the still-hard surface would suffer a concussion. Kluwe’s dire forecast was shrugged off by most, but sadly for one Viking player, it would prove only too accurate.
Despite the difficult circumstances, there was an aura of celebration around the Monday night game in TCF Bank Stadium. For the first time since December 20, 1981, the Vikings were playing a home game with nothing but the sky overhead. Old school fans were excited to see something they thought they’d never live to witness again, and young fans were jacked to get a taste of what their fathers and grandfathers always told them about. In a case of perfect timing, the first outdoor Viking home game in 29 years would also feature a tribute to the 50th anniversary Vikings team, including appearances by many of the greats who called old frozen Metropolitan Stadium home. And to put a beautiful capper on the affair, the weather forecast called for wind, snow and cold, everything you could ask for from a true old school Vikings game.
Well, maybe not everything. To make the experience truly perfect, most fans would’ve asked to have Mr. Old School himself Brett Favre make one last appearance at quarterback. But, on the morning of December 20th, the prospects of Favre pulling himself together for one final game seemed dim at best. Favre hadn’t played since getting blasted by Arthur Moats early in the Buffalo game two weeks before and suffering a sprained shoulder. Reports were that Favre’s right arm was experiencing numbness, and until that subsided, Favre would not even try getting back on the field.
Favre, as it turned out, had one last surprise in store for football fans. On Monday morning, KFAN’s Common Man Dan Cole reported that Favre would indeed return to the field to play against the Bears that night, regardless of the weather conditions or the state of the field. Cole’s report was scoffed at by some in the media, but the Common Man would be vindicated that afternoon when the Vikings upgraded Favre’s official injury status from “out” to “questionable,” and announced that he would test his arm before the game in hopes of playing. What already figured to be a crazy night in Minneapolis had now officially become a circus, thanks to the only man capable of one-upping a snowstorm, a stadium roof collapse and a Viking return to outdoor football after nearly three decades.
Favre tested his arm on the snowy field before the game as announced, and to no one’s shock, declared himself fit to play. In a possible nod to Favre’s toughness and grit, Mother Nature dialed down the snow just as the game was beginning. What ensued was a scene right out of a cheesy movie: The Vikings received the opening kick-off, and with Brett Favre at the helm and Toby Gerhart running the rock in place of Adrian Peterson, made their way relentlessly down the field against the Bears’ fearsome defense. Then, on 2nd-and-2 from the Bears’ 23, Favre threw a quick toss to Percy Harvin who bolted up the field, cutting through Bears defenders to score a touchdown. With that improbable TD, Vikings fans surely felt they were about to witness one of the epic Brett Favre performances of all-time. Alas, things would not turn out so well for Brett or the team.
Reality came quite literally crashing home for the Old Gunslinger and his mates early in the second quarter when the Bears’ Corey Wootton beat Bryant McKinnie, grabbed Favre and spun him down, slamming Favre’s head into the very turf Chris Kluwe had declared unplayable and a disaster waiting to happen. Fans watched in horror as Favre lay prone on the field. The quarterback was finally helped up and off the turf, but it quickly became apparent that his injury was severe. The news at last came down that Favre had suffered a concussion and would not return to the game. The Vikings soldiered on with Joe Webb at quarterback, but it was clear the fight had been knocked out of them by the sight of Favre getting crushed one more time. When the historic night was finally over, the Vikings found themselves on the short end of a 40-14 Bears victory.
The highlight of the evening for the Vikings, besides that one early scoring drive by Favre, would end up having nothing to do with the game itself. At halftime, the great Vikings of the past took to the field in celebration of the team’s 50th anniversary. Among the luminaries was none other than Bud Grant, who delighted the assembled fans by braving the sub-10-degree wind chill with no hat or sleeves. Despite the game’s disappointing outcome, it was a night to remember for Viking fans.
After the game, Brett Favre would add one more subplot to what was already a night filled with drama. In his press conference, Favre was asked a question about the towel he was seen wearing during his truncated appearance, a towel emblazoned with a backward 4. In telling the story behind the towel, Favre introduced us to a child named Anderson, a 5-year-old cancer-stricken Milwaukee boy Brett and his wife Deanna had visited a few days before. Though Favre made no such claim himself, many would come to believe his entire motivation for playing that night, despite his injuries and the bad conditions, was his desire to pay tribute to Anderson.